Since its launch in 2006, Refinery29, the New York-headquartered independent fashion and style website, has attracted more than 21 million monthly unique visitors and 1.9 million email subscribers. A major factor in the company’s enviable success is its smart approach to content marketing. We asked Jessica Novak, Refinery29’s content strategist, to share her insights.

1. How does Refinery29 use content to support existing and return customers?

Quality and honesty have helped us develop a loyal audience. We really try to refrain from click baiting our readers or misleading them—and our extremely engaged and vocal audience will call us out if they ever feel tricked.  We stick to pretty stringent quality standards and won’t cover something unless it’s within our brand filter.  Our writers are also constantly engaging with readers on social and in our comments section, responding to their questions and fostering discussion. Our most successful stories are the ones with the liveliest commenters. We’ve even had successful story ideas surfaced by our commenters.

Jessica Novak, content strategist, Refinery29

2. How do you use content to attract new customers?

Syndication and shareable content are great at getting new readers—we have several audiences across different syndication channels and create content for each of them. Search is also a huge driver of new audiences, so covering breaking news early and often and being smart about our meta titles is a great way to accrue new readers. From there, our product team is able to convert new visitors into return visitors through user acquisition modules and social acquisition buttons, which of course undergo constant AB testing and optimization.

3. What are your impressions of the content marketing industry? Who do you think is doing it well?

I definitely think it’s a balance between being data-driven and data informed. There are purely data-driven sites out there that chase pageviews and can build huge audiences, but don’t have the brand loyalty and return visitor rates that we have. There are also media companies that are so niche they are leaving traffic on the table. A few companies doing it well are Mic, Upworthy and Medium, who uses engaged time as their metric versus just visits. It’s so important to have some kind of quality filter, whether it’s looking at time on site, which can be pretty unforgiving, or maintaining strict brand guidelines. Pandering to visits is not the answer. It can be tempting to go for the pure click-bait angle sometimes, but in the long run, you’ll lose your readers’ trust.

What works well is a partnership between marketing and editorial, so both sides appreciate the value of numbers and great creative. Developing a collaborative process around optimizing story positioning along with a constant feedback loop allows you to drive more traffic to quality stories, constantly learn what works, and evolve with your reader.

4. What do you think is coming in content marketing in 2015? What are the hot trends?

I think there’s a huge opportunity for video as more and more readers turn to mobile, and for quality long-form reads. I also think branded content will get smarter, more native and more data-driven. In terms of trends, I think the focus will turn back to more reliable distribution channels like email as publishers get burned by Facebook’s changing algorithms. Social will still be important, but personalization will be the key to cutting through the clutter. Personalization, great content, and great native advertising.


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