Outbrain: A Recipe for Ultimate Success
This week I’m going to talk about how to build a kick-ass campaign on Outbrain in under one hour. In reality, if you are already familiar with the platform, it won’t even take you that long! So let’s get to it!
The Good, the Bad and Benchmarks
It’s seen as a bit of a dirty word at AIM, but I’m still going to say it – benchmarks are a good thing… when comparing like with like. In my experience of using native networks, I’ve discovered there is one critical success factor, which unfortunately is out of our control as marketers. That is, Inventory. This means that campaigns running in France may have better success than those running on the same network in Brazil. If the native network doesn’t have the high-quality inventory (sites where ads are placed) in one territory that it boasts in another, your copy, your strategy, your imagery won’t matter. It just won’t work. This clearly makes it difficult to compare like with like!
That being said, there are some pros and cons to using Outbrain that I think are applicable to all markets.
- Volume: As the world’s “first content discovery platform”, Outbrain boasts a monthly reach of over 550 million unique users. So, if you can find a winner here, there is plenty of scale to go at. Again, this is particularly true for the US market. If you are outside the US however, I would say that how much scope there is depends Outbrain’s partner sites in your market.
- Conversion Tracking: Although most of the big native players now have conversion tracking, it’s still not a given that every native ad platform has this capability. For instance, I had hoped to test a new platform, Spoutable, in the UK latestly, but was unable to proceed because it lacks this basic functionality.
- Functionality: Speaking of functionality, Outbrain has added two new cool features to the platform latestly. It’s now possible to duplicate a campaign, making it much easier to create new campaigns and run A/B tests. Secondly, you can now optimize the sections of publisher sites where your ads are shown (more on this later).
- Landing Pages: I spoke about this at AIM’s inaugural conference in Florida this year. We are seeing that some of the native ad networks are loosening the reins on the types of landing pages they will accept. So, before you get your developer working on a brand-new microsite, or ‘article-lander’, test what works on AdWords first. I’m not saying you’ll get approved, but it’s worth the test.
Here’s an example of one of our client’s control landing pages. This was our best-performing landing page on AdWords that was also accepted on Outbrain. At the risk of drawing unwanted attention to the campaign, I reached out to Outbrain and asked why this page was approved, and similar versions were disapproved. They told me it was accepted because even though getting the report requires giving an email address there is “enough valuable content” on the page. That is the key to getting approved on native – valuable content.
- Manual Reviews: Not only is the inventory in your market important, but in my experience, so is the person reviewing your campaigns. Because the review process is manual, approvals are often subjective. I’m sure some of you have had your content rejected for being ‘too self-promotional beyond any other educational/entertainment editorial content’. It’s Outbrain’s version of the dreaded Google slap! What’s frustrating is that approvals and rejections seem to vary market-to-market. While the landing page above got approved in the UK, we were less successful in the US with a similar version.
- Vertical Targeting: We’ll delve more into this later, but Revcontent has been somewhat of an industry-leader in this regard. Although Outbrain does have massive reach, it is not possible to segment by vertical (e.g. health or finance). The result of which means it can be quite easy for your campaign to get lost in all the noise, while still racking you up quite a bill.
- Retargeting: Outbrain has fallen behind both Taboola and Revcontent in this regard. With so many monthly unique visitors it is a real shame they still haven’t got this over the line.
Your 4-Step Kick-Ass Guide for Success on Outbrain
Despite some of the cons mentioned above, I have seen great results from Outbrain. However, I’ve had to test – and fail – the hard way. There have been some tried and tested strategies I’ve used for success on Outbrain:
- Don’t allow Outbrain to cannibalize your ads: Outbrain’s sole purpose is to recommend content that people are most likely to be interested in. To do this they prioritize the content that gets the most clicks. This means that if you have three ads (or articles) in one campaign the likelihood is that most, if not all, of the impression share will be given to whichever ad gets the most clicks the quickest (as shown below).A simple way around this is to create one ad per campaign. By doing this you’ll be able to gauge which ad is most effective in terms of sales further down the funnel and from there you’ll be able to work back and set appropriate bids and budgets for that ad.
- Choose a Bidding Strategy That Works: Knowing what bid to set is tough. Unlike Dianomi, Outbrain works on an auction basis. This is a good thing, but the problem still persists – what bid should you set initially? There are two options you can take here and I’ll explain my reasoning for both.
Option 1: You start with a low CPC bid ($0.10 or less) and work up to that ‘sweet spot’, where you are happy with conversions, CPA and overall spend.Option 2: In order to get quality traffic fast, you start with a high CPC and optimize downwards to the sweet spot.The reasons for choosing option 1 might be any of the following: you’re treating Outbrain as a test and don’t trust Outbrain not to run away with your entire budget in a matter of hours (it can happen), or you’re not convinced of the value of the leads you are bringing on. Either of these are good reasons to start with a low bid and work your way up.A good reason to start with a higher CPC bid has to do with how Outbrain’s algorithms work. We all know what Quality Score is and why it’s so important on AdWords. Well, Outbrain’s version of Quality Score is RPM (Revenue per 1,000 pageviews), which basically determines the number of visitors you’re going to get. The major indicators of RPM are CTR and your CPC bid. Therefore, the higher your CPC bid, the more likely you are to have a good RPM, which in turn means better quality traffic.Disclaimer: Anyone who read my last article might be thinking, “but don’t you get an initial spike during the exploratory phase anyway? Why then should I set a higher CPC initially?” The answer is yes and it is a good counter-argument to make. However, as with everything PPC nothing is black and white. Setting a higher CPC will help you get better quality traffic faster; whether you are prepared to accept the cost that comes with that traffic is up to you.
- Use Outbrain’s algorithm to your advantage by changing creatives: Depending on how well your campaign is performing, you might need to test new creatives quite regularly or you might not. Some campaigns can be set-it-and-forget-it (jackpot!) and others aren’t live a week before you notice a dip in impression share. Creating new ads helps to keep Outbrain’s algorithm in the ‘exploratory phase’. For those of you who missed my last article I’ll explain what I mean here. When you launch a campaign on Outbrain, the algorithm searches its entire network for what it considers to be an appropriate audience for your content. After an appropriate number of clicks, the algorithm stops its search and focuses where the engaged audience is. If it can’t find the right audience (enough clicks) it drops its effort, resulting in less impressions. One way to combat this is by creating new headlines and images which can stimulate the algorithm and prolong the exploratory phase.
- Track your conversions! You might not realize it right away, but Outbrain does have a conversion tracking pixel. Reach out to their support and they will send it to you. Once implemented, and after getting your first conversion, you’ll start seeing conversions and CPA data in your campaigns dashboard. Keep an eye out for retargeting on Outbrain too. Although we still don’t have access to this, we have been reliably informed that it is in beta and will be rolled out soon. This could be a game changer for Outbrain, as it continues to play catch up to Taboola and Revcontent in this regard. If you notice this functionality in your account, I would love to hear from you! You can reach me here firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Features to Make Managing Outbrain a Breeze
There are two relatively new features Outbrain have added to the platform I touched on earlier. First up is the ability to filter your placements by ‘Section’ rather than having to exclude an entire publisher from showing your ads. You can exclude up to 30 publishers account-wide and 100 sections per campaign. Be careful not to over-optimize though and limit your reach.
The second update I want to share is the ability to duplicate and edit an existing campaign. This is another great addition as it allows you to quickly set up A/B tests and/or create new campaigns easily. To duplicate your campaign, click the copy tool next to the campaign name description.
Overall Mark Out of Ten: 7/10
While Outbrain has added some pretty cool innovations to the platform latestly, I can’t help but wonder just how good it could be if we were able to target by vertical. Add to that the inability to run remarketing campaigns and their strict policy guidelines and you are left with the score above. It’s perhaps a little harsh to say that it’s their only saving grace, but the impressive list of sites that they partner with (in most markets) has saved their skin a little.
And that’s it from me for now – two down two to go!
All the best,
P.S. This is the second article in a series about native ad networks. You can find the first article about the financial ad platform, Dianomi (and the score I gave it!) here.