With all the hype surrounding social media and native advertising, it’s easy to forget one of the more effective methods of content distribution available: paid content syndication.
Made popular by content discovery platforms like Outbrain and Taboola, paid content syndication is when a marketer pays for a piece of their content to appear on a publisher’s website. The end result looks something like the image below, with the piece of content living somewhere in the margins on a publisher’s website, with a headline and (usually) an image to entice a curious reader to click.
A publication is only as strong as its owned audience, and paid content syndication helps grow that, and grow it quickly. Marketers can cross their fingers and hope that organic social shares will give their stories traction, but paid content syndication is a much more guaranteed method of finding loyal readers around the web. Services like Outbrain and Taboola also help drive readers back to brands’ proprietary sites and owned media properties, unlike native ads on sites like BuzzFeed or The New York Times, which are a very expensive way to rent someone else’s audience.
Before you begin a campaign on Outbrain or Taboola, it’s important to define your goals. Are they more marketing-oriented (e.g., awareness and audience growth), or sales-oriented (i.e., conversions)? If your goal is the former, Outbrain and Taboola’s algorithms automatically optimize toward the sites driving the cheapest clicks. However, if your goal is conversions, Outbrain has a special conversion optimization tool which pushes your content toward sites driving the most conversions.
There are also a few technical details to take care of before you start your campaign. If you’re monitoring your campaign through a third-party analytics system such as Google Analytics, you need to build necessary referral parameters to ensure that you’re capturing all the data you need. This can mean adding custom tags for anything from the subject, title, or location you’re targeting in that campaign. Outbrain and Taboola also have built-in analytics programs to help you monitor metrics like clicks, CTR (click-through-rate), CPA (cost-per-action), and impressions, which help provide a basic understanding of how your campaign is performing. Before your campaign goes live, the last step is to determine what, if any, geographic regions you’d like to target.
Once you’ve completed these steps, you’re ready to begin.
There are several highly successful strategies you can use to optimize campaigns and drive ROI with Taboola or Outbrain.
First, it helps to A/B test headlines and images for the content you use in campaigns. For each story, create 10-15 different headline and image variations. Outbrain and Taboola’s algorithms then optimize those variables toward the best-performing combinations, automatically phasing out ones that aren’t performing well. These best-performing stories are then served to more and more readers across the web, and this increase in demand causes CPCs (cost-per-click) to decrease. Anyone getting started with paid content distribution absolutely needs to take advantage of A/B testing. Otherwise, you’re simply not getting the maximum value from your content.
Second, it also helps to have best practices for writing headlines that draw quality and relevant readers, all without veering into clickbait territory. The headline is the first thing a reader will see, so headlines must reflect the high quality of the stories you’re creating. Enticing readers into clicking with misleading headlines in order to falsely inflate traffic and chase the bottom line is a risky game to play. You can’t put a price on readers’ trust, and with clickbait you risk losing it.
The other crucial aspect of the headline process is the image. It helps to provide alternative images with headlines. Some sort of partnership with an image licensing service isn’t required, particularly if you plan on using original imagery, but it’s much more difficult to find enough images and optimize your content without one.
Once you’ve added the first batch of stories to your campaign, it’s essential to keep updating your campaign with new content to make sure that your content is continually being served across the web. If you can, pull in new content throughout the month, and phase out any pieces that feel dated. But there’s no harm in keeping stories in your campaign for months, especially if they’re evergreen and are successful at engaging with readers.
The final factor in optimizing your campaigns is correctly allocating your campaign budget. The market gets increasingly competitive as the year goes on. If you front-load your budget on a quarterly, monthly, or a weekly basis, you can take advantage of lower levels of competition.
Through Outbrain and Taboola Contently clients consistently see an average attention time on their publications of more than 90 seconds and engagement rates between 70-74 percent. Your own early efforts may not reach these kind of numbers at first, but if you follow this advice, you should be driving legitimate high quality traffic in no time.
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