The Path to Growth for the Open Internet and Modern Journalism

We’re a part of the Open Internet, and we care about doing our part to enable a sustainable future.

Since Outbrain’s inception, our mission has been rooted in supporting independent journalistic outlets. Today more than ever, media companies need a strong backbone of sustainable revenue to continue to deliver quality editorial content. 

But there are no simple solutions in an advertising ecosystem that continues to rapidly evolve. Social networks and walled gardens now take increasing shares of audience attention. At the same time, publishers have been challenged to navigate sensitivities around news content, while striving to offer the reach and performance walled gardens provide. 

Publishers – from the institutions that deliver global breaking news to the niche creators who offer highly relevant travel and recipe tips – are incentivized by the metrics the buy-side has defined as proxies for success. To date, those have been viewability and reach, which put a disproportionate focus on easily manipulated metrics, rather than true quality editorial moments.

The rise of Made For Advertising, or MFA, sites has been the latest result of this dynamic and has generated a discourse around how the advertising industry can ensure great user experiences and true value creation for brands on the Open Internet. The root of the problem is beyond one advertiser type or domain. The challenge we need to solve is that of consumer experience, and the incentives brands provide all Open Internet content creators to prioritize it. 

The quality of consumer experience is both a critical barrier and a massive opportunity for the Open Internet. We partnered with Prohaska Consulting this year to publish valuable research about the value of news audiences, finding that 84% of buy-side respondents agree that advertising aligned with responsible news journalism has a positive impact on the advertiser’s brand. In addition, according to Stagwell’s 50,000-person landmark News Advertising Study, “news junkies,” who make up 25% of Americans, are one of the most valuable, yet under-tapped marketing audiences. It’s time for us as an industry to reframe how we measure the value of news and editorial content. 

So how do we tackle that key topic – consumer experience – which really lies at the core of the MFA debate? The true solution will lie in practical analysis of the experience sites offer consumers: Is this consumer receiving what they were expecting after clicking? Will they have a positive experience browsing that page? Focusing on this aspect is how we at Outbrain plan to improve the Open Internet. 

We acknowledge there is incredible work to do, on our part and together with our peers, to build toward that future. So today we’re announcing the following changes and updates: 

  • As of May 2024, we’ve removed all Jounce-classified Made For Advertising domains from our SSP, ensuring there is zero exposure for our programmatic advertising partners. Our goal is to ensure our partners understand what they’re buying, and have confidence in where impression-based budgets are going. We plan to use this as a starting point, given Jounce’s commitment to vetting domains by aspects that contribute to quality. 
  • We believe that the true solution to this debate will not be blocking a static list of domains. We intend to focus on the root issue, which is the consumer’s experience on the page. With that said, we are rolling out dedicated Landing Page Guidelines focused on pages that feature aggressive ad refresh and ad density.
  • These guidelines will apply to our entire advertising base, making clear that we expect all of our advertising clients to ensure their landing page experiences are in line with our guidelines.
  • It’s important to note that our dedicated branding platform, Onyx by Outbrain, is entirely MFA-free and prioritizes inventory that enables a carbon-neutral ecosystem through the launch of OnyxGreen in partnership with Scope3

We know that enforcing qualitative guidelines across thousands of landing pages will be difficult for our teams to do on a case-by-case basis. That’s why our Product Team is investing in building a dedicated solution, which will scan our network for these factors and enable automation of enforcement.

We look forward to building a better future for consumer experience together with our peers. You can expect to hear more from us about: 

  • Using attention metrics to value (rather than avoid) audiences on news and editorial content
  • Employing new research and engagement data to showcase the value of consumers while they read editorial content 
  • Quality experience on the Open Internet and how the industry can ensure the consumer experience beyond walled gardens is just as compelling as those they find within them. 

So what happens next? We truly believe in the importance of human-created, editorial journalism in today’s society. We want to support it and all of the other great experiences that independent creators and platforms on the Open Internet provide. We know there is much work to be done to strive for a higher level of consumer quality – and that if that’s prioritized, brands will be able to clearly see the opportunity available to them across the Open Internet.

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