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Gizmodo: Generating Scalable Revenue through Powerful Audience Engagement

June 11, 2018

Affiliate marketing has grown in appeal for large scale content publishers and the brands with whom they work.

The performance transparency, relationship opportunities, and expertise in the affiliate channel have created scalable efficiency for publishers and streamlined the facilitation of new business. The foremost goal for content publishers is to provide a valuable, productive, and engaging site experience. Affiliate networks are uniquely positioned to help them accomplish this.

We recently caught up with Shane Roberts, Executive Editor of Commerce with content powerhouse Gizmodo (purchased by Univision Communications in 2016). Gizmodo, and its various sister sites, focus on technology, gaming, gadgets, science fiction, politics, and more. With 100+ million global unique visitors each month, Gizmodo is among the largest content sites in the world. Shane discussed his perspective on why affiliate marketing is a “no-brainer”, how Gizmodo balances editorial and commerce, and why the best deal is a key strategy for retailers in winning the long game.

CJ: What is the background of Gizmodo Media Commerce, and how you did you arrive there?

The original business model of Gizmodo.com was Amazon affiliate links. Our former Chief Strategy Officer, Erin Pettigrew, decided to make that passive revenue intentional by placing it in the hands of a “Commerce Editor”, someone independent of both Editorial and Advertising. I took over that role in early 2013.

You can’t have some other side of the company telling editorial what to write, hoping they write about products, and praying they link to the place you want them to link to. Content that someone doesn’t want to write will never be good.

Our Commerce segments were originally editorial franchises:

  • Deals (discounts or promotions)
  • Gear (reviews or recommendations)
  • Co-Op (audience votes on the best products in any given category)

CJ: There’s always been an advertising and editorial tension. Can you speak to Gizmodo’s success with this model?

We have the best deals coverage on the internet, no question. We see around a 16% conversion rate on our deals content and we’ve sold 25 million products through affiliate links since 2012. This is a considerable portion of the company’s revenue. It’s now a four-person team. We’ve grown the team, we’ve grown the content types, and we’ve established ourselves in the company. There was a point in 2015 where affiliate revenue grew to the point where it covered the entire budget of editorial, which was eight blogs at the time.

That was a really proud, come together moment for everyone.

CJ: What's next for Gizmodo?

We’ve just launched The Inventory, our new home for qualitative commerce content including reviews, roundups, gift guides, and travel and credit card coverage. This blows open the opportunity for us to do everything from video and interviews to events.

We also launched the first Facebook Deals bot. You can subscribe to our bot in Facebook messenger, and it tells you when we post a deal in a given category.

Additionally, we launched a Facebook Deals group. The readers have been a huge source of deals for us for years, so it makes sense to give them a space beyond our own comment section to talk amongst themselves.

CJ: Have recent Facebook developments impacted you or your future plans?

Honestly and fortunately, we didn’t have a lot of Facebook traffic to lose. We’ve been a Deals shop for a long time, which isn’t the kind of content that plays well on Facebook. Our network of sites, where we draw most of our Commerce traffic from, was impacted, but as a network we were a lot less dependent on Facebook than similar publishers to begin with.

CJ: What does Gizmodo’s competitive landscape look like?

The competitive set has grown up a lot in this space since we started it five years ago. It’s interesting to watch everyone apply this idea to their own tone, their own CMS, and the company structure they land on to facilitate it. Some publications are running their deals coverage by their editorial staff before posting, some are still hoping their editorial staff writes this content and trying to optimize after the fact, and some are bonusing their entire editorial staff on affiliate revenue.

CJ: What’s the size of the Gizmodo user base? And, how do you acquire new audiences?

After being acquired by Univision, we have around 120 million monthly U.S. unique visitors, and another big push for this year is getting Commerce Content in front of more of them. Only about 1% of our audience is currently seeing this stuff.

The way our CMS works right now, all of our commerce content is hosted on commerce specific sites and then shared to our 16 blogs. Our CMS allows for easy sharing of content across our network, which is another reason why we’ve been so successful in this space.

How much real estate to give Commerce Content is the biggest tug of war at publishers seeing success in this space right now.

CJ: You mentioned the deals focus. Some brands, for various reasons, may be sensitive to discounts or deals. Yet, they still want to work with you. How do you manage that?

We’re going to serve the readers. This isn’t advertising. There’s no stretching what we do to facilitate working with a brand, but with our push beyond deals, there are a lot more opportunity to work with us on things like video, podcasts, events, etc.

CJ: How has your audience’s behavior evolved over the years?

Our audience gets smarter every year, and we’re also getting much better at serving them. Our optimization is outpacing their changing habits. When we started this we used to say we were drafting off the interest editorial generated in consumer products, but now our Commerce Content is generating that interest and serving it.

CJ: What else should brands be cognizant of when working with Gizmodo and its audience?

Retailers are still a bit in the dark when it comes to the value of affiliate, and how to best manage those relationships. Retailers need to be prepared to be competitive with commission rates, run publisher-exclusive discounts, provide product for review, and understand they have no influence on content (at least in our case).

The value of content relative to advertising cannot be overstated, and every retailer should be shifting their budgets in that direction. Even if you’re not breaking even after offering a good deal coupled with a compelling commission, new customer acquisition makes the exchange easily worthwhile. Retailers need to play the long game.

CJ: Since you’ve been working direct via networks, what’s been encouraging?

It’s been fantastic, honestly. We were working with subnetworks exclusively from 2012 to 2017, and getting absolutely essential features like product-level sales data, as well as much deeper relationships with retailers and brands by going direct has been huge.

The CJ team in particular has been fantastic. They’re more involved, proactive, and publisher-centric than anyone else in this space.

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