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Keywee Gets $9.1M From Eric Schmidt, NY Times For Its AI Approach To Content Marketing

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While Facebook is reportedly talking to publishers to host their content as a way of boosting the number of people who read it, one more startup is entering the fray to help publishers improve readership and traffic on their own sites, specifically around paid content and content marketing.

Keywee — a content marketing startup founded in Israel and operating in NYC that uses natural language processing, machine learning and social graphs to match stories with users — is today opening its doors for business with $9.1 million in funding from a notable group of strategic and financial investors. Led by Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors and Israel’s Marker LLC, The New York Times Company and the accelerator UpWest Labs are also chipping in.

The $9.1 million includes seed as well as Series A rounds for Keywee (no relation to the fruit).

The NYT is among 60 brands and publishers already using the service, co-founder and CEO Yaniv Makover said, with altogether six of the top 10 U.S. publishers among its customers, including Kiplingers and PureWow. (Others prefer not to be named, and “due to the sensitive nature of customer data, we can not provide pictures of any live implementations,” he said. Hence, the generic illustration up above describing how it works.) Currently the customer base is roughly split between publishers and brands.

There are a number of businesses already that offer different takes on content recommendations and content discovery, including the likes of Outbrain, Taboola, Contently, Newscred and more. Makover claims that what Keywee does is different, however, because it positions itself somewhere between content discovery and ad tech.

“To date, marketers have been flying blind when it comes to content,” he said in an interview. “We are offering an entirely new approach to solve content marketing challenges.”

That approach involves NLP and machine learning algorithms — with Keywee’s team honing their skills during stints as part of the Israeli Defense Forces — that not only analyse the content of stories but matches that up to user profiles to provide better matches between the two, posting paid content stories that it thinks you will want to read, on the places where you are already reading such as Facebook, Reddit and Yahoo. Makover says that Facebook is currently its biggest traffic driver.

“We are delivering the missing data layer to help content marketers find the best performing audiences for their content. We make content marketing measurable and more successful,” he said.

This seems to be what is attracting customers, too. “We’ve tested a variety of content marketing solutions and found Keywee successful at helping us quickly grow our audience by targeting the right channels and audiences for each individual piece of content,” said Anna Lee, Senior Director of Marketing for PureWow, in a statement. “Keywee found the audiences that engage with and share the dynamic women’s lifestyle content we are producing.”

There is also another important trend that Keywee highlights, of course, which is the rising tide for paid content. As advertising shifts to programmatic models and prices continue to drop for inventory, and readers simply get turned off from the cascade of noise on a page, many sites have been pushing into the idea of paid or sponsored content as a complement to other kinds of revenue models. Sponsored by brands, these articles are likely to be some of the key targets for content marketing campaigns, which eMarketer estimates will see spend of $4.3 billion this year, rising to $8.8 billion by 2018.

The sponsored content focus, and seeding those story links as ads on platforms like Facebook and Reddit, is part of the reason why Makover does not see the Outbrains of the world as rivals.

“We don’t consider ourselves a content recommendation engine,” he said. “Keywee is foremost a data platform for content marketing. Our innovation comes in our ability to find audiences for content. The audiences are specific to the platform we are distributing our content on Facebook, Twitter, etc.. Each platform has millions of targetable audiences.”

However, Facebook — with its increasing interest in working with publishers to boost engagement of those publishers’ content — could be another story, which could prove tricky, given that Facebook is also one of Keywee’s key outlets at the moment.

The company currently offers its products based around a managed service model, although part of the investment will be used to develop more self-service components that it plans to offer on a subscription basis, as well as hire more staff particularly in New York.