One of the benefits of traditional magazine publishing is that it allows readers to stumble on content they might not otherwise have found. That hasn't necessarily translated to the Web, where people use search engines and social networks to look for specific products and services.
Outbrain Inc., however, is trying to duplicate online the way readers discover content serendipitously offline. In the process, Outbrain hopes to help boost publishers' top and bottom lines. Rather than relying on contextualization, Outbrain's technology enables publishers to provide content that appeals to different groups of people who have with similar interests.
“When you're really trying to get click engagement and trying to get people to consume more content on your site, simply showing another article about the same topic usually doesn't do as well as finding articles that are interesting and engaging to people like you,” said David Sasson, COO of Outbrain.
It's an approach similar to those Amazon.com uses in recommending books and Netflix does with DVDs. Enabling publishers to offer more personalized content can often add up to higher CPMs, Sasson said. “In this way, publishers can effectively monetize their traffic while simultaneously providing a great user experience rather than needing to weigh trade-offs between editorial concerns and revenue,” he said.
Outbrain's proprietary technology was rolled out in 2007, and the company is now working with more than 100 publishers, including the Boston Globe, PCMag.com and USA Today.
Publishers can deploy the technology in two ways. First, publishers can provide content to be distributed across Outbrain's publishing network. Publishers can control which articles and features from their websites can be used on the other sites; the articles exported to other sties are listed on the publishers' Web pages under the heading “More from the Web.” Anytime a user clicks to an article from another site, the hosting publisher obtains a share of the revenue from Outbrain.
Second, publishers can install the technology to add more original content on their own websites and drive page views. For each story, publishers dictate the specific number of links they want to direct users to other stories from the publisher.
Targeted content recommendations—whether pointing to articles that are in-house or on websites that are part of Outbrain's network—yield a click-through rate of 3% to 12% among publishers' blogs, site sections, videos and online channels, Sasson said.
As Outbrain has built up its customer base, publishers have increasingly been gravitating toward the first, or the revenue sharing, option, Sasson said. “As the revenue piece of our model has been growing, there's definitely been a larger thrust toward trying to put more monetizable links out there [on the Outbrain network],” he said. “The publishers' editorial teams find this a friendly way to generate revenue.