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Aug 16, 2007
Case Study

How Sharing Your Content With Partner Sites Revs Online Subscription Growth

SUMMARY: If you’re dealing with a fragmented market that makes it difficult to attract subscribers, you can broaden your reach and go where the traffic is.

An online directory for creative professionals targeted media partners with similar users and built databases on their Web sites to highlight subscribers’ work. The plan is paying off: site searches have increased 37%, and subscriptions are up 40%. Plus, more users are converting into paid members.
CHALLENGE
“We were faced with a situation where the market was becoming increasingly fragmented. There are lots of portfolio sites out there, lots more social networking sites where people can upload images. It was more of a challenge to achieve growth,” says David Katz, CEO, Portfolios.com

That fragmentation didn’t just make it harder to find subscribers for Portfolios.com, which lets illustrators, graphic designers and other creative professionals build online portfolios of their work. It also made it harder to attract traffic from the potential buyers of those services, such as art directors, who come to browse the site’s directory looking for freelance help.

Katz wanted to increase their subscription value for existing and new users while ensure that the site remains a top spot to search for freelance help. Rather than change the site’s features to try to impress users, they focused on the reason subscribers paid for a Portfolios.com subscription in the first place: to get leads on new projects.


CAMPAIGN
Katz and his team took a page from affiliate marketing and developed a program to create custom portfolio directories on partner media sites with heavy traffic among creative professionals and buyers. The goal was to spread the reach of Portfolios.com’s existing database by hosting members’ content on other sites across the Web while adding new members from the partner sites’ audiences.

Here’s how they launched the program, called the Portfolios Partner Network:

-> Step #1. Reach out to partners with no directories of their own

First, they targeted sites that attracted both the creative professionals who would be potential subscribers and the decisionmakers who hire these freelancers for their projects. Then, they looked for sites that didn’t already operate their own directories of service providers.

The pitch to potential partners was the chance to add content that could provide direct online revenue -- partner sites received a percentage of any new subscription sales generated on their sites -- and get additional impressions for advertising sales. Portfolios.com would provide the technology infrastructure as well as an existing database of members so the section of the site would be pre-populated with users.

Based on their industry knowledge and existing marketing efforts, they had a good idea of which sites appealed to the same audience. Many of the sites they approached were the homepages of trade magazines in which Portfolios.com had run print advertising with good success.

But they also wanted sites that would approach the network almost as a joint venture and see the value of the online marketplace for their own Web users and be willing to help market the feature.

-> Step #2. Balance the types of sites in the network and sectors of their target market

Katz and his team thought creatively about the kinds of sites that would deliver a good cross section of users. For example, rather than immediately target ones that specifically appealed to, say, photographers, they sought more general sites:

- The team approached AdRants.com, a marketing industry blog popular with art directors and other marketing professionals. But its reputation as an industry networking site also made it a good match for Portfolios.com’s user-generated content approach.

- They also reached out to major industry sites, such as CreativePro.com. That site had a strong reputation among art directors who needed freelancers but also attracted graphic designers, illustrators and other professionals wanting industry news.

-> Step #3. Build directories for partner sites

Partners were focused on their own sites, so they had to handle all of the heavy lifting involved with creating the new portfolio directories. “Fortunately, our technology group doesn’t act as the revenue prevention department. They said, ‘Yes, we can do it.’ ”

- Using the existing Portfolios.com engine, Katz had his IT team develop the backbone that would allow partner sites to plug new directories into their existing site architecture.

- They settled on a standard design approach that reflected the existing Portfolios.com look and feel but could be modified with fonts and other elements that allowed it to blend with partner sites. Partners were given final approval of designs before implementation. “Too much deviation from the norm creates a lot of work, and partners are very understanding. There were no issues about that.”

- As more sites joined the network, they incorporated back-end coding that standardized the network architecture and allowed changes or additions on any site to immediately roll out across the network, including on Portfolios.com.

-> Step #4. Share marketing duties

When individual portfolio sites were ready, they worked with each site to divide the marketing responsibilities.

They gave new partners an introduction to the intricacies of the online directory space. They also helped partners understand the value proposition of a Portfolios.com subscription.

Individual sites were free to decide how and where to market the new directories to their users. They could choose areas of their own sites to add links to the directory, based on their knowledge of traffic flows. They also were free to develop their own advertising creative, with or without input from Katz and his team. “It’s very collaborative. We let them drive the channels and placements they think will work.”

They added a new section to the Portfolios.com site that highlighted the Partner Network, featuring descriptions of and links to the partner sites. They also included the network in the description of benefits for members (e.g., reaching an additional 400,000 Web users each month and gaining exposure on Web sites with 4 million monthly page views).


RESULTS

The efforts by Katz and his team landed three partner sites, which have already boosted the network’s reach, search activity and subscription activity. “We were very careful with partners we selected, and we know that the traffic is good traffic. Overall, it’s something we’re seeing as a massive victory that’s really resonating with users.”

Since launching the network, partner sites have accounted for 7% of online subscriber registrations. But during that time, Katz has also seen a 40% increase in registrations on the Porfolios.com site. “It’s a little speculative, but a lot of this increase has to be attributed to the partner network.”

Likewise, partner sites now generate 10% of the database’s search activity. But since launching the network, searches on Portfolios.com have increased between 37% and 39%.

They’ve also seen a boost in subscription upgrades. So far this year, 38% of online subscription sales are from members who are upgrading from the free, basic level to a paid subscription option. Before launching the Partners Network, Katz saw almost no upgrades from free to paid users, since the site’s telephone sales consultants could only reach out occasionally to free members with upgrade offers.


Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Portfolios Partner Network:
http://www.marketingsherpa.com/cs/ppn/study.html


AdRants.com - a member of the Portfolios Partner Network:
http://www.adrants.com


CreativePro.com - a member of the Portfolios Partner Network:
http://www.creativepro.com


Create Magazine - a member of the Portfolios Partner Network:
http://www.createmagazine.com


Portfolios.com:
http://www.portfolios.com



See Also:

Comments about this Case Study

Aug 22, 2007 - Alexander Prisant of Prism Ltd. says:
Very valuable. Affiliate marketing with a no- risk offer of a cut based on future potential revenue--i.e. real results--makes a lot more sense than simply spending money on most web advertising and praying you get any return.



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