Ever made it to the end of an article online and seen “From Around Web” or “Recommended Content?” Usually the headlines are incredibly shocking, and the images eye-catching. Often they’re just plain weird.
Those are probably OutBrain ads, or Taboola ads – OutBrain’s main competitor. Technically though, they aren’t ads. They can’t be ads. OutBrain is a “content discovery platform” that specializes in putting paid links where readers are looking for something else to read.
OutBrain/Taboola ads are underused by advertisers because they are new, a bit odd, and hard to do well. They are neither ads nor the result of PR…so they don’t really fit into a typical online marketing model. But they are cheap and give you normally expensive access to premium online publishers, and they appear exactly when readers are looking for something else to click on.
I had only heard stories of massive failure or of wistful potential. But never from anyone who had actually tried out a campaign. So I ran a few campaigns.
Skip down to my ideas on making OutBrain/content discovery work, or continue reading for my walk-through of how to advertise on OutBrain specifically.
What & Why of OutBrain
OutBrain calls itself a “content discovery platform” and provides the same sort of service to different audiences. Publishers can use OutBrain to outsource their related posts functionality and make money off readers who want to keep reading something. In other words, OutBrain helps publishers make more money no matter if people stay (and read related posts & see more ads) or click and leave (in which case the publisher makes money from the click to leave).
Advertisers can use OutBrain to get cheap access to premium publishers that have a huge audience, but also premium ad rates. Advertisers can advertise on CNN.com for more than $5 to $10+ per thousand impressions (ie, not clicks) or they can advertise on OutBrain for less than $0.35 per click…with a catch. Here’s how OutBrain describes their services:
Grow your audience by distributing your content on other sites, where people are looking for something new to discover. The audience coming from Outbrain is already in content consumption mode, therefore more engaged and more likely to stay longer.
The catch though is that your advertisement can’t be an advertisement. It has to be content – or at least appear to be content. The lines here get quite blurry for both publishers and advertisers, and OutBrain is quite lenient on the form of content as long as your landing page isn’t a straight up ad + offer.
Either way, the key takeaway is that OutBrain is like an ad network for content. You get cheap incredible reach as long as you play by the rules. The rules are odd, so it’s useful to see who exactly is advertising on OutBrain, and what is currently working.
Who Uses OutBrain?
Most OutBrain ads are an ad rate arbitrage play. Advertisers (who are publishers themselves) pay $0.XX for a click via OutBrain, and then monetize that visit on their own site with premium ads that pay out $0.YY.
For example, a health site might promote content on a general purpose site for $0.15 per click because once that visit land on their site, they can promote a high dollar pharmaceutical ad. In the image at the beginning of this post, someone would click the link to “Foods That Could Cause An Irregular Heartbeat” - and they land on this:
Or they could click on another OutBrain ad and land on a page just stuffed full of low quality ads.
As long as the arbitrage makes sense, the publishers keep at it. Publishers with OutBrain ads get paid for clicks leaving their site, and advertisers get to monetize the visitors with premium ads after that. This strategy is OutBrain’s bread and butter.
To me, the very existence of this strategy indicates a big opportunity. Arbitrage means the market isn’t working, and something is under-priced according to its value.
In other words, not enough businesses are taking advantage of OutBrain. It should not be that cheap relative to display & CPC ads. And there are some companies taking notice.
AllState is a high margin business with a long sales cycle. It wants to position itself as a brand to rely on.
What do you think has a better ROI – paying $10+ CPM for a banner ad that tells people they can depend on AllState…or a piece of content that provides a step by step plan to survive winter with your car that gets actual clicks for $0.20 per click?
I’d love to see their Analytics, but I’d bet on OutBrain. People end up reading valuable content on AllState’s website. It might not be an ad…but the content basically lives on a big ad for AllState.
Either way, I’d argue it’s worth a test at least. You can get visits to your site using content you own for a rock-bottom ad price.
How To Advertise On OutBrain
First, head over to OutBrain. You’ll be signing up for an account to acquire traffic – err… “Amplify Your Content.”
Second, you’ll have to decide if you want to advertise an RSS feed or a hand-picked piece of content. If OutBrain turns into a good channel, the RSS feed can be really useful. But for a test, I’d start with the hand-picked campaign. Be sure your content is ready and good to go. You can’t edit the OutBrain headline – they pull whatever is the title of the page.
Third, you’ll set your budget parameters. I use the network recommended amount for test campaigns just so you can get a good sense of potential traffic. This area would be the first thing to optimize after the test though.
Be careful with the start dates. OutBrain does have to approve your content before it goes live (can take a day or two for approval). If you’re on a tight test budget, set a definite start days a few days out along with an end date. Be sure to watch Analytics on those days.
And of course, if you budget more per click, you’ll get more traffic.
Fourth, watch for your approval email. That’s it!
Advertising on OutBrain is that easy. However, one of my concerns/complaints is just how little control you have over the settings. Your placements are all automated. From my experience, OutBrain is really good at finding appropriate placements…but you don’t have the granular control that you get with Google Display Network.
You get to Geo-target…and that’s about it. Here’s what the Dashboard looks like.
Ideas For Successfully Using OutBrain
OutBrain is a great way to get cheap traffic to your content. But traffic that doesn’t build your business doesn’t matter. If you’re a publishing based business, you may be able to make a play on ad rate arbitrage, but otherwise, here are 4 ways to use OutBrain advertising to build your business.
1. Go for Social Shares
Going viral is rarely luck. There’s always something that gets the snowball rolling. Whether it’s a reddit submission, an email to an editor, or a previously built social audience, viral content starts somewhere.
Using some sort of paid “accelerant” can be a great way to try to engineer organic social shares. That’s the whole point of promoted Facebook posts and promoted tweets. OutBrain is a cheap, and worthwhile way to generate organic social shares. Unlike promoted tweets, etc – OutBrain ads don’t look like ads. They are content that visitors “discover.”
The key though is to make sure your content is easily shared. Make sure your Twitter cards are in place; fix your Facebook markup; ensure that the right share buttons are at the right place on the post.
Measure the audience you can reach with the money you spend on OutBrain. Even if your content doesn’t go viral, you can often get a really efficient overall CPM with relatively few social shares generated by the initial OutBrain campaign. This post can help you dig into the numbers for the social share strategy.
2. Get Opt-ins with a bribe
The OutBrain audience is looking for content to read. They are not looking to buy (not to mention OutBrain’s ban on advertising), and they are probably going to bounce.
But that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be interested in more information. Try to get email signups at best or Facebook likes/Twitter follows at worst so that you can market to them later when they may be interested in buying.
They are on your site because they like your content (or at least your headline). Offer something complementary to the content just to get their information. Measure OutBrain traffic based on whatever it would normally cost to get a sign up conversion.
This strategy is going to be the closest to direct response as you’ll get with OutBrain. But if you can successfully get emails with your content, OutBrain will be one of the cheapest ways to drive traffic to your content.
3. Build a re-targeting audience
This strategy is the paid version of getting opt-ins. It’s a strategy that you should have in place, even if you don’t actually use re-targeting ads. The last thing you want when purchasing OutBrain traffic is to have a huge rush of traffic to your site which then leaves, and completely forgets about you with no way to remind them about yourself.
Google Analytics allows you to fairly easily build audiences based on landing page. You can build these audiences to do retargeting ads later (ie, “the ads that follow you around”) in case or in addition to other strategies.
Retargeting is generally cheaper and more effective that almost all other forms of paid advertising since you’re advertising to people who have already visited your site.
The key is to build a campaign that’s very targeted and not annoying for your OutBrain audience. It might be new content or a complementary product/service offer, but it won’t be effective if it’s just a general campaign.
You can measure OutBrain with multi-channel Analytics (ie, what conversions did it eventually assist with). Or you can measure the OutBrain + Re-targeting against the price of buying targeted CPC or CPM ad. It’s sort of like paying $0.25 vinegar + $0.50 baking soda to unclog your kitchen sink instead of the $3.00 mini bottle of Drano.
4. User-testing for your content
If you’re spending a lot of time and money on premium content (or even doing an offline print run), you’ll want to know how to edit it before launch. Since OutBrain is so cheap, it can be a good place to test headlines and responses to your content – sort like a soft launch with user testing for content.
Run multiple small campaigns with different headlines to look at click-through rate. Install a scroll depth plugin or adjust your bounce rate in Google Analytics so that you can get a clear picture of how users interact with the content.
Measure this OutBrain strategy based on the improvements and time saved with your budget.
Build content on your site that’s actually interesting. Define what you want to get out of OutBrain. Social shares? Email sign ups? Branding? Decide how that content will achieve the goal – do you have a bribe for email sign ups? Would the content make social sharers look good sharing it?
Head over to OutBrain.com, set up an account, define test budget, submit content for approval, watch Analytics closely after the content goes live. Analyze the data and decide what to do from there.