Last week I did a post about StumbleUpon and how you can use this platform, which is like a cross between Pinterest and Reddit, to generate traffic for your blog or web magazine. In response, I got a lot of questions about Outbrain. The two programs operate in a very different manner, but what they share in common is that they try to drive traffic to websites by suggesting related content. Rather than doing this through boards, or a social networking site, they do it through your website, and other people’s websites.
How It Works
Outbrain is what people in the industry calls a content recommendation platform. It works like this. You sign up, give them access to your website through a widget on your wordpress, and they load up referral articles. These referrals might appear as hyperlinks below the top article on your home page, or wherever you place it, and should a reader click on one of your articles, they will find thumbnail images that link back to referral articles at the bottom of your page, much like you see on a host of websites like Chive or Salon. In most instances, the hyperlinks will be to other posts on your website, and the thumbnails will likely also be hyperlinked back to other articles on your site. There will, however, also be thumbnails to posts from similar websites with similar content. If you have six thumbnails at the bottom, for instance, one or two of them will take your readers away from your site, though they do open in a new tab.
There are a few benefits to Outbrain. One, it helps you to crosslink to your own material. It will highlight related articles that you’ve written, and recommend them to your visitors so that if they haven’t read them, they will be aware. Aside from this, it will also rotate your posts on other websites with related content so that people who have never heard of your site will be exposed to it. If your readers are mobile users, Outbrain also has an effective mobile platform. Should you not have the patience to wait for the organic traffic to arrive, Outbrain does have paid options as well, which you can choose to amplify your visibility, though my experience with this is limited, and I cannot recommend it.
Though Outbrain is a popular service, it is not ideal in every respect. For those who don’t pay, results can vary drastically. I’ve had some people who had Outbrain running on their site for months and didn’t get a single referral from it. This might be in part due to the fact that the ads they are competing with often use provocative thumbnails and rely on click-baiting titles, making it hard to get noticed. You might also get unrelated posts popping up on your site. For instance, I had one person who I coached complain that Outbrain kept posting thumbnails from articles about weight loss and diets, despite the fact that their site had nothing to do with fitness or health. If these posts are showing up on your site, it could negatively impact how your site is perceived, and your leave your readers with a less than stellar experience. Though Outbrain also posts articles to your own website on your website, this is usually something you can do yourself with a side bar and/or hyperlinks to related articles in your text, tactics that are often more effective. Also, the Outbrain widget (like a Youtube ad) can take a few seconds to load, so if readers see a post they like and click on it just as Outbrain has loaded, it may put that post down and end up taking your reader to a different page, which is always annoying.
Outbrain is one of the more popular content recommendation platforms, but unless you are paying them, your website may end up being nothing more than a means for them to advertise for paying users on your site without compensating you. Likewise, the fact that they post links to your site on your own site is something most people are already doing through side bars and hyperlinks. However, Outbrain is worth trying. Let it run for two or three months and see what kind of referral traffic you get. Use eye-catching thumbnails as your featured images, and use catchy titles, though you should avoid click-baiting techniques. If after two or three months you haven’t seen any referral traffic, it’s time to move on. If you are getting traffic, then keep on running with it.