Allrecipes.com is a digital-first publisher that touts 1.4 billion visits to its site in 2012. And at a time when most media companies are leaving print publishing, the recipe giant believes print can serve as a viable, new channel to reach home cooks.
In an exclusive interview with CMO.com, Esmee Williams, Allrecipes' VP of brand marketing, talks about the strategy behind the company's new magazine. She also discusses the brand's efforts in mobile, from which Allrecipes.com sees nearly half of its online traffic, as well as the evolution of content, putting big data to use, and social initiatives.
CMO.com: What are Allrecipes’ digital priorities for the next 12 to 18 months?
Williams: We [recently] finished our FY '14 strategy planning and are extremely excited for the year ahead. At the rate at which digital is evolving, 12 to 18 months seems to be as far out at you can look with still realistically having an understanding of what the consumer and advertising marketplace will look like. Our priority has always been to develop content, products, and features to make life easier and more rewarding for home cooks--and allow advertisers to connect with their grocery decision makers at the time of need. With the proliferation of social media and digital, home cooks are now more connected than ever before. We are focused on leveraging these trends to better the experience for our community to make their lives easier.
One major area of focus will be extending and expanding the Allrecipes experience through mobile. Today, forty-eight percent of all the visits to Allrecipes.com come from a mobile device, and that’s up from only 8 percent just a few years ago. To give you context, last year we had 1.4 billion visits to our sites, so we are talking about very significant size and scale on PC and mobile. Mobile devices allow home cooks to connect with Allrecipes multiple times throughout their planning and preparation process at work, in-store, and in the kitchen. Our fastest growing metric right now is visits per unique visitor, which is evidence of shoppers taking full advantage of their devices to guide their actions throughout their path to purchase.
CMO.com: What is the biggest challenge facing publishers today?
Williams: For food publishers, a growing concern is content commoditization. There are only so many versions of chocolate chip cookie recipes--so we need to be sure to make sure the Allrecipes recipe experience is unique. We do this by adding layers of utility and community to a large collection of content submitted from our community--which allows us to provide an unmatched level of authenticity, relevance, and immediacy.
CMO.com: Allrecipes was digital first and recently announced the move into print. One of our readers, (@sjordan409), tweeted at us this question for you: What is the strategy behind the magazine? When most are leaving print publishing, how is it a viable channel for you?
Williams: We are really excited about the magazine because it is something that our community has been requesting for a long time. Our DNA is digital. We launched 16 years ago as a social site. We knew then that launching a print magazine would allow us to provide a highly engaging and immersed experience that isn't always possible with digital. So while we had the interest for a magazine, we simply didn't have the resources or expertise. When Meredith Corp. acquired us last year, that all changed. We immediately began working with the food print media team, ran some tests, and started brainstorming what an Allrecipes magazine could look like, and how the audience would respond. The results exceeded expectations.
I realize there’s a lot of news about declines in print. But if you look closely at the data, food magazines continue to perform very well. What hasn't changed is cooks' need for inspiration and new dinner ideas; magazines provide an ideal experience to energize and inform cooks since they are so visual. The print magazine will be very similar to our digital media in that we will be heavily focused on our community and their shared, everyday food experiences. The magazine will allow us to take advantage of the expertise of our editorial team to add extra layers of information to further educate and inform the reader. As an example, we have hundreds of chocolate chip cookie recipes on our site--but it's Debbie Borsick's Award Winning Chocolate Chip cookies that have risen to the top in terms of popularity. In the magazine, the food team will have the opportunity to help you understand what unique ingredient or technique has allowed this 4.5-star recipe earn more than 7,000 reviews.
CMO.com: A lot of publishers are getting into native advertising. What's your play with native?
Williams: We've been committed to native advertising for more than 14 years. Products such as integrated recipes and videos continue to be among our strongest performing. For us it just made sense to allow branded recipes to coexist with member recipes since our audience has been preparing recipes from their favorite brands for decades. When a brand integrates their recipes onto the site, they get the immediate benefit of added exposure and also the opportunity to generate strong levels of consumer advocacy from the world's largest food community through earned media. A brand's integrated recipes also benefits from the opportunity to be reviewed, photographed, shared, bookmarked, pinned, printed, saved into recipe boxes across PC, emailed [all via] social and mobile--becoming instantly accessible and actionable among tens of millions of home cooks.
CMO.com: Programmatic-buying--yay or nay? Explain.
Williams: Programmatic buying is definitely the future. This approach provides a strong opportunity to make digital media buying and fulfilling much more efficient and transparent. Further, programmatic buying will allow agencies and publishers to put more energy and resources into more integrated, engaging campaigns, which allow for deeper brand to consumer connections and the ability to glean powerful insights that inform marketing decisions.
CMO.com: Content is a buzzword nowadays. But for Allrecipes, it's nothing new, right? Your business is built on recipe content. But can you talk about how your idea of content has evolved over the past couple of years?
Williams: Our brand standards for content hasn't changed. The platforms and media types have evolved. Whereas once we were only focused on Allrecipes.com in the U.S. on a PC, today we are focused on providing access and utility to our recipe and video content across a wide range of platforms and devices across the global marketplace. Today, in addition to our own sites and products, you'll find Allrecipes content on Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, Google TV, Roku, etc. And we have grown into global brand. Allrecipes has 18 sites serving 23 countries in 12 languages. Home cooks from around the world now have access to highly authentic, relevant, everyday, food-focused content through sites, brand pages, and apps on phones, TVs, tablets, and PCs.
CMO.com: Your site has banner ads. But research has said that up to 50 percent of them are never seen by consumers. Some publishers have retweaked their design to make that percentage go down. What have you done? And what's your overall take on the viewability "issue"?
Williams: For an ad to be effective, it needs to be in view. As screen sizes change, we have continued to make changes to ensure ad units on our sites are highly visible and surrounded by relevant content. To give you a few examples of adjustments we have made recently, this spring we decreased the size of our top navigation, so the ad unit and content could move higher up on the screen. For mobile, we developed a proprietary adhesion unit the remains fixed at the base of the screen, which ensures the ad unit stays within view even as the viewer scrolls down the page. We also relaunched all of our newsletters using responsive design to ensure the ad units display prominently on the page no matter what device the reader is using.
CMO.com: Can you talk about big data? Is that something that keeps you up at night? Is Allrecipes putting big data to use? Examples?
Williams: We are very lucky to have the huge size and scale of audience. Our editorial team looks at what the community is looking for and uses this to inform decisions on future content. When we think of new features and tools, we always start with the community and a lot of usability testing. We’d like to get to the point where we are personalizing the page for individuals, meaning if you’re a vegetarian, you’re not getting recipes for meatloaf. We want to use data to anticipate people’s needs and lifestyle constraints.
CMO.com: Have you figured out social media yet?
Williams: I would be lying if I said we have all the answers. At Allrecipes we definitely benefit from the insights and learning that come from being an early pioneer in social. Since 1997, Allrecipes has provided a community-driven experience where home cooks can share their food experiences in a trusted, authentic environment through earned media, such as recipes, reviews, photos, and blog posts. But if you are asking about social platforms beyond our own sites, then we are definitely still working to find our sweet spots.
We are involved in a number of initiatives across platforms to get a better feel for how, when, and where our community wants to engage with the brand and one another when they aren't on Allrecipes. One of these sites is Pinterest, where we are seeing strong success as the No. 1 lifestyle brand. Pinterest works well for food and recipes because it is so visual and has an environment that encourages comments, collecting, and linking. For Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, we have a large following and see strong engagement, but these platforms aren't yet driving people to Allrecipes.com. These sites are more focused on sharing the moment, vs. planning or preparing for future activities.