‘You May Also Like’: Content Recommendation Advertising, A Guide

online media buying / programmatic buying / PPC


The answer is yes — if used correctly. Content recommendation engines serve up “Similar Stories” on premium publisher sites, most often at the end of an article the reader has finished reading. This natural pause in reader behavior, where users look for the next piece of content to read or site to visit, is a natural point of exit for some readers, much to the delight of content recommendation engines which place advertiser “content”  suited to reader interests on publisher sites in exchange for a revenue share of the value of the traffic they generate.

From an online media buying standpoint, content recommendation advertising presents an interesting opportunity to align “Paid”, “Earned,” and “Owned” media channels – as the sponsor ads which appear through these engines are both paid, appear as “earned” media in their advertorial style, and direct readers through to “owned” channels such as blogs, landing or social pages.


According to Al-Monitor (in 2012), the content recommendation  advertising sub-industry, which “propose(s) monetized content to web surfers for further reading” in a market valued at over $250 million a year according to Al-Monitor.

The market is dominated by two Israeli groups:  Outbrain, based in Netanya, and Taboola in Tel Aviv. Both founded in the same year, both built on its algorithmic technology which matches sponsor content to contextually-relevant publisher pages, the two services differ slightly in that Taboola ventured into video first, while Outbrain focused primarily on text-based contextual matching.  Taboola’s video capabilities helped it win over AOL as a publisher partner and USA Today, while Outbrain works with Le Monde in France and Mirror and Sky in the UK.

They have been joined by Contextly, which works with Wired as publisher partner, nRelate which runs Cnet‘s recommendation engine. Disqus, the blog comment engine which now embeds sponsor content contextually-matched, and Access-MC with roots in the Hollywood entertainment industry, which has curried favor among film studios for enabling trailer video-playing from within publisher pages:  a win for the advertiser, and a win for the publisher, which keeps the user on the page to boost dwell time.


From an advertiser’s perspective, content recommendation engines give an opportunity to align on premium publisher pages on a pay-per-performance basis (a rarity for most premium publishers, which typically work on standard CPM models).  The weakness, and potential threat to advertisers seeking to pursue this ad strategy is the context of other advertisers. Ads claiming to rid the world of its belly fat, or offering “strange cures for eye bags” are known to appear here.

Black list /White list targeting is a must to ensure premium publisher context is delivered, and online media buyers should take heed to ensure ad channels have policies in place to weed out unscrupulous or undesirable advertising messages. Without this due diligence, content recommendation engine advertising can be a liability for advertisers whose ads might themselves appear to lead to a click farm by virtue of neighboring advertisers.

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