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Using Creative Thinking to Subvert the Web’s Pageview Economy

Nick Gorski

The WirecutterThe Wirecutter, an easy to read and to-the-point technology recommendation website, isn’t the kind of site that’s constantly repopulating itself with new content. There's no daily barrage of listicles, videos, infographics, or bite-size Twittery posts to be found. Instead, the site aims to simply recommend the products that are the "best" in a bunch of tech categories, based on comprehensive research. Pages recommend the best point-and-shoot camera, best cheap headphones, best smartphone, etc.

Content on The Wirecutter is added and updated as necessary, not on a daily basis, as a great many other websites’ business models mandate. Posting tons of content is the generally accepted key to generating a large base of users, which sites need to earn the ad revenue that helps employees earn a living. Instead of focusing on pageviews, Wirecutter creator Brian Lam and his cohorts rely on referral traffic from their site to retailers like Amazon. For instance, it’s easy for someone to use Wirecutter to read up on which pair of headphones they should buy, and then click a button through to the product page on Amazon that features those same headphones. Amazon then pays Wirecutter for the referral. It seems likely that instant gratification scenarios like that are a big reason “10 to 20 percent of (Wirecutter) visitors click on links,” according to the Times story linked above. Rates like that would be a dream come true for most people in ad sales, and Brian Lam’s crew achieved them in part by dreaming up a way to monetize their site without even really being in the ad sales business themselves.

Ironically, part of what lead Lam to implement the Wirecutter’s model was the burnout he felt from his old career in the grind of Gawker Media’s pageview-driven world—he was a successful editor at Gizmodo until quitting at age 34. His shift in focus to the careful, evergreen content featured on Wirecutter is an inspiring example of the creative thinking that can help companies and solo entrepreneur-types alike find new ways to turn a profit online, while still providing good content and/or a useful service.