Beyond our Search and Newsletter products, we are continually exploring how to better connect non-forum users with our customers’ communities. Over the past year, we’ve partnered with several customers to test new ways of presenting forum content to increase engagement while also generating revenue. Since nearly every forum includes discussions about products, we decided to see if we could make these stories more relevant to people outside of these communities.
For our first experiment, we partnered with AZBilliards, Home Theater Forum, TalkBass, and Windsor Peak Press. Using a set of recent threads, we extracted canonical products, linked them to retailers, and grouped posts around each product. This was a one-time effort (in other words, we didn’t update products or posts at all during the experiment).
We set up a site called Product Stories and generated traffic through Facebook ads. We targeted non-forum, passive users, similar to what a forum might see from organic search. Over the course of one week, we sent about 9K sessions to a product story on the site.
About 13% of sessions clicked on a product link, of which, about 1% purchased a product (Fig. 1). The click-through rate was higher than we had targeted, but the conversion rate was lower. So an ok set of results – not stellar, not terrible.
However, we were much more interested in engagement and retention. A low purchase conversion rate paired with high engagement and retention rates is more sustainable than the inverse. Fortunately, the Product Stories engagement numbers were more interesting. The bounce rate was 69% and average time on page was 4:22, both much higher than we had targeted.
Fig. 1: Percentage of sessions that engaged with the site
|Exploring a Product story||38%|
|Expanding a forum post||40%|
|Clicking on a product link||13%|
Fig. 2: Google Analytics overview
More importantly, retention was significantly higher than average forum retention rates, both in the aggregate and at the individual forum level.
Fig. 3: Google Analytics retention data
The initial Product Stories results were encouraging, but also raised more questions:
- What would happen if we promoted the products as the focal point (instead of the original post)?
- In this experiment, we had included the full post text on https://threadloom.shop. What would happen if we only displayed a snippet, and forwarded “more” clicks to the original forum thread?
In my next post, I’ll talk about our second Product Stories experiment, and what we learned.