Doing quality work won’t necessarily earn you an audience. Virtually no one knew who Vincent van Gogh was, for example, until after he died.

It turns out even transcendent work needs a little nudge to gain traction.

Content amplification platform Outbrain provides one of the more forceful nudges available to content marketers. Outbrain’s huge distribution network can get a lot of eyeballs on your stuff — but it can also be a huge money pit if you go in without a plan.

Here is what you need to know to succeed with Outbrain marketing. With just a little thoughtfulness, you’ll be much better positioned to compete with other content marketers without blowing the entirety of your budget on content amplification.


Don’t Spam Someone’s Readers: Write Real Headlines, Not Clickbait

The Golden Rule of Outbrain combines simple etiquette and real-world practicality. Always remember that Outbrain is syndicating your work on someone else’s site, so be a respectful guest. Don’t try to trick readers into clicking over into your content. Inauthenticity will only give you a high bounce rate, and you’ll eventually end up in the crosshairs of Outbrain’s quality control team.

“We have the strictest editorial guidelines in the industry, which we enforce,” Outbrain’s Australian general manager, Ayal Steiner, tells Marketing Online in New Zealand, a market Outbrain entered in early 2015. Steiner says the company manually checks every single image and headline to cull the clickbait.

“A great attribute of Outbrain’s is that it does its best to pre-filter unrelated spammy links, prior to displaying them on the platform,” says Sinead McIntyre, content marketer at imonomy, an Israeli advertising startup. “Personally, this is a feature I absolutely love and appreciate about Outbrain, as it has made my experience with it as organized and spam-free as possible.”

This allergy to clickbait does more than just ensure you keep respectable company on Outbrain’s “Recommended For You” widget. It also keeps Outbrain on the good side of many ad blockers.

The most-used ad blocking software in the United States, Adblock Plus, whitelists Outbrain on its Acceptable Ads program, which lets non-animated, non-interruptive ads through Adblock Plus’ sieve. So, any readers running AdBlock’s default settings will still see Outbrain’s widget (though users can manually set AdBlock to hide Outbrain content, too).

Wilfred Hirst has a great piece on his Content Support blog that will help Outbrain marketers on the right side of the platform’s filter. Here’s his four-point checklist to ensure your ad is on the up and up:

  1. Are you advertising your content on a relevant site? Make sure there is sufficient and appropriate overlap between the natural audience for your piece and the publisher’s audience.
  2. Is your headline spammy or authentically catchy? Not sure? Then your homework is to read Nicole Dieker’s piece at Unbounce on good headlines vs. clickbait.
  3. Is your image relevant? An easy rule of thumb: No suggestive photos or red arrows.
  4. Are you sending readers to a page that delivers on the headline’s promise? If someone clicks through to find a slideshow or a signup form, they’ll bounce without a second thought.

Ultimately, Outbrain is providing native advertising to the publishers on its network. Your job as an advertiser is to meet the publisher’s tone and audience expectations. As Outbrain VP of Product Marketing Matt Crenshaw puts it in a piece for Ad Age: “The crucial ingredient is content that people actually want to read, as opposed to a direct-response display ad that’s been shoehorned into a content module.”

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Test, Test, Test

As with AdWords, Facebook Ads and every other form of paid traffic, the key to success is testing out several ideas and running with what works best.

Inbound marketer Alisa Meredith recommends any Outbrain marketers

  • Promote no fewer than three different pieces of content,
  • Write five different headlines for each piece,
  • And test multiple images for each piece (and even for each headline if you can).

As you draft and test headlines, here are a few proven strategies to keep in mind:


Be Explicit When Geotargeting — Call Audiences by Name

Outbrain account strategist Adam Flomenbaum notes that content targeting readers in a specific state or city performs better when you include the relevant demonym. So, his example headline “5 Items to Kickstart Your Fall Wardrobe” becomes “New Yorkers: 5 Items to Kickstart Your Fall Wardrobe” if you are promoting your content on a New York-specific publication.


Longer Headlines Actually Perform Better

Blonde Digital Content Marketing Executive Eleanna Sbokou writes that headlines in the range of 80–100 characters do the best. “Go for clarity: make sure readers immediately understand ‘what’s in it’ for them when they see your headline,” she writes. “If they’re not sure whether this recommended content is going to be useful/interesting, they probably won’t click through.

“It also helps if you define the content type in your headline: is it an article? A guide? A video? Once again, the more information you give users on what to expect after clicking, the better.”


Avoid These 8 Words and Phrases

Sbokou also calls attention to eight terms that HubSpot and Outbrain have found signal lower-quality content to audiences, thus reducing click-through rates. Those terms include

  • magic
  • tip
  • simple
  • how to
  • why
  • cure
  • easy
  • need

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Advanced Tactics: 4 Ways to Get More Out of Your Outbrain Ad Spend

Here are a few tips and tricks Outbrain marketers have found really help optimize their content amplification campaigns.


1. Front-Load Your Budget to Get Cheaper CPC Rates

Cost-per-click rates on Outbrain are a function of advertiser-side demand, not necessarily audience interest. “The market gets increasingly competitive as the year goes on,” Contently Distribution Manager Amanda Weatherhead notes at WebDAM. “If you front-load your budget on a quarterly, monthly, or a weekly basis, you can take advantage of lower levels of competition.”

That means you can promote a piece of solid evergreen content to the same engaged audience in January as you could in October, but for a lower price.


2. Be Selective — Use Outbrain’s Block List Liberally

Dmitry Davydov, CMO at Bitrix24, notes on his Medium blog the importance of editing your traffic sources on Outbrain. Usually, he says, your No. 1 traffic source will send you lots of low-quality traffic.

Therefore, he recommends putting low-quality traffic sources on your campaign’s block list. Here is Outbrain’s help center article on how to add a publisher to your block list.

The problem, Davydov points out, is you can only put 10 publishers on the block list this way. However, he says he’s been able to call Outbrain support directly and request more publishers be added to that block list within a day.


3. Outbrain Can Help You Build Better Links

The team at Lendvo has a brilliant tip that can let you leverage your Outbrain campaign as a way to build links during your content outreach. This is ridiculously easy. Once you’ve identified a link-building target and published a great piece of content, simply mention in your outreach email that you plan to promote the content on Outbrain.

“The benefit to the host site is obvious; you’re paying good money to push traffic to their site,” Lendvo’s team writes. “But there’s a deeper subliminal message behind this offer to promote through Outbrain. It shows webmasters that you believe in your content and find it valuable enough to put dollars behind.”


4. Promote Referral Traffic Sources Rather Than Your Own Sites

Davydov says he completely gave up promoting Bitrix24’s content on Outbrain because “the results were dismal.” Instead, the company uses Outbrain to amplify articles and other content that mention Bitrix24 to leverage those publications’ reputations.

Essentially, the promoted content becomes one big piece of social proof. “Posts that come from sites that aren’t your own are the perfect customer testimonial/referral on recommendation services—users won’t realize you are ‘nudging’ them to check out the content,” writes Siege Media founder Ross Hudgens.


images by:
Anton Repponen, ©kasto/123RF Stock Photo, Edu Lauton

Casey Meehan