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As ecommerce surges, publishers turn to certification to cement trust

December 3, 2020 | By Esther Kezia Thorpe – Independent Media Reporter @EstherKeziaT

Ecommerce has been a strategic priority for publishers for a number of years. Then, in just the space of a few months,  Covid-19 accelerated the shift to digital shopping by five years. It’s no surprise that  the competition in online shopping is heating up as a result. 

Trust is a crucial component in ecommerce success. With many online shopping sites providing overwhelming choice and increasing issues with fake or incentivized reviews, consumers are turning to recommendation and comparison sites in order to help narrow down and evaluate purchase decisions. 

Publishers have benefited greatly from this. Their established audiences and high levels of trust have allowed them to build their own authority in product recommendations and gift guides, with many generating significant revenue from affiliate schemes and referrals.

However, as competition in the space increases, some publishers are looking to certification and branded seals as a way of cementing that trusted relationship between them, their audience, and the products they recommend. 

SELF launches seals after commerce surge

Conde Nast’s SELF magazine is the latest publisher to expand its commerce efforts by launching two new award seals. The title has seen ecommerce content traffic in October up 949.3% year-over-year, and the time spent with ecommerce content up 1,130.5% for new shopping.

In response to increased demand for its product recommendations, the health and beauty magazine has launched two seals. The SELF Certified seal is awarded after a thorough product analysis and review. And a product must score at least 7 out of 10 in order to be eligible for it. 

The second seal, SELF Fave, is for wellness products that the editors themselves personally use and recommend. These are  “the ones we keep coming back to, again and again, and enthusiastically rave about to anyone who will listen,” they explained.    

SELF has been creating ecommerce content for several years now. Their decision to launch the seals was as an extension of a strategy that they describe as “thriving”. “SELF editors know the wellness market better than anyone, and our audience trusts our recommendations,” SELF magazine’s Editor in Chief Carolyn Kylstra said. “Now, they know that products and services that get a SELF seal are the best of the best.”

Building additional trust

Having audience trust is particularly important in the health and wellness space, where new products are often launched with big promises, scientific-sounding tems, and celebrity endorsements. While some do what they say, others can be really misleading. Others can be more harmful than helpful. 

“People want to know that they’re buying the very best wellness products out there, and that the products are going to be genuinely helpful, rather than a lot of empty promises,” Kylstra explained. “The SELF Certified and SELF Face seals can give them more peace of mind in that regard.”

SELF’s editors play an important role in building trust alongside the new seals. As journalists, they are skilled in interviewing experts, seeking out relevant research and cutting through marketing speak in order to properly assess products. But there have also been improvements to the assessment process to support the editors.

A transparent process

In order to launch a certification scheme, publishers must first have a set of standards for products, either in reviews they publish themselves or in recommendations given by experts. At SELF, they revamped their review process to introduce added rigour.

“First, before considering a product for a SELF Certified seal, we turn to research and experts to set expectations and figure out exactly how to test the product, and what criteria we should be judging it against,” outlined Kylstra. “We publish that criteria publicly as a buying guide. So, there’s transparency with the process.”

This research and pre-testing phase means that the editor or writer carrying out the actual process will be on the lookout for specific things, rather than testing against generic catch-all standards. The SELF team have taken care in communicating these standards and what they mean to their readers, with the rating system available at the top of each review.

Product categories on SELF have their own buying guides published publicly as well. These feature expert-suggested criteria that not only helps the editorial team evaluate products, but also helps readers make their own decisions.

“Transparency is key to trust,” Kylstra emphasised. “We want to make it as clear as possible why a product gets the seal, how we tested it, and why it scored what it did. This transparency will help readers feel more confident that the product is truly as good as we say it is.”

Cementing expertise

Conde Nast is not the only publisher looking to boost their ecommerce credibility through certification and seals. Hearst UK unveiled a state-of-the-art product testing and accreditation facility in London over the summer in order to expand its famous Good Housekeeping Institute seal of approval across a wider range of titles.

“We know more than ever that what our readers are after is impartial, trusted information,” CFO Claire Blunt said at the launch. “All our readers are smart, savvy shoppers, and they want to know how best to spend their money. So our testing functionality is also about providing them with impartial, trusted insight.”

There is also an additional commercial benefit to publishers with certification. When a seal has been awarded to a product, brands can then pay to license the use of the logo in their own marketing campaigns.

As publishers compete to stand out in ecommerce, it is likely we’ll see more brands launch seals and certification as a way of gaining additional trust. But it is important to do this alongside a rigorous testing process, and to communicate clearly with readers about how products are evaluated in order to build trust in the long term.

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