At Outbrain, we have been myopically focused on one very big mission: helping people discover great, interesting content. Over the last six years, as we’ve built our business on this mission, we’ve had to constantly scrutinize and reassess the frequently blurry lines between what constitutes “interesting content” and what doesn’t meet that standard. After all, what is interesting to some people in one context may not be interesting to different people in another, and we want to make sure we can serve as wide an audience as possible without diluting the experience of the majority.
Throughout all the conversations we’ve had internally about how to draw this line, one principle consistently reemerges that helps guide us: if users click a link we’ve presented, is it likely to increase their trust in Outbrain and our publishers content offerings or likely to decrease that trust? If there are signals that user trust is being degraded, that content is not a fit for the Outbrain service.
We’ve recently updated our editorial guidelines to clarify and enforce this high standard of content quality across all our buyers. Content that is primarily focused on selling consumers, or moving them towards vague continuity programs without adding real informational, educational or entertainment value, does not meet these guidelines.
Any existing content like this in our network is currently being pushed out, and we are not accepting new customers whose content breaches these standards. In fact, we reject over half of the applicants we get to our Amplify product purely on the grounds of content quality. Additionally, we have made (and continue to make) algorithmic adjustments that measure user trust in order to reward content that truly engages people who see it, and in order to reduce—and at times eliminate—content that doesn’t.
For both us and our publisher partners, staying true to this high standard of content quality also makes good business sense. While many ad networks and similar services can produce short term revenue spikes by serving up offers disguised as content, the long term effect is lost credibility with the audience and contamination of the area of the page where such units appear. Once the seal of user trust is broken, people will not come back, resulting in declining engagement, and with it, lower revenue.
Display advertising as a whole has suffered from this phenomenon, where years of low quality advertisements have eroded user trust and driven click-through rates and monetization to the floor.
So while the current update we are making to our editorial guidelines does come with a real short-term cost to us, we think it is the right thing to do and we are proud to be doing it. At the end of the day, our first priority is always to ensure our service works best for the individuals who see and click on our recommendations. If we continue doing right by real people, the long term opportunity for us, our partners and our industry will continue to grow and flourish.
November 8, 2012