Outbrain, the well-funded, well-connected content discovery platform, today is announcing a new chapter in its business, which also points to how recommendation and referral services, already used widely by larger brands and publishers, are increasingly becoming accessible by smaller competitors. The company is launching a self-service version of Amplify, its platform that recommends relevant content to readers on the websites they’re reading, plus recommends relevant content from elsewhere on the web.
Before now, Outbrain says that Amplify was only available to larger brands, who would effectively buy a subscription covering a bulk of content. Now companies can use the platform to buy campaigns for increments as small as $10. The service is used to complement other kinds of social media marketing — such as ad buys and Fan pages on Facebook and Sponsored Stories on Twitter.
If you aren’t familiar with Outbrain, chances are that you may have come across its platform without even knowing it. The company counts publishers like CNN, Mashable, Fast Company and Slate, and brands like GE, among those using its widget to suggest links for further reading alongside content on the site: it offers one column of stories from the site itself, and another of stories from other places. All told, Outbrain says it’s currently embedded across 90,000 sites, generating over 6.5 billion page views per month — effectively double the amount of page views it was generating last December, when it announced a $35 million Series D round.
Some of that has had to do with introducing new formats on to the platform, such as video. David Sasson, Outbrain’s COO, says that that video already accounts for “several billion” recommendations per month, and that “the percent of our overall recommendations which point to video is growing each month.”
Another is mobile, which Sasson says is “booming,” although he declined to give any concrete numbers. Outbrain provides an optimized version of its platform for publishers, where it delivers content specifically readable on mobile devices. Apart from providing an experience that better mirrors what’s happening on a publisher’s desktop site, using something like Outbrain as a revenue-generating referrals engine can prove to be significantly less intrusive than running ads alongside that mobile content.
That is likely to extend to further platforms in future, either leveraging video growth or more in the area of mobile, such as with e-readers. “We’re committed to extending our platform into all digital areas where people could use help finding what to read or watch next, so whenever you get stuck not knowing where to find something interesting, expect an Outbrain link there at some point in the future,” says Sasson.
Outbrain uses a mixture of contextual analysis, a technique called collaborative filtering (“people who like X, also like Y”) and personalization to generate links for site visitors. This data is cookie-based and anonymized, and data is not shared between publishers.
Sasson says the new self-service platform works like this: a customer can set a daily budget plus a cost-per-click that it is willing to pay. Outbrain recommends a CPC of $0.15, he says, which, used with the $10/day minimum spend, works out to 2,000 people coming to that piece of content per month. Content is submitted either via an RSS reader or via uploaded links.
Large brands tend to need much higher reach to see a meaningful impact, Sasson notes. “Most larger brands and publishers that work with us are driving hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of clicks a month into their content through Amplify.” But since now, on aggregate, Outbrain is reaching 164 million uniques per month with its recommendations, it can start fitting in smaller buys, which will still generate meaningful traffic to those smaller companies.
So why the move to expand the platform, which has grown very well servicing larger brands, to going after smaller businesses? Partly it’s about diversifying Outbrain’s own customer base as the platform continues to mature. But Sasson says that part of the reason is because these SMBs are increasingly looking at referrals and recommendation as a way to drive traffic to their businesses. “Social media provides them with new opportunities to create meaningful dialogue with consumers inexpensively, using interesting content as a basis for continued conversation,” he notes.
He says that part of the reason for this is because Google is becoming too expensive for some SMBs (Google may be looking to meet that challenge itself with its new credit card for SMBs to specifically buy Adwords). That’s something that other smaller startups, like Linqia, are also going after, via different routes.