This is the second post in a continuing series about new start-ups that are leading the way in creating tools that big and small brands alike can use to deliver Marketing with Meaning to their customers. Unless otherwise noted, I have no personal or business ties to the companies I feature. If you think you have a company that deserves a spot here, drop me a line.
A couple of months ago I got a Twitter message from Gilad de Vries, the VP of Digital Ventures at Carmel Ventures, one of the largest venture capital groups in the world. He shot me a direct message asking if we could chat. Now, normally I don’t take a “Twitter cold call” from people, and there are many companies that are eager to work with us so I have lots of screening steps. But I was intrigued to get a message like this from a VC VP. I’m glad I did respond, because I got the chance to learn about Outbrain, a company that Carmel Ventures is investing in that is a no-brainer for any company that is producing meaningful content.
Outbrain is the company that manages the list of links you often see at the end of articles on sites such as CNN and USAToday. No, not those annoying ads for cheap teeth whiteners, but rather the links that say, “If you like this article, you might also like these.” Outbrain’s team has spent three years perfecting an algorithm that ensures that these links are as relevant for the reader as possible. It has the ability to plug in these useful links to nearly any content provider’s content management system, and the company finds that one of these links are clicked for about 5% of the readers of any given article. It’s no wonder that sites as diverse as National Geographic, The Sporting News, and The Boston Globe are using Outbrain.
But the magic comes in Outbrain’s meaningful marketing business model. In addition to providing links to other articles within a given media property, Outbrain has permission from content owners to include sponsored links to outside articles. In its simplest use, if your brand is creating content consumers will enjoy, you can pay Outbrain on a cost-per-click basis to make your articles and videos appear on sites such as CNN and USAToday as content, not as advertising.
Here’s what that might look like for American Express. The company is already providing a lot of great content on its OPEN Forum, and it worked with Outbrain to put a relevant sponsored link in an article at The Daily Beast.
Outbrain helps solve one of the killer issues for brands that have a right to win and a desire to publish meaningful content: How do I get people to discover it? With Outbrain, brands can set aside a budget to drive traffic and pay on a cost-per-visit basis, just like Google AdWords, which many are using today. But I would argue that Outbrain might bring better traffic than Google. With Google, people are hunting for a specific answer and leave once they find it. With content browsing through Outbrain, people are in a relaxed reading mode and are more likely to explore your site further.
The company further nails the experience for the marketer with its website analytics tool. Just log in to your account and you can see how much traffic you are getting and which articles are generating the most engagement. You also can manage your budget quickly and easily in real time.
Outbrain has a few additional benefits that I love. First, brands with a lot of content can actually install the Outbrain plug-in on their own sites and improve readership within the site, as well as earn credits with the company by allowing sponsored links to other brands. Second, it can be used to drive traffic to content that is completely outside of the brand’s control. For example, a major automotive brand used Outbrain to send traffic to bloggers who had said positive things about one of its new models.
In reviews like this I always feel compelled to share some of the negatives and watchouts, but I can’t find much to not like here. The only questions to me lie around how much traffic Outbrain can actually deliver, and whether or not the people who come in stick around and return. But Outbrain will work with any brand at a reasonable test budget to get real-world data to answer these questions. I believe in it so much, I’m actually testing the plug-in here on this blog!
It’s rare that I see an idea that is a complete win-win-win for the consumer, the marketer, and the start-up business. If you brand or client is publishing content, Outbrain is a no-brainer to test and learn from. Please reach out to Gilad and tell him Bob sent you.