Are we really better off becoming publishers?

At some point over the next few months, Conde Nast is set to launch it’s own global Ecommerce business, cementing the trend that in luxury fashion the lines between being a publisher and being a retailer are increasingly blurred. This, too, can be seen on the other end of the spectrum with luxury retailers like Mr Porter and Net-a-Porter opting for a ‘content first’ approach in their site and have their own fashion magazines available both digitally and in print.

Retailers are becoming publishers and publishers are becoming retailers; is this a good thing symptomatic of the consumer centric shift or are we left with strategic mediocrity where nobody is really great at anything?

It’s hardly interesting that brands invest in content; but what I’m talking about here is retail brands where content is the focus. For example, Mr Porter leads with content, and drives users to content that is more broader lifestyle content rather than direct conversion/product focused.

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Mr Porter content is not purely fashion, brand or trend focused; like other luxury fashion retailers, but their content strategy is about encouraging readers to buy in to a certain lifestyle, with their products and promotions a backdrop to the editorial.

For other designer fashion retailers like Flannels or The Outnet, while visually they don’t look hugely different, their homepage edit’s drive users to more traditional product pages.



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And while they still have strong editorial offerings, it’s clear that the primary focus is conversion.

So is being a publisher and leading with great content really the best SEO strategy?

Firstly I should probably call out the obvious; I don’t have analytics data, I recognise that this strategy may (or may not) drive additional value from a CRM, branding, sentiment, trust, awareness perspective and not everything is about how well a site performs in search engines or how successful the content is at earning links but who cares, it’s fun to have a look nonetheless.

Something I immediately noticed is that when content pages are typically those with the most authority, you’re likely to find editorial content ranking for transactional terms. For example, Mr Porter ranks 5th for the 50k monthly search volume query ‘Tom Ford’; good job, only, the page that is ranking is this long form interview with him whereas it’d probably be more lucrative for this optimised product page to be ranking for that query; and this page ranks for Paul Smith rather than the product page.

This happens fairly often, this article tends to rank for most suits and tuxedo queries; and if we think about intent, when someone explicitly queries ‘dinner suits’ or ‘dinner jackets’ they’re most likely in a purchase frame of mind and looking to compare various styles and in this instance, product pages would be better surfaced here.

This article ranks for people looking for classic parka jackets and this article ranks for gentlemen interested in stone chinos.

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I could be completely wrong and actually, these long form, content heavy article pages build trust and encourage users to click through to product pages to convert, but I doubt it. TL;DR, wanna buy shit.

From my perspective, product pages are what the user is really looking for (or used to?) when searching these kind of queries.

In terms of overall organic performance, it’s not obvious that content first results in better results.

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Farfetch are the market leaders (well done, Matt!) and unlike Mr Porter; out of their 14,201 UK ranking pages within the top 100 that Linkdex Visibility picked up, 94% of them are product or category pages. Although editorial is a huge focus for them; they still lead with product rather than editorial. i.e – they are an ecommerce site first and foremost and use content to supplement that, rather than the other way round.

Another assumed benefit for investing hugely in editorial content is increased social shares, by the assumption that people are inherently more interested in content rather than products. But is this actually true? I think it depends, if you’re selling wheelie bins then sure, you’re likely to get more social traction from your articles of cute kittens dressed as wheelie bins than your product pages, but for luxury retail is the product page not interesting, aspirational and shareable in itself?

For net-a-porter, their product pages get significantly more shares than their magazine edits.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 11.34.24To date, the top performing product pages (comparing the same number of product pages and magazine edits) have generated 498% more Facebook shares, with Eres, Louboutin, Gucci and Givenchy being the favoured brands. And this makes sense, if you’re about to drop a grand on a pair of brogues, then the least you can do is brag about it.

Again though, this might be an unfair comparison, The Edit really isn’t optimised for social sharing, there’s no share buttons (aside from email) or no CTA to encourage readers to share the content. 

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So what about links? Is it good at generating those? Well, out of all referring domains, the magazine accounts for 4% (excluding individual issues) and 2% of homepage anchor text specifically references ‘The Edit’ or ‘Magazine’.

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Likewise for Mr Porter’s top 10,000 pages; 6% of referring domains are pointing to journal content and 23% are to specific product pages. This surprised me, again with the assumption being that great content is the way to earn links; though again this is niche specific, for fashion naturally earned links tend to come from product reviews.

I know I’m short of multiple perspectives here; and although on the face of it, it seems as though for a luxury fashion brand positioning themselves first and foremost as fashion publishers makes sense, I’m reticent to agree it lives up to the hype.



About Kirsty Hulse

Kirsty Hulse is Head of SEO Best Practice at Linkdex and has six years experience defining search strategies for some of the world's biggest brands, as well as small E-commerce start ups.

5 thoughts on “Are we really better off becoming publishers?

  1. Great post, Kirsty.

    I argue that we’re all on the same evolutionary path as publishers – and that’s more than just content. It’s about developing your audience, boosting your loyalty and using that to enhance your monetization.

    Some quick examples;
    * Music Publishers – no longer control the supply of music; instead the money increasingly comes from live shows and merchandise. Only bands which earn those loyal audiences are able to do this.
    * Book Publishers – anyone can self publish to Amazon these days and you’ll find ebooks for pennies. It’s the famous authors, those with a proven audience, which are able to charge more for their books. This form of publishing is particular interesting for digital marketing as there are thousands of great authors (great content) out there that we’ll simply never know about
    * Computer Game Publishers – the play for free; monetize later either through DLCs, in-game actions or merch is a common model.

    What does that mean for ecommerce? It means online stores have to think about why anyone would shop there but also why they would come back, be loyal and recommend to a friend. This touches on metrics like lifetime value, basket size and related as well as the quality of service and CRM.

    1. It’s not an entirely new thing – publishers were launching eCommerce products for a while, including digital secret sales brands and membership clubs.

      And whether or not the editorial content ends up being the main focus, it’s certainly playing a large part as Andrew says. There are certain brands which I have at the front of mind for the next time I need to buy something in their industry, and it’s largely because their brand, content and other aspects of their business are all closely aligned to what I identify with – Hiut springs to mind straight away.

      With luxury brands, you’ll be looking at a potentially longer buying cycle and a higher profit per item, so the benefits of keeping customers engaged with top quality editorial are greater than for a mid or low-price brand.

      1. It’s an “ancient thing”. Affiliate marketing pre-dates Paid search and affiliate marketing, in many cases, is essentially publishers crossing into eCommerce (or travel, finance, etc)

        1. Thanks for the comments 🙂

          Absolutely, seems again to be just focus on having a good brand with a loyal, engaged audience and the rest will follow.

        2. Hi – yep, and various publishers were selling products directly from around the time ink was first put into a printing press.
          The change is that some publishers have experimented with pure sales businesses – I worked on one for a UK publisher about 7 or 8 years ago now… And that’s a bit of a change from offering related merchandise etc, mainly due to the constant fall of ad revenue

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