The Content Marketer’s Guide to Growing an Audience Through Outbrain

In our latest Contently Labs, we answer a question we hear a lot from content marketers: How do I effectively drive high-quality traffic to my content through Outbrain?

If you want to generate more traffic for your brand publication, don’t underestimate the power of compelling headlines.

Outbrain, a content discovery platform, is a great option for publishers looking for an efficient way to drive readers to their sites. And how do you do that? By generating lots of headlines. Outbrain places recommended links of your stories next to and below articles on premier news sites like Hearst and Condé Nast publications, and with the right combination of compelling headlines and clever packaging, you can drive high-quality audiences to your content at a relatively low cost.

This is the second release in our series of detailed playbooks to our four favorite platforms for paid content distribution: Twitter, Outbrain, Facebook, and LinkedIn. (Check out our Twitter playbook here.) And when it comes to Outbrain, you can’t go in blindly and expect your numbers to jump. Here’s what you need to know to rock the platform like a content marketing superstar.

Which type of campaign should I choose?

Choose the type of campaign based on the format of content you’re sharing or where you want it to be placed. The options are: video, mobile, and desktop. Mobile campaigns tend to do very well, reaching audiences on the go who are willing to click around, especially with fashion and retail content.

How can I target my desired audience?

On Outbrain, you can geo-target readers by country, state, and Designated Market Area (DMA). However, the main targeting strategy here is to grab people’s attention by experimenting with engaging headlines.

Outbrain advises publishers to add as much content as possible to each campaign, which means testing different headline variations to entice readers along with different combinations images and subheaders. You can test as many variations as you want, and we usually test 12–15 variations of headlines, along with several image variations. Outbrain’s algorithm will optimize accordingly and show the best performing headlines more often. You can also add content to a campaign already running, which allows you to swap headlines and maximize performance.

Outbrain also recommends a few best practices for getting the most out of your headlines:

— Use strong adjectives, numbers, and questions—including words like “who,” “hot,” and “surprise.”

— Keep headlines concise, between 80 and 100 characters.

— Don’t be pushy with words like “must” and “need”—instead, use reader reference words such as “you” and “your.”

How should I budget my spend?

The budget can be assigned on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis. According to Contently’s Client Services Manager Amanda Weatherhead, you’ll often see lower CPCs earlier in the week, month, or quarter before it becomes more competitive to get eyes on your content. So plan accordingly to get the most bang for your buck.

For example, if you have $10,000 allocated for a quarter, spend $5,000 in the first month, $3,000 in the second, and $2,000 in the third. If you decide to set a daily, weekly, or monthly budget cap, Outbrain’s system will divide by each day to distribute content evenly.

The CPC is also adjustable throughout the campaign, so if you notice people are loving your content and eating up your budget quickly, you can drop the CPC. If engagement is low, increase your bid.

At Contently, we set up monthly campaigns for our clients and create progress reports at the end of each month.

How can I measure the success of my campaigns?

When it comes to measuring the success of your content distribution, Outbrain primarily tracks clicks, but you can also track conversions by embedding a code on your page, similar to Twitter. You can customize conversions to fit your specific goals, such as e-book downloads, email signups, or a purchases on a retail site. In Campaign Settings, you can also enter your tracking code into Google Analytics to better measure its progress.

But be sure to check the visit duration and bounce rate of your Outbrain referral traffic in Google Analytics to make sure readers are actually sticking around once they land on your site—ultimately, you’re not just hoping that people will click on your headlines; you’re hoping that they’ll click, spend time with your content, and keep coming back.

Outbrain suggests a certain CPC for each piece of content, and if you’re beating that figure with a lower price per click and Outbrain visitors are spending time with your content, there’s a good chance you have a strong content strategy in place.

Remember that tools like Outbrain can help tremendously when trying to build an audience, as long as you know how to use what’s in your toolbox.

For further reading on paid content distribution, check out our guide to Promoted Tweets, and check back next week for our guide to Facebook.

Correction: December 4, 2014
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Outbrain can only geo-target by country. Outbrain can target by country, state, and Designated Market Area (DMA).

Image by New Old Stock

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