Can Florida startup Revcontent compete against Outbrain and Taboola?
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Revcontent's huge team, headquartered in Sarasota, Florida. Photo credit: Courtesy

Revcontent's huge team, headquartered in Sarasota, Florida. Photo credit: Courtesy

Revcontent’s push toward more precise recommendations is their best bet to dethrone Outbrain and Taboola

Someone saying they are going to start a content recommendation company is only slightly less insane than someone saying they will launch a serious competitor to Coke and Pepsi. Why? Because Outbrain and Taboola are so dominant in the industry.

Yet, there is room for improvement. Both companies have received criticism that their content is often times irrelevant to the subject of a given website, or of low quality. Revcontent‘s founder and CEO, John Lemp, thinks it has what RC Cola doesn’t: the ability to take a large swathe of the market for itself.

“When we came into the market so late, we knew it was pointless to start an identical company,” Lemp told Geektime. “We saw a huge gap between what media brands were needing and what the current market was offering — the technology was only one size fits all, [and] there was no room for customization, or anything.”

That certainly stands up to what many think about the “You may also like” section at the bottom of various websites, which often display the most popularly clicked articles overall, without regard to the content or context of the site where they appear. That might mean referrals to movie and entertainment websites, or tabloids that attract users with women in bikinis.

That might be good for that particular publisher, but it locks the engine into promoting content that is paying the highest bid and might push down higher-paying publishers who don’t have the advantage of content relevant to scantily-clad women. And for some sites who might attract more conservative readers, the risk that those kind of images might appear anywhere on a given webpage can push those audiences to avoid such a site all together.

Or to put it another way, “You were going to be handed a cookie cutter widget with no imagination behind it: too bad if it didn’t work with your site, users, or brands.”

A race of relevant content

Revcontent CEO and Founder John Lemp presents on stage (courtesy)

Revcontent CEO and Founder John Lemp presents on stage. Photo credit: PR

“Our team developed Revcontent Personal Web, which ensures that content is going to be extremely relevant to readers because they can handpick the topics they are most interested in,” Lemp said, saying they are well aware of the big issue facing content recommendation. “On the partner side, it also allows media companies to be on an equal playing field, giving them the power to connect with people directly and not just within the walled garden of a rather large social network.”

The details would have to go beyond some of the more generic topics though. He explained that users can customize interests in categories like business, sports or news. But of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean I will get stuff on venture capital or five-quarter trend reports for mobile sales; I might not get a tandem of articles on the Yankees, Rangers and Jets; and by news, domestic or foreign? That is something Lemp promises his company is on top of, as they invest more in an AI component that presumably draws on user data.

In the meantime, the company claims to have positive feedback from customers like Forbes and Newsweek for “the level of control it gives them.”

“We have had the CEO of Newsweek quote our average performance over the current dominant player, Taboola, as 3X. We see our performance in the 2-3X range very consistently in tests against our major competitors,” Lemp boasted.

Not the only challenger to Taboola and Outbrain

The company's performance dashboard is pretty clean and organized (courtesy)

The company’s performance dashboard is pretty clean and organized (courtesy)

Revcontent expects to earn $280 million in revenue in 2016. That would outpace Taboola’s more than $200 million and Outbrain’s approximate $240 million in revenue in 2014, according to the Wall Street Journal.

They claim big name customers like Forbes, CBS Television properties, PayPal, Blue Apron, Jack Daniels, GE, Reuters, Newsweek, IBTimes, PCWorld, Inc, Fast Company, In Touch Weekly, Woman’s World, and “hundreds of other premium publishers.”

Revcontent is not brand new, nor is it the only contender to Taboola and Outbrain. Another small player is ZergNet, familiar to anyone like me who might peruse comic book and movie blogs. Others include AOL’s Gravity, AdBlade, MGID, Yahoo Recommends and GroupM acquisition Plista. In January, RevContent announced its own acquisition of Bath, England-based ContentClick, giving them a foothold in Europe.

Lemp noted, “They were the largest European content recommendation network, so we decided matching their relationships with our technology could become a significant win for our partners. Since then, we’ve seen massive increases in RPMs for the partners who moved over and significantly more reach with the brands and agencies buying traffic.”

More precision content recommendations are likely the only way Taboola and Outbrain will survive the rise of new competition. It might also include more reliance on video recommendations, as firms like eMarketer claim spending on video advertising will increase 28% this year: Taboola signaled that with their acquisition of video content provider ConvertMedia earlier this week.

But another major issue that has dogged publishers and content marketers for years is giving simple ROI measurements to clients, something Outbrain has been addressing since purchasing analytics platform Revee earlier this year. Revcontent says many of its clients use third party tools, but can also incorporate Revcontent’s API to track revenue from uniquely tagged URLs. Even so, the way to win right now is still through smarter recommendations, says Lemp.

“We’re excited to see native everywhere. The AI we are building right now for recommendations is the first step towards a more intelligent world all around us,” he explained.

“This is an open project for us, so no one can slow down the power of the people and the ability for the future of media to build relationships with people wherever they are.”

Revcontent was founded in 2013 by John Lemp, who maintains headquarters in Sarasota, Florida. They have about 100 employees.

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