April 25, 2013
Case Study

E-commerce: How Wine Enthusiast increased organic traffic 154% with content marketing

SUMMARY: Marketers around the world are learning how to sell more with content marketing. The team at Wine Enthusiast has been doing this for decades.

We sat down with this wine retailer and publisher to understand how it uses content marketing to drive e-commerce sales and how the team increased organic traffic 154% last year.
by Adam Sutton, Senior Reporter

In content marketing, every brand is a publisher. The opposite is also true at Wine Enthusiast Companies. The publisher of Wine Enthusiast Magazine has sold wine and wine accessories for more than 30 years.

The monthly magazine is nearing its 25-year anniversary and is available as a paid subscription in print and digital formats. Its website is bursting with content, such as wine reviews, articles, videos and more. The company sells subscriptions and advertising, but it also uses the content to attract customers for its two e-commerce sites.

"We put time into creating helpful content that helps people either make a buying decision or entertain them. Even if they aren't making that purchase in the moment, we feel that they will come back to us as a great source of information," said Erika Strum, Director of Internet Marketing, Wine Enthusiast Companies.

Strum's team uses the content to build an audience, earn its trust and drive sales.

Working with the company's online content last year yielded good results:
  • 104% increase in traffic to the magazine site in 2012

  • 154% increase in organic traffic to the site

  • 50% increase in monthly email opt-ins
"In general, the larger our email list, the greater an opportunity for sales through either ads based on our total send count or direct sales from our e-commerce properties," Strum said.

Below, we highlight the tactics Wine Enthusiast used to increase traffic, build lists, and integrate its magazine and e-commerce sites.

Tactic #1. Connect content and e-commerce

Wine Enthusiast operates three websites:
  1. Wine Enthusiast Magazine — the site of the paid-subscription magazine

  2. WineExpress.com — e-retail shop for wine

  3. Wine Enthusiast Catalog — e-retail shop for wine accessories
The team hosts most of its content on the magazine site. For this content to effectively attract people and encourage them to shop, the site has to be clearly connected to the online stores. The primary way the team achieves this is with a simple three-tab navigation bar at the top of every page.

This tool stays with visitors throughout the three sites. A visitor can hop from the magazine site to a retail site with a single click, and vice versa. This creates constant cross-promotion between the channels and provides a simple way to organize the experience.

Tactic #2. Become a leading resource

"We like to make our customers and our readers feel that we are really the best source for everything wine," Strum said.

Wine Enthusiast has arguably achieved this goal by providing a vast and growing library of content. Below is a list of just some of the material the company publishes. We will dig further into several of these areas later in the article.
  • Print and digital magazineWine Enthusiast Magazine is a paid publication offered in print and digital formats.

  • Buying guide — this searchable database of wine reviews is hosted on the magazine site. The reviews are performed and written by Wine Enthusiast. Access to the database used to require a subscription, but the team removed the paywall and it is now a free resource.

  • Wine tasting videos — the team publishes a daily video of a wine tasting and review on WineExpress.com. The videos are fast and easy to shoot, and they are integrated into the wine store’s e-commerce strategy.

  • Wine 101 — this section of the magazine site gives budding wine connoisseurs in-depth articles to teach them fundamentals such as how to select wines and pair them with food.

  • Email newsletters — the company maintains two email lists that it sends wine-related content and offers.

  • And there's more — the team also publishes blog post and recipes, and it often repurposes content for infographics, PDFs and contests.

    "Even though all this content is available online in different articles, we find that people actually like to download a beautiful multi-page PDF to will help them cook, plan parties and that kind of thing," Strum said.

Tactic #3. Aim for "simple and effective"

The company has a big team of photographers, designers, copywriters, editors and other people who create and publish the content. Even with these resources, efficient production remains important.

The team's wine tasting videos are an example of how it stays efficient.

These clips are shot daily and featured on WineExpress.com. They are created with a small budget and shot on a simple, fixed set that never changes. The production is not as sleek as the company's Wine Enthusiast TV videos — but it works.

"It is tremendous in terms of helping sell wine," Strum said. "The videos we develop are often the number-one most popular area in our emails for clicks. For example, on a recent Wine Express email, the video was directly linked to 20% of the revenue."

The videos are published and promoted throughout WineExpress.com, such as in:WineExpress.com also displays a small video icon next to the titles of wines that include a video tasting. The icons are used on product category pages and search result pages.

Tactic #4. Take down the paywall

The buying guide is one of the most popular areas of Wine Enthusiast’s magazine site. It is a database of more than 134,000 wine ratings, and new entries are added each month.

The company used to charge customers to access the guide, but the team decided to monetize it in another way.

"Our competitors put the content behind a paywall, but we made a pretty big decision to give the content away for free," Strum said. "It built tremendous traffic for the site."

Much of this additional traffic came from natural search. In addition to pulling more people within reach of the team's e-retail sites, the boost helped in two other ways:
  • Ad revenue — the magazine site includes third-party display advertising. Increases in traffic help the team sell the ads.

  • Email subscribers — when new visitors spend time on the site, a lay-over ad periodically encourages them to join one of the team’s email lists. These ads are customized for context, such as whether the visitor is viewing the buying guide or homepage.
"We find that if people are enjoying our content, they are happy to hear more from us, and something like an email address can be very valuable to us," Strum said.

Tactic #5. Separate the email lists

People come to Wine Enthusiast’s sites for many reasons. Some want to browse content. Others want to buy wine. Others want to research wine accessories.

The team uses two email programs to help meet these varying needs:
  • Retail — people who opt-in on WineExpress.com mostly receive discount offers for wines. This list receives a higher frequency of emails.

  • Magazine and catalog — people who opt-in on other sites receive emails with content and offers. This list receives a lower frequency of emails.
"We like to keep it separate because we feel the right frequency for promoting things like wine cellars and wine glasses is lower than for promoting wine," Strum said.

Tactic #6. Repurpose content for SEO

The team works with an agency to maintain and improve its search engine optimization. The agency helps target keywords, find opportunities, and optimize videos, articles and other content.

Here are a few ways the team improves results in organic search:
  • Link building — some of the team's content is great link bait. For example, the team publishes an annual list of the top 100 wines. The list and corresponding information is published in a variety for formats, such as a premium PDF, infographic and in the buying guide. Once the content is live, the team promotes it to media sources and bloggers to earn backlinks.

  • Topic hubs — with so much content, the team can easily aggregate material on a given topic to create a great resource. For example, the team once wanted to improve rankings for terms related to "pinot noir reviews," Strum said.

    The magazine had thousands of related reviews on its site, so it aggregated them onto a single page. The result: the page is now the second natural result in Google for the phrase "pinot noir reviews" and the top natural result in Bing.
"No matter what somebody sells, there is someone out there who is excited about it. You can take what you already have and use it to your advantage rather than always feeling bogged down by the need to create new stuff," Strum said.

Tactic #7. Find more ways to repurpose

Contests are another way Wine Enthusiast builds lists. The team repurposes content to help promote these campaigns.

"We just launched a contest based on our 10 Best Wine Travel Designations … We have over 10,000 entries and the contest still has two months left, so it’s pretty incredible," Strum said.

For example, one of the team’s contests is giving away a trip. The page includes repurposed content such as:
  • Architectural highlights of the destination

  • Activity highlights

  • Video for the 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations of 2013
The page includes all the information regarding the contest. Visitors can sign up with an email address or Facebook account, and they can leave comments at the bottom of the page. Combined with the repurposed content, the page provides a hub for the contest the team can promote to bloggers and the media to build traffic and entries.

Creative Samples

  1. Three-tab navigation

  2. Paid subscription form

  3. Buying guide — database of wine reviews

  4. Wine tasting video

  5. Wine 101 articles

  6. Product page with video

  7. Homepage with video

  8. Video library page

  9. Email newsletter with video

  10. Video icon on product category page

  11. Lay-over opt-in form for reviews

  12. Lay-over opt-in form for homepage

  13. Top 100 Wines PDF

  14. Top 100 Wines infographic

  15. Pinot noir reviews page

  16. Pinot noir reviews search result

  17. Contest page


Wine Enthusiast Magazine

Wine Enthusiast Catalog


Related Resources

Content Marketing: 3 tips for how to get started

Content Marketing: A process for evaluating content channels

Content Marketing: 3 tips for producing engaging email content

Boost Promotion Frequency Without Taxing Your List: 5 Steps to Lift Revenue 69%

Marketing Questions: Making claims for new products, e-commerce landing pages

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly case study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions