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Assessing the Content Palate: Q&A With Wine Retailer Lot18

Perhaps one of the greatest things the internet has brought us is the ability to purchase wine online without needing to lug a giant bag home from the local liquor store. Yet costs are often high and selections limited due to a byzantine array of middlemen and regulations involved in the process. Wine retail start-up Lot18 is working to solve these problems by scouring wineries and distributors for high-quality, hard-to-find wines that won’t break the bank. But it’s also using content production to help set it apart from competitors both digital and brick-and-mortar.

Aftertaste, the Lot18 blog, covers stories, opinions and recipes from both internal and external contributors on food, wine and travel. The Strategist spoke with Eric Arnold, Lot18’s editorial director, on how content on Aftertaste impacts the company and the strategies they are using to reach an audience interested in delicious wine, food and travel that matches the lifestyle.

Tell me a bit about your career in editorial and how you began working for Lot18?

I’ve worked at several print and online publications, and I started focusing on wine about 8 or 9 years ago. I started at Wine Spectator in 2005, then moved on to Forbes. After a couple years I felt like I needed some business experience, so I joined a small, wine-related startup. I knew some of the people at Lot18, and they recruited me after about a year.

How would you describe Lot18’s unique approach to content? What value is Aftertaste driving for Lot18 as a whole?

I believe that it’s hard for content creators to get into the e-commerce business, but that e-commerce businesses can and should be providing good content. It’s a way of informing current and potential customers, at relatively low cost, with potentially very good ROI. And even if the immediate ROI isn’t realized, it’s still a useful, valuable way to engage with customers.

I believe that it’s hard for content creators to get into the e-commerce business, but that e-commerce businesses can and should be providing good content.

Tell me about series on the blog from outside contributors and prominent food bloggers — like that of the Seasonal Palate. What do they help bring to the blog as opposed to staff writers and how do you decide which contributors should help curate stories about wine, food and travel for Lot18?

I’d hoped to have cast a wider net, with more external contributors by now (the inspiration is the Forbes.com contributor model), but it hasn’t panned out for myriad reasons. Nevertheless, Tim Vidra, who writes for Aftertaste several times a month, has stayed with us for a long time, providing helpful, discoverable, actionable, interesting content. Put simply, he’s able to provide value that our own staff doesn’t have the time, interest or ability to do on their own. We’re very lucky to have Tim showing our customers simple, delicious recipes they can make to pair with the wines they buy on Lot18 or on Tastingroom.com.

How did you define the type of content your audience would be interested in in the first place? What have been the most read stories to date?

By not trying to define it at all. I let Tim think for himself and simply create the pieces of content he’s interested in at the moment. If he’s interested in something, chances are the wider audience will be, too. Same goes for other contributors to the site, internal and external alike.

As for the most read story: One of Tim’s earliest posts on restoring a cast-iron pan continues to do well. A couple months ago, the link spread like crazy on Facebook, and clocked more than 100x our typical traffic in a day.

It was a successful article due to a combination of two things. The first is just that it was a good, helpful piece of content that people – whether they’re interested in food and wine or not – found useful and informative. The second is Facebook. The right person at the right time, whoever it was, posted it to his or her wall, and it was off to the races.

What makes you the most excited about your role at Lot18 in shaping Aftertaste?

Really that we can do whatever we want with it, whenever we want. It doesn’t require a huge amount of bandwidth, but we’re always able to devote time and space to great ideas. What’s more, we can experiment and play with the types of content we publish. By and large I’m able to use Aftertaste as a medium or tool that can only help us.

What strategic and visual measures does Lot18 take to help tie content to actual sales so that someone who navigates to an Aftertaste blog post knows that he or she is visiting a retail site and could potentially now buy wine?

We have trackers on links to products that we mention in a post, so we know about how much revenue the blog drives each month. Other than that, we keep the blog as free-form as possible so it’s a trustworthy source of information and ideas.

Do you have a policy to always link to Lot18 retail pages in each blog post, have you done user experience tests to figure out where it’s most effective to advertise Lot18’s retail business, or something else?

No, we don’t have such a policy, nor have we conducted testing in this arena. But we do [link to our retail pages] when it seems or feels appropriate to do so. Otherwise, we don’t force it.

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