Meeting the Great Expectations of a New Breed of Shopper

As recently as just a few years ago, consumers had a limited set of research options when they were looking to make an informed product purchase. They may have done a Google search to learn where to buy the product or noticed an advertisement and visited a store to speak with a sales rep about it.

For larger purchases, they might have picked up a copy of Consumer Reports or asked their circle of friends if any had made a similar purchase. As a result, the acquisition channels e-tailers turned to online were typically centered around a combination of search and display advertising.

Today, however, consumers who are researching a potential purchase can access a virtually infinite number of online resources to learn more about any given product. Many of these resources are social media sites where consumers can seek direct feedback from friends and other buyers who recently made similar purchases. As a result, we are now seeing consumers

  • visit online forums to learn what other consumers think of the product, their experiences with the product and alternative solutions;
  • ask their extended network directly what they think of the product and seek recommendations via Facebook or Twitter; and
  • visit blogs that discuss or recommend the product.

This research takes place before the consumer even visits your online site, or chooses an item and places it in a shopping basket. What this means is that in addition to the traditional customer acquisition channels e-tailers rely on, there are a number of entirely new areas where retailers can interact with consumers who are looking to make a purchase: social media sites, forums and blogs.

Uncharted Territory

So how can an e-tailer take advantage of these new consumer research venues to acquire new customers? Display advertising on these types of sites is one option, but the engagement levels and ultimate click-through rates (CTRs) on these ads are very low (less than a fraction of 1 percent, according to Google).

A more powerful alternative is in-content advertising. In-content ad delivery is tightly integrated with the content a consumer is most interested in (e.g., a post in a forum, an article on a blog, or a conversation within a social network). As a result, these ads reach consumers when they are most likely to be interested in accessing product information, and they are more likely to be considered useful information (as opposed to marketing “noise”) by consumers.

Launching an In-Content Acquisition Campaign

If you are ready to take the leap beyond search and display acquisition, here’s a quick overview of what to consider when you begin using in-content marketing.

There are two primary types of in-content ads a merchant can utilize:

1. Placed Links. Placed links are added to a site’s content either by users visiting a website (user-generated content), or by an author (usually in the form of a product review). As a result, these links are very tightly integrated with content. An advertiser that wishes to leverage placed links as part of its in-content acquisition strategy will typically offer site owners an incentive to drive traffic to its site.

It’s worth noting that the best-placed link campaigns are those that are actively managed to ensure that the consumer who clicks on the link is taken to the appropriate page on the retailer’s website, thereby optimizing consumer experience and conversion rates.

2. Inserted Links. Alternatively, retailers can purchase ads that are inserted in a forum, blog or social network’s content by a third-party service. Link-insertion services typically apply algorithms to a site’s content to determine when and where it would be appropriate and useful to the reader to insert a product link. The service then hyperlinks pieces of text in those areas and directs the links to merchant sites. Link-insertion services include VigLink, Vibrant Media and Kontera.

A successful in-content acquisition campaign will utilize a combination of both of these ad types in order to maximize user traffic and revenue.

The Payoff

The potential payoff from in-content customer acquisition is huge. In-content ads offer merchants an acquisition channel that has excellent ROI, a great deal of flexibility, and a platform for branding.


In-content ads reach consumers in the places they turn to when looking for product information, at the time they are most interested in taking action. As a result, the purchase rates resulting from these types of ads can be quite high.


In-content acquisition marketing also offers a high degree of flexibility. As with Google AdSense, merchants have a high degree of control over which sites they wish to advertise on. But in addition, they also can usually choose the compensation model behind the advertisement, paying either for traffic on a per-click basis or for a commission on actual sales.

Branding Platform

In-content ads also offer merchants an important branding opportunity. To illustrate, let’s consider a merchant that sells high-end watches. It is very valuable (not only from a sales perspective, but from a branding perspective) for the merchant’s site to be the one bloggers, forum participants and social media users link to when discussing expensive watches. In-content ads help make this a reality for the merchant by offering it the ability to

  • place its brand in front of its target customers, which increases the probability that it is the merchant selected when the consumer is ready to buy; AND
  • realize sales from those consumers who want to make an immediate purchase.

Together, these benefits comprise an exciting opportunity for merchants.

In Conclusion

There is no mistaking that consumers’ behavior is changing as online content becomes more social, interactive and collaborative. In order to keep up, it’s critical that merchants adjust and augment the ways they reach consumers.

Implementing an acquisition strategy that targets consumers in the areas where their attention is focused — that is, in the content — will allow merchants of all sizes to take advantage of these new trends.

Oliver Roup is CEO of VigLink.

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