Friday, September 23, 2011

Start-Up Watch COD: Outbrain drives strong results for brands and pubs with powerful recommendation widgets

Brands: If I told you there was a performance-based solution to drive HIGHLY qualified traffic to your rich brand content, would you be intrigued?
Pubs: If I told you that there was a way to take currently useless real estate, way way way below the fold, and drive big revenue from it, would you want to know more?
Outbrain is a start-up that says it has the solutions to deliver on those promises. They offer a unique platform that delivers recommended content links at the bottom of every story on a website, so that readers can indulge their passions with more rich content. And the pub where it appears gets both more PVs and more revenue.
Sounds too good to be true, huh? I see your point in that many of the existing content management platforms out there do offer a related articles feature, which is currently driving little or no revenue.
But these are essentially “dumb” tools that choose articles to list based upon matches to keywords in the story you’ve just read.
Outbrain is far more sophisticated. Essentially, they create a content consumption profile of a user, much as Amazon records all of one’s past browsing and purchasing in order to serve up recommendations. In a very real sense, you can think of the technology behind Outbrain as a collaborative filtering engine for content.
So that’s why the links are more relevant for users. But from here the story gets even more interesting. The latest Outbrain widgets offer a combination of on-site and sponsored links, so that a pub can drive more traffic to its own pages or get compensated for traffic it drives to brands or other pubs.
For example, this widget appeared below a CNN article on personal health:
As you can see, the recommendations are well tailored. The links on the right hand side are sold on a CPC basis, which provides performance based certainty for the advertisers and strong revenue for the pub. For its efforts, Outbrain gets a cut of the revenue.
As we all know, more and more brands are realizing the importance of offering rich content as part of their marketing mixes. Many of those brands have begin to use Outbrain links to promote their content, including American Express Open, Colgate-Palmolive, University of Phoenix and Procter and Gamble. Many of the other sponsors on Outbrain units are other pubs looking for a way to drive up their page views – particularly in sections where ad rates are strong. If for example you can drive a highly qualified viewer to your health content, that can potentially be quite lucrative – well worth the CPC fee.
According to the company, the clickthrough rates on these units average over 6%, meaning that about 6% of the viewers of a page of content click on at least one of the links in the unit. 6% not 0.06% or 0.6%.
6% would be cause for celebration for virtually any ad unit, but when you consider where these recommendations live – at the end of the story way way way below of the fold - it makes the figure even more noteworthy. When a user clicks on a link off the original site, it spawns a new browser tab or window, so the user is not lost to the originating pub.
I love this from both the buyer and seller angles. I want pubs to make more money to produce more and better content. I want new, more effective advertising tactics so brands can drive more value out of online. By turning heretofore low value real estate into a real traffic and business driver, Outbrain appears to be making a major contribution to digital growth. Certainly their client list, which includes many of the most important online sites, is evidence of that.
By making itself easy to implement, Outbrain offers a real, actionable way for pubs to do more – for their advertisers and their bottom lines.

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