Not many companies come out proudly for taking the number 2 spot in their industry. But when the market leader is Facebook, that silver medal looks pretty good
When Taboola announced that comScore Media Trends ranked them behind Facebook, the crew at the Israeli content discovery team had a lot to celebrate. The study tracked reach for the three domineering content recommendation platforms — Facebook, Taboola, and Outbrain — between March 2015 through March of this year.
For anyone out there who has been under a rock for the past few years, Taboola, like Outbrain, are the folks behind those “You May Like” or “Recommended from the web” links that you see at the bottom or side of every article, trying to direct you to the content they think will most interest you, garnering clicks for publishers and advertisers.
Taboola is headquartered in New York, with their R&D based in Tel Aviv.
The past year has been very good to the Israeli American company, going from 500 million unique users reached worldwide a month to over 1 billion a month, including 250 million that were reached on mobile.
According to the report from comScore, Facebook continues to lead the pack with over 800 million reached on desktop alone. Alternatively Outbrain, Taboola’s more direct competitor, had a less than stellar year, falling from around 550 million to 500 million a month, and was the only one out of the three to report a downturn in numbers when it came to desktop.
New partnerships to reach new eyeballs
The company owes its rapid growth to an ever expanding list of partners that have integrated their technology on their websites. Back in January, Taboola signed a multi-year agreement with Microsoft’s MSN to be their primary content recommendations provider.
Taboola’s Founder and CEO Adam Singolda tells Geektime that they have seen their numbers rise by some 400 million based on MSN traffic alone.
In the same month, they made a deal to start working with the different brands under AOL, including TechCrunch, AOL.com, the Huffington Post, and Engadget.
Then in February, Taboola came to terms with the UK’s Mirror Group, as well as the New York Daily News, with their nearly 47 million uniques per month to their stable. April saw them sign with blog and website commenting platform Disqus, who reports to have a presence of more than 3.5 million, albeit more niche, publishers.
With teams spread throughout the world, including offices in London, Sāo Paulo, Bangkok, and LA, they have positioned themselves well to integrate Taboola into the global web space.
Part of this growth in partnerships can probably be chalked up to a significant effort from Taboola to give publishers new tools to help drive sales and content optimization. Singolda tells Geektime that his team has spent a lot of time this year building the platform beyond the widget, “Thinking about how to empower the publishers and how they can work with the publisher’s sales team to sell native advertising and succeed.”
The result was the February roll out of three new tools, including Taboola Newsroom, which Singolda describes as “giving every writer and editor a way to A/B test titles and thumbnails as well as learn about how to optimize the content,” adding that it is “mainly a way for them to learn about creative in real time.”
Taboola Full Page Personalization is geared for the product team, giving them data collected by Taboola’s vast network to help develop different experiences for their audience.
Last is Taboola Native for the marketing team, whose purpose is to grow their audience and run more successful native advertising campaigns.
Altering your approach to finding content
In the beginning (1994), Marc Andreessen and James H. Clark created Netscape. The people of the internet saw Netscape and saw that the browser was good. Then in 1998, Larry Page and Sergey Brin built Google to help the people of the internet use their browsers to search for all the information that they could think to ask. While this was good, the user still had to ask the right question to find their desired content.
In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook to connect people and let them poke each other. He also created the most successful way of serving users with content, helping publishers reach out to the public with astonishing ease.
So while Google’s search and content discovery remain two relatively distinctive services, the latter has grown in leaps and bounds, making room for players like Taboola to step in and connect people with publishers.
“The reason Taboola exists is to build the discovery category alongside search,” Singolda tells Geektime, explaining the role that his company is playing in the shift of how we receive information. “I think that search changed humanity since it changed the way that anyone everywhere can find information if they know what they’re looking for. I think the future is exactly a reverse version of that. There’s too much information and not enough time. How can information find us? We call that discovery. That’s the whole notion of a personalized future. To connect with apps or products that you may like.”
“When you go to Facebook, you go to see pictures and friends, but you end up discovering a lot of things, whether it’s a game or a product,” he goes on to say, adding that, “We’re excited about this announcement because it positions us as the second largest discovery platform.”
While coming in at second is a big accomplishment for Taboola, they still face a significant gap to reaching Facebook’s success at bringing content to users, which itself is constantly rolling out new products to keep ahead of the game.
Singolda has mixed feelings about Zuckerberg’s Instant Articles, saying that, “On the one hand it’s a great awareness vehicle to get exposure to more consumers and that’s a good thing. On the other side, I think it’s also a risk for media companies because losing the relationship with your audience and no control over the experience that people have when they consume your content is a risk.”
“I think that the future belongs to those that have a direct relationship with consumers. Otherwise it’s hope as a strategy. On that front, I think that media companies should explore instant articles while working on building alternatives to find growth while building direct relationships with consumers,” he notes.
Restructuring the ad model
The industry has been foretelling the death of the banner for years now, saying that a new way to reach users, customers, and visitors is desperately needed. Taboola has embraced the pay per click model, moving away from impressions, of whose value has been hotly debated.
“I think that traditional advertising will shift to an invitation model whereby nobody makes money unless the user chooses to engage with the content,” says Singolda. “In-feed type story advertising,” where he gives examples of native advertising such as sponsored posts within your Facebook feed or sponsored links at the end of articles, “will take a bigger portion of the advertising market in the future.”
He tells Geektime that his customers are basically any company, brand, or publisher that wants to be discovered or rediscovered. “You can spark curiosity,” he says of their content discovery campaigns. “We work with great publishers like Bloomberg and the New York Times that are trying to get their content discovered. Over time, our vision is to be everywhere and recommend anything.”
Taboola appears to be on its way there, getting a little over 1 billion clicks from the articles posted by their on-page widget. Since they only get paid when a link is clicked on, Taboola has invested significant resources in their 150-engineer-strong Israeli R&D center to make this more effective.
Singolda says that they are learning a little better and faster how people discover things, explaining that by “Using data, the more you see how people make decisions, the more you get better.”
He is hopeful that as they interact with more users, the more accurate they can make their recommendations, pulling insights from their data in their algorithms and balancing them to decide quickly what is the optimal content to show the user.
You may like these thoughts on content recommendations
While the comScore results looks pretty good for Taboola, and of course Facebook, I would really like to see the numbers that include mobile. As mobile has become a dominant form of how we discover and consume content, any ranking that does not include these figures just feels incomplete. It’s not that I think that Outbrain will greatly benefit from the addition of these numbers in comparison to Taboola, but without them, we are missing an important part of the picture.
I have always had mixed feelings on the content recommendation model, mostly based on the fact that the articles shown to me were never very good. As a journalist, I’m probably harder for Taboola or Outbrain to work with than the average user. I visit tons of websites for work that when aggregated, would likely confuse any data collection service.
That said, I would expect to receive somewhat better recommendations than these click baity gems right here.
I’m also tired of seeing that dude with the unkempt beard who speaks a ton of languages. You know who I’m talking about.
My hope is that Taboola and the content discovery industrial complex continues to get better, and starts working with higher quality advertisers to make the service more relevant for users like me. I want to see stiff competition between them and Outbrain in a race to the top that will push them to make better decisions with quality content, New York Daily News and Huffington Post aside.
But mostly I want to see more content reaching viewers on platforms that generally keep good publishers in the black. Taboola is driving towards this goal, and they can mark this comScore report down as a win in their long litany of milestones this year.