“Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend.”

Are content recommendation engines doomed?

According to a recent article by the New York Times, publishers are re-thinking ‘around the web ads’ because they can lead to questionable websites, often run by unknown entities. The article cites that In the last month alone, Slate and The New Yorker decided to remove these ads which are “built on a premise for publishers rather than on a premise for readers to find the great next thing to do.”

When big brands take such a bold position towards a specific issue, it causes waves through the entire industry which can shift perceptions and influence the publications to take action. In the words of Mark Zuckerberg, “nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend”.

Using SimilarTech data we are able to measure, quantify and understand whether the industry has lost trust in content recommendation engines.

The growth of platforms such as Outbrain and Taboola over the last decade has been nothing short of stratospheric. Have they grown too fast too soon? Is the confidence on these platforms eroding as a result of the type of content they’re ‘recommending’? Is this the beginning of the end for content recommendation engines?

We wanted delved deep into our insights in order to:

  • Look at the market share of the biggest content recommendation engines across the web.

  • Understand the trend over the past year to determine whether there are significant indicators which show a decline in usage.

Market Share across Content Suggestion Technologies:

Looking at the market share for the entire category, we can see the clear dominance of Outbrain and Taboola across the industry - both companies were pioneers in the industry and were able to grow aggressively by targeting the most popular media sites in the web.

When looking at the market share across the Top 10k sites, Outbrain has a slight edge over Taboola, with 4.05% of sites using Outbrain vs 3.77% that chose Taboola. These would include the biggest media sites on the web such as CNN, ESPN, Fox, Huffington Post or the Daily Mail.

Content Suggestion TechnologiesWhen going one tier down and looking at the market share among the Top 100k sites, we can see that the most widely used content recommendation platform is Taboola, with 2.63% market share compared to Outbrain’s 1.70%.

Top Content Suggestion TechnologiesIt is worth mentioning that there are other technologies in this space gaining significant traction such as ZergNet used on Fox News and TMZ and Polar which boasts clients including the Telegraph and Bloomberg.

Trend Over Last Year, up and up:

Both Outbrain and Taboola have grown significantly over the last year in terms of adoption. Whether we look at the Top 10k or Top 100k sites across the web, we see sharp monthly increases, with more leading sites opting for content recommendation as a way to monetize their traffic.

When it comes to the biggest sites, Taboola is quickly narrowing a gap for a market where Outbrain traditionally had an edge.

Top 10k Sites Using Taboola and OutbrainWhen analyzing the growth trend for the Top 100k sites, Taboola leads with a wider margin, distancing itself from Outbrain by managing to capture a wider clientele among niche sites which still have significant traffic.

Top 100k Sites Using Taboola and OutbrainLong story short, the growth of content recommendation platforms is still thriving among big, medium and small sites. Probably the most astonishing insight is when we look at the year over year growth for both platforms.

Taboola grew their clientele among the Top 10k sites by a staggering 64% while outbrain also managed to grow the number of leading sites using its platform by 34% - Slate and The New Yorker might raise valid questions in terms of content quality but the data shows that they are outliers when it comes to representing a widespread industry trend.

Main Content Recommendation Engines GrowthMore is more?

As digital publishers look for alternative ways to monetize their content, one of the trends we were able to identify as a part of this research was the amount of sites using multiple content recommendation platforms simultaneously.

Over 150 publishers which have more than 1 million monthly visits are currently using both Taboola & Outbrain on their sites. In addition, some of this publishers have a 3rd or even a 4th content recommendation engine.

Outbrain & TaboolaFor example, when visiting popular gossip site TMZ you’ll be able to see in their homepage a ‘You May Like’ section run by Taboola and underneath these, ‘Around the Web’ + ‘Also on TMZ’ sections run by Outbrain.

tmzWhat does this all mean?

  1. Looking at the data, content recommendation is here to stay. It’s more popular than ever and it’s still significantly growing.

  2. As publishers struggle to monetize traffic, there’s a growing trend to add multiple content recommendation engines on a single site.

  3. You shouldn’t believe everything you read.

While the growth of these platforms is undeniable it’s also true that sometimes the ‘articles’ shown on recommendation boxes are pure click-bait that lead to dodgy sites. It is understandable that some sites such as Slate have opted out so hopefully it’ll be a wake-up call for content recommendation engines to ensure they step-up their game and provide recommendations that don’t undermine the editorial work from the publications in which they’re hosted.