The #1 Traffic Source You’re NOT Using: Content Discovery Networks

A lot of people always ask…

“Brad, what are the “latest and greatest” traffic sources out there?”

Now, a lot of this is business dependent. Specific traffic sources work better for specific niches and business models.

However, if there’s one traffic source all advertisers must consider using this year…

It has to be Content Discovery Networks.

Combined with the recent surge of advertisers using “Native Ads” (pre sell landing pages disguised as news articles/blog posts), many advertisers have begun to move away from standard ad networks (Google Adwords, Bing, Facebook, etc.) and have started allocating more ad spend to ad networks like Outbrain and Taboola.

Any time there is a massive shift in allocation… you should be paying close attention.

This post explains what Content Display Networks are, how they work and at the end you’ll get 3 case studies for 3 advertisers who are seeing success with these networks.

What are Content Discovery Networks?

Content Discovery Networks (sometimes called “Content Recommendation Engines”) are ad networks that place ads in the “Around the Web” and “Recommended Stories” sections commonly found on large publishers and news sites.

cdn-example

The idea behind them is to serve ads that look like they’re a natural part of the page. Publishers and advertisers love them because they don’t look or feel like advertising.

They work extremely well at driving traffic and sales when they’re paired with the right landing page , which is commonly a “native ad” or an article lander that appears like a new story.

In addition, their CPCs and CPMs tend to be a bit lower than “premium” ad networks like Google Adwords. They also tend to have more lenient policies regarding what kinds of images and wording advertisers can use in their ad copy and landing pages.

Who Uses Content Discovery Networks?

Content Discovery Networks can work for pretty much any business in any niche. The key is knowing which strategy is right for your specific offer. However, we’ve identified three different types of advertisers who are currently seeing the most success:

1. Direct Response/Lead Generation

Direct response and lead generation companies use Content Discovery Networks to send traffic to VSLs, native ads and pre sell pages. They like these networks because they tend to be a bit cheaper and allow them to “get away” with certain ad images, copy and landing pages that might not fly on Google.

Plus, the “newsy” feel of the ads is the perfect segway to a video sales letter, pre sell page or advertorial, particularly if it uses the angle of a recent news story.

Some of the biggest direct response/lead generation advertisers on Content Discovery Networks include LowerMyBills.com, The Motley Fool (case study below) and nutrition/supplement companies like Force Factor.

2. B2B/B2C SaaS Software

Large SaaS advertisers like LifeLock and Salesforce use Content Discovery Networks to drive traffic to blog posts or whitepaper downloads that address some specific issue their prospect might be having. They litter the page with opt-in links and lead magnets in order to capture the email address. Going for the email is a more effective strategy since their products tend to have a higher price point and a longer sales cycle.

Here’s an example of an ad from Salesforce:

salesforce-ad

3. Viral News/Quiz Sites (Ad Arbitrage)

Viral news and quiz sites are far and away the biggest advertisers on Content Discovery Networks. They love CDNs because they often offer two rates: one rate for advertisers sending traffic to sales pages (direct response) and a lower rate for advertisers sending traffic to pure content (news and quiz sites). Therefore they can buy lots of lower priced traffic, fill their sites with ads from networks with high payouts (like Google Adsense) and make money through ad arbitrage.

Read more about how viral quiz and news sites make money by checking out this post: The Business of Display Part 2: Viral Quiz Sites and Click Arbitrage

And again, Content Display Networks appear to be more lenient with what they’ll allow you to get away with on your landing pages. Many of these viral sites are optimized to make as much ad revenue as possible, meaning they’re often jam packed with ads. Many ad networks disapprove of advertisers sending traffic to landing pages filled with ads.

The Big 4 Content Discovery Networks

Which ad network should you use?

Here are 4 of the biggest:

  • Outbrain – Outbrain is the largest Content Discovery Network as of this writing. Some of the top advertisers using Outbrain include People.com, Refinery29 and Bills.com
  • Taboola – Outbrain’s #1 competitor. Some of Taboola’s advertisers include Next Advisor, The Motley Fool (case study below) and Ancestry.com.
  • ContentAd – Another large ad network. They claim to serve more than 5 billion content recommendations per month. Some of ContentAd’s top advertisers include HowLifeWorks.com, Answers.com and Instant Checkmate.
  • Yahoo Gemini Native – Relatively new, but increasing in popularity. These ads are shown alongside teasers for actual Yahoo news stories, meaning their appearance is slightly different than the “Recommendations” sections shown from other publishers. Some of their top advertisers include Verizon, LifestyleJournal.com and Lending Tree.

How Can You Use CDNs For Your Business?

So, now that you’re aware of the benefits of Content Discovery Networks… perhaps you’re wondering:

“What’s the best sales funnel to use with traffic from these networks?”

“What’s the best strategy for MY business?”

This is where competitive intelligence comes in. The best way to design a campaign optimized for traffic from these networks is to analyze what other people have already successfully done.

In the next section you’ll find three different case studies for 3 different advertisers in various niches/business models. You’ll get an in-depth look at how they’re using Content Discovery Networks and how you can take insights from their campaigns and replicate their success in your own campaigns.

Case Study #1: The Motley Fool (Direct Response)

The Motley Fool is a financial news publisher focused on giving investment tips/advice. They offer free and premium information and currently send traffic to pages designed to sell their premium investment newsletter/community, All Stock Advisor.

Networks and Spend

motley-fool-spend

While most large direct response advertisers continue to rely heavily on Google, The Motley Fool has allocated huge portions of their ad budget to Taboola and Outbrain (with Yahoo Gemini being just behind Google).

Ad Creative

Ad creatives on CDNs are very simple. All you need is an eye catching image and a compelling headline.

Like any display ad, you’re going to want to have an image that “pops out”. Many advertisers use images of celebrities because people love them.

The Motley Fool’s most seen ad is based off Warren Buffett:

buffett-ad

Now, Warren Buffett is someone anyone interested in investing is familiar with. He has a net worth of ~$72 Billion dollars and is considered the most successful investor of all time.

This ad builds curiosity with the headline, “Buffett’s Empire Is In Danger… And He Knows It”, combined with a picture of Warren Buffett squinting his eyes (a sign of discomfort).

Anyone interested in investing/finance will be curious because it goes against the belief that Warren Buffett is smart, successful and knows what he’s doing when it comes to investing. If there’s something that scares even HIM… you probably want to know what it is.

Landing Pages

Here’s where things get interesting.

Direct Response publishers in the finance niche often tie real life events and people into their ad copy, even if the product itself has little to do with that specific person/event. The Motley Fool does this same exact thing on the “pre sell” page.

The copy builds on the curiosity started with the ad. What is Warren Buffett’s fear? How can I use it to my advantage? The only way for them to get this information is to opt-in.

buffett-presell

After opting-in they’re immediately shown a video sales letter that plays off the copy in the pre sell letter. They’re pitched a subscription to the “Motley Fool Stock Advisor” newsletter and community and the end of the video.

motley-fool-vsl

And remember: they had to opt-in to see the video, so even if they don’t buy The Motley Fool can follow-up with them and send more offers.

So to recap:

1. They’ve taken a celebrity and timely piece of news and presented to a prospect in the form of an informative article (the pre sell page).

2. The pre sell page teases and preps them for the information they’ll see in the VSL.

3. All of this builds curiosity and makes it much more likely the person will a) enter their email address to see what’s behind door #1 and b) makes it more likely that they’ll actually watch enough of the VSL to be sold on the benefits of joining the community.

Warren Buffett himself doesn’t have all that much to do with the offer. However, they’re able to use him in a way that ties him in from the click to the final pitch, something many successful advertisers have been doing on Content Display Networks.

Case Study #2: LikeShareTweet.com (Ad Arbitrage)

LikeShareTweet is a viral content site that came from out of nowhere in the middle of 2014.

They now (according to Quantcast) average over 2.2M visitors/month.

likesharetweet-traffic-levels

They appear to offer no products or services, so they likely make 100% of revenue through advertising.

In this case ad arbitrage fueled by traffic from Content Display Networks.

Ad Networks/Spend

likesharetweet-ad-networks

Top network by far: Taboola.

Ad Creative

There are two types of ads that LikeTweetShare uses…

Type #1: Sex Appeal

likesharetweet-ad-1A simple picture of an attractive woman tied into a list post. People are drawn to attractive people and they love list posts, especially posts about celebrities and money. This ad ties everything together.

Type #2: The Weird and Bizarre

likesharetweet-ad-2b
likesharetweet-ad-2

Weird and bizarre images work really well at getting click throughs. People see them and wonder what the heck is going on and wonder “what’s the story behind the image?”. Both ads above are truly bizarre and almost impossible not to click.

Landing Pages

LikeTweetShare is very aggressive with the number of ads they use on their landing pages. They’re using ads in a few key places we’ve seen other large viral news sites use. Specifically, a bar of ads from Taboola at the top above the article and a Google Adsense ad just above the photo.

likesharetweet-lp

They also show pop ups with Taboola ads:

likesharetweet-popup

Case Study #3: Intuit (SaaS/Software)

Perhaps you’ve never heard of Intuit, but you’ve no doubt heard of — or maybe even used — their suite of products. They’ve developed a couple of the biggest pieces of finance software in the past 20 years, including Quickbooks and TurboTax.

Ad Networks/Spend

intuit-ad-networks

Although they still buy most traffic through Google, they spend a large amount with Yahoo Gemini. Yahoo Gemini ads work a bit differently as they do not show up as “Recommendations” on other websites. They’re shown alongside content on Yahoo news pages, not in “Recommended” content sections on other publishers.

(Note: Intuit also bought a trivial amount traffic from nRelate, a Content Discovery Network that no longer exists.)

Ad Creatives

turbo-tax-ad-1

This ad takes advantage of a simple “How To” ad formula that works really well in most display ads. Simply state what you’re going to teach them how to do. The “How To” here being they don’t need to pay to file taxes, because the TurboTax software does the filing for you.

The ad below uses the familiar theme of “newsy” ads:

intuit-ad-1

Notice that both ads mention or show the brand logo. Intuit can get away with this because TurboTax has been around forever and most people are familiar with it. However, you’ll probably see better results by keeping your brand out of the ad, unless it’s somehow relevant. You want to keep with the theme of the ad looking as little like an ad as possible.

Landing Page

One thing Intuit does differently is they send traffic to a Web 2.0-ish sales page and NOT an advertorial, article lander or pre sell page…

intuit-landing

Two possible reasons why they can do this:

Brand Recognition – Most people have never heard of Intuit, but most people have heard of TurboTax. (I personally remember seeing the TurboTax icon on the desktop of my family’s computer when I was a kid). People innately trust known brand names, meaning you have to do less trust building within your copy.

“Pay Taxes and Die” — Paying taxes are a necessity. Not paying can equal large fines or jail time. And since taxes are frustrating and confusing for most people, you’re going to want to do them right and want a solution that does the annoying work for you. Anything that makes doing your taxes easier is an easy sell.

Conclusion

Over the past year or two there has been significant traffic growth on Content Discovery Networks. My feeling is that we’re just seeing the beginning of a whole new brand of advertising. Anyone who is looking for another great traffic source should really consider testing out a few campaigns on these networks.

14 Comments

  1. Great article – I would like to know where do you obtain the top networks data, shown in each of the case studies? is this an Adbeat feature?

    Reply
  2. Do these platforms offer targeting?

    Reply
    • Hey Boris,

      Excellent question.

      Short answer: It depends on which kind of targeting you’re talking about and on which network.

      Example: Outbrain only allows you to geo-target. They do not allow you to choose which publishers your content appears on. They let their algorithm match up your content based on the specific user, content of the article and the publisher being browsed. That being said, they do allow you to *exclude* certain publishers if they’re not performing well.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
  3. That was great. I always thought that these traffic sourcse that are not much known to public, work much better that famous ones. I use google adsense but it’s getting annoying when people actually can see the ad logo atthe corner and it looks like an ad. The CTR is decreasing. But these new sources look great.
    Thanks for sharing

    Reply
  4. For arbitrage (like the likesharetweet case), do you have an idea how much the publishers are paying cpc for CDNs like outbrain, taboola, etc?

    Reply
    • Hey Chris,

      CPCs depend on a variety of factors (publisher, offer, clickthrough rate, etc.) but you’re looking at anywhere from $0.25 to $2.00 with these networks.

      Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  5. Thanks for the great article, I run a health supplement business, which one would you recommend for me, i.e. which one does not explicitly say (like Outbrain does) that supplements are not allowed?

    Reply
    • Hey Lee,

      I’d try rev:content, Taboola and ContentAd.

      I’ve seen nutraceutical advertisers running ads on those networks in the past.

      Thanks for your comment!

      Brad

      Reply
  6. I personally wouldn’t use celebrities or other people’s ‘brands’ to endorse whatever i’m selling. It is grounds for a lawsuit. e.g. Michael Jordan suing someone even though their ad flopped lol. Native advertising works better on social media (facebook/youtube video ads) than a lot of the other sites as the targeting is better. I’m sure more advertisers will turn to native advertising down the road but most people will also click on the ads less since they are tired of seeing the sales pages.

    Reply
  7. Stay away from Yahoo Gemini, at least for now. We have had massive amounts of click fraud over the past few months. Yahoo purchased a company called BrightRoll to take over the ads, since then, the problems started. Stay Away.

    Reply
  8. Good article. Have you seen affiliates using these platforms with success. Since for example you say that targeting is not possible for Outbrain except for Geo, it would seem you would have to go into some serious budget before you could get any meaningful data or ROI metrics. Your thoughts on affiliates?

    Reply
  9. I run a web development agency for ecommerce stores, what CDN do you recommend? And what options do I have for targeting (of any kind)?

    Thanks

    Reply
  10. Super article. We have a life insurance blog and are looking for ways to drive traffic to our site with lower cpc costs. Very interesting. We will take a close look at your ideas. Thanks.

    Reply

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