Not long ago, I was reading an article on one of my favorite websites when I noticed a little widget at the bottom with the title “You Might Like.” It seemed to me a clever way to keep people on the website longer, and I clicked the little question mark in the corner to learn more. That was how I discovered Outbrain. Outbrain allows you to place a simple widget at the bottom of each post with links and thumbnails for posts that the service determines a visitor might want to read next. You can see an example at the bottom of this page.
Outbrain also has a competitor called LinkWithin. Although I’ve been happy enough with Outbrain not to bother with trying LinkWithin, the services are similar enough that I believe anything said about the effect that one service has on pageviews and bounce rate would also apply to the other. Both services are free.
The goal of Outbrain is to provide an easy way to link from one article on your blog to other articles with related content. Each link includes an automatically generated thumbnail. The theory is that anyone who reads an article to the end most likely enjoyed it and is probably looking for something else to click. Although you could place an advertisement there and hope to earn a little money, in many cases it may be more beneficial to see what you can do to keep the visitor on your website longer and hopefully earn a repeat visitor.
Outbrain also helps to combat one of the common problems with blogs, which is what to do with old content. Many blog posts really don’t lose informational value over time, but they become more difficult for users to find when browsing a blog. In addition, because Google seems to place priority on newer, fresher content, your older posts may steadily lose ranking over time on search results pages. I have found that Outbrain shows users a good mix of new and old content, allowing you to keep your old content fresh. Big plus there.
Outbrain has a feature that allows users to rate posts after reading them using a simple thumbs-up or star rating system. Using the data generated by post ratings, you can feature your readers’ favorite content in your blog’s sidebar with a widget. The interesting thing I’ve found, though, is that your website’s best content seems to end up at the bottom of your posts whether you use a rating system or not. I haven’t used post ratings at all, but invariably the best posts show up anyway. I’m assuming that Outbrain’s algorithm considers the posts with the best CTR when determining what to display — this is a very cool feature.
You can configure the Outbrain widget to display links to articles hosted on external websites. The widget clearly labels these links as sponsored, and Outbrain will pay you revenue sharing earnings if anyone clicks a sponsored link. However, you have to apply for this feature and your website must receive at least 500,000 pageviews per month. For smaller websites, your only option is to donate revenue sharing earnings to charity or disable links to external websites. I chose the latter.
Although I instinctively felt that installing Outbrain could be a good idea for almost any website, it’s always best when you can back up your gut feelings with firm data. So, I installed Outbrain in September on a website that receives tens of thousands of pageviews monthly to get a good sample size, and have been tracking Outbrain’s effect with Google Analytics. Of course, every website is different, so your results may not be the same as mine.
With this information, I conclude that Outbrain is a great way to keep people on your website longer and make sure that they see the content they are most likely to enjoy before leaving. Based on this information, I installed Outbrain on a second website and the results were even more fantastic: 5,051 pageviews with Outbrain resulted in 364 clicks — a CTR of 7.21%.