Simon Hutson of The Savings Group on finding ways of boosting revenue for publishers

23 August 2023

Whether it’s due to the demise of third-party cookies or big tech giants eating into digital advertising revenue, there is mounting pressure on media organisations to find new streams of income. Helping companies identify and seize these new opportunities is The Savings Group, which, over the last four years, has used its vast experience and cutting-edge technology to connect publishers with commerce, generating new revenue, data and insights.

We caught up with one of the group’s co-founders Simon Hutson to talk about the challenges facing publishers, how the rise of AI will affect operations and the importance of having open conversations when embarking on an ecommerce journey.

Simon Hutson, Co-Founder, The Savings Group

The Savings Group was set up in 2019. What was the gap in the market you spotted?

The UK is one of the most sophisticated markets for affiliate marketing and performance marketing and me and the fellow two founders noticed publishers had started to partner with companies like The Savings Group. We realised there was an opportunity to go global with what had previously been an operation that was relatively limited to a few big markets. We started off working with publishers in Australia and New Zealand, helping them generate passive income by essentially leveraging the domain authority they already had. Publishers have very strong domain authority as a result of the trusted nature of their sites and the number of backlinks on to their sites. So, typically when you roll out a white label, coupon proposition or any other products, those propositions quickly start to rank highly for brand plus coupon searches in Google. That brings not only traffic into the publisher ecosystem, but it also brings revenue, because when consumers click on a coupon from one of those brands that’s housed on the publisher site, the publisher and ourselves share a commission from that purchase being made at retail. We have now developed a significant publisher presence in 10 other markets, including North America and we’ve started to do more in foreign languages. Our first big foreign language publisher site is due to launch within weeks.

How has the company diversified over the last few years to better help publishers boost their revenues?

From a diversification point of view, we’ve been doing quite a bit in terms of helping publishers monetise their legacy content in different ways. What we have recognised is that publishers are quite often creating the inspiration for a transaction but not ending up benefiting from the transaction that’s resulted from a piece of content that they’ve produced. So, for example, we see many publishers publishing best Black Friday Deals or listicles of things to get your loved one on Valentine’s Day. Very frequently that content has a link to a product, but that link goes to the merchant page and doesn’t turn into revenue for the publisher who’s essentially inspired that sale through their trusted voice. So, one of the products we’ve diversified into is Revlinks which makes it possible, without there being any noticeable change to the user experience, to take previously straight links to a merchant and turn them into affiliate links that the publisher will earn income on.

Could you give us a case study of how The Savings Group has helped a publisher increase their revenue?

Because of our global coverage, we sometimes get access to opportunities that wouldn’t necessarily pop up in our country. We had one of these a few months ago and we brought it to one of our largest partners. They ran a piece of content recommending and reviewing some of the products from the brand and that resulted in tens of thousands of clicks to that brand. Because of the monetisation we put in place over about a three-week period It generated a significant six-figure sum back to the publisher. That’s an example of what we can do with the right kind of merchant relationships – publishers who not only have access to an audience, but when we bring them a significant commercial opportunity, the ability to drive traffic to that opportunity. That has been extremely successful and has in some ways opened up a different line of business that we’re now rolling out to some of our publishers around the world. We have incredible affiliate network relationships. We are plugged into more affiliate networks around the world than anybody else. So as a result, we are able to bring opportunities to our network of publishing partners that they might not otherwise see.

What are the biggest changes in the publishing landscape you’ve noticed since launching The Savings Group?

Obviously, the big tech giants have been taking more and more of the digital advertising revenue. And there’s also the data, and specifically first-party data, question for publishers and the whole reader revenue/subscription model, membership model and registration gateways discussion. I think the other thing that’s happening for publishers is their data is getting scraped. So, the challenges have changed, but some of the fundamental challenges remain the same, like digital advertising revenues. The way that we are helping publishers is, through our core proposition, giving them a passive revenue stream at no cost to them but also, on the other side of the coin, we are increasingly helping publishers to build new audience segments that they can then feed into their DMP. We’ve not just got insight into interest in a particular brand, we can actually evidence that interest right through to purchase of a brand which then enables you to build interest in audience segments and cohorts to enhance your advertising.

What is the advice you would give publishers when it comes to starting an ecommerce journey?

Well, if publishers aren’t involved in ecommerce, they should be. There are some very simple ways to get started, whether that’s in couponing or affiliating things that you’re already doing. Moving beyond that, what we’re seeing with a lot of the publishers that we work with is they’re moving into almost destination ecommerce. They are building ecommerce experiences on their own site, sometimes either on a proprietary basis, but more often in partnership with providers like ourselves. So, I would encourage them to have a very open conversation with us. We work very quickly, so it’s not too late to get started.

From signing a contract to getting an experience live is usually done within one to two months, so it’s very quick to get going. I would say the biggest thing that publishers should look at in general is how they deal with the scraping of their sites and how they can monetise that activity. I think they should think about how they deal with things like antibot technology to really make sure they are capitalising on the content they create.

How do you see the rise of AI changing the way that you operate?

That’s an interesting question. Within our own products, we use a fair bit of AI ourselves. I saw a stat the other day that over 40% of the GitHub repository now is AI generated. So, it is really accelerating rapidly. In terms of how AI will change our business, a lot of what we do on the coupon side of things is very much driven by search activity – somebody putting in a search for a brand plus a coupon and then getting a bunch of results and then coming to one of our partners because of the authority that they’ve built up over the years. I think that gets quite interesting when search becomes more of a conversational interface rather than a question-and-answer interface. I think that is going to change things somewhat, but right now, we’re still seeing the majority of our business coming through traditional means.

What does the future hold for The Savings Group? Are you testing any new products?

Yes, we’re currently testing some advertising products with our publishing partners that we think might be more impactful for them than some of the, for example, remnant programmatic they might be doing through the exchanges. There’s quite a lot that we can do. What I would say, though, is every publisher is different. Whether that is the fact that they’re at a different stage of their journey with ecommerce, or whether it’s that they have a different business model – we work with both publishers who have subscription models and publishers who are completely open. It’s also the case that there are a range of strategic imperatives. Some publishers are very focused still on first-party data. Some publishers are very focused on how they maximise their ad yield. Most publishers are focused on both and everything else in between. So, we’re trying to be as flexible and adaptable as we can to provide a very light touch – a kind of ‘set it and forget it’ means of enabling publishers to make more money from work they’ve already invested in.

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