Content Recommendations After Outbrain and Taboola

November 10, 2016 | By

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There have been much more significant headlines in the news recently, but we still caught this one from October 30th in the New York Times: “Publishers Are Rethinking Those ‘Around the Web’ Ads.”

You’ve seen them: a standardized widget underneath (or sometimes next to) articles you read suggesting other articles to read – many of which have eye-catching imagery or provocative, vague titles that are just click-bait. And some are straight up offensive.

Powered by industry-leaders Outbrain and Taboola, among others, these recommendations have been quite the revenue drivers for publishers (claims of being the top revenue producer for some publishers come from Outbrain in the Times piece) but are also now getting backlash from readers. While both vendors also provide internal recommendations that link to publishers’ own content, the money is in the off-site ads. It’s telling that these vendors call themselves “content distribution networks,” not content recommendations engines, even though that’s what marketers have tried to make them. Outbrain even goes so far as to require in its terms of service that for every internal recommendation (“recirculation links”, the publisher also have an external one (“promoted content”):

Notwithstanding any other provision of the Agreement and unless Outbrain provides prior written consent,, (sic) any implementation of the Technology shall include at least one (1) link to Promoted Content per page (i.e., Partner may not use the Technology solely to provide Recirculation Links).

As publishers find that these click-bait and ill-aligned recommendations (to put it mildly) turn readers off or even undermine the integrity of the media, as is the opinion of some critics, what’s the alternative for that valuable real estate on your site?

Answer: recommendations for your own content that you control. Specifically, engage users with content placements that are actually tailored to the individual reader not simply based on what the masses are reading, as well as fully integrated into your site experience. Time spent on site, articles read and shared, and other metrics of engagement are important indicators and drivers of a publisher’s sustainable viability. The most effective way to increase those is by recommending content to a single reader based on their own interests.

How does it work? By using a combination of algorithms that produce relevant recommendations for any user based on three different categories of data:

  1. Individual interests and behaviors
  2. The interests and behaviors of readers like that individual
  3. Content metadata and statistics such as story virality or breaking news weight

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How well does this method work compared to the standard approach of relying on overall clicks? Work with our partners shows up to a 50% lift in click-through rates on BlueConic (i.e. individual reader) recommendations.

Want to build your business on customer experience and quality? Ditch the click-bait, focus on your product, and innovate with people and technologies capable of moving your business forward.

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