Is it a good content strategy to use Outbrain for your link building, content marketing, and SEO? The answer to that question is a little fuzzier after a recent comment from a Google Search analyst.
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Google Chimes In
In late December, Nathan Johns, a search quality analyst with Google’s Search department, posted about such link building and content syndication plans as using Outbrain. On Twitter Johns wrote:
Hot take: if you’re going to report/complain about fake news, maybe think twice about those [T]aboola/[O]utbrain links on your site?
On the surface, the comment is a dig at corporate media, at least those corporate media who’ve been accused or been accusing others of “fake news,” of perhaps being hypocritical. Still, it has gotten the attention of SEO and content marketing experts.
Search Engine Roundtable noted it was one of the first and only times a Google expert has had anything negative to say about Taboola or Outbrain links. Barry Schwartz at SE Roundtable goes on to say he doesn’t think Google will have much more to say about the matter.
Outbrain Ads Mean High-Risk Content Marketing
However, that doesn’t mean an Outbrain link strategy isn’t worth more discussion among content marketing and SEO folks. There are two long-standing issues with Outbrain worth reiterating:
- The interface of these in-text ads is intrusive.
- The quality of some content marketed through Outbrain is low.
Intrusiveness is the enemy of user experience. For sites that host Outbrain or Taboola ads on their site, content is either interrupted by wide spans of ads — ads which may be only tangentially related to your on-page content — or interrupted by pop-up ads activated by your mouse cursor.
The quality of Outbrain content for which your site hosts ads can also work against you. Yes, it’s true that major reputable media publishers, such as CNN, the Washington Post, Time, Fox, Slate, etc., partner with Outbrain — and ironically, these are the same major media folks Johns was poking fun of with the tweet that set all the is off. However, the number of lower quality sites also using Outbrain far outpaces the reputable players.
Overall, this means that if your site hosts Outbrain link ads, you’re giving your users an experience with intrusive ads that link to lower quality, and perhaps unrelated, content. This does your SEO and content marketing strategy no favors.
What Outbrain Says About SEO
Still, to be fair to Outbrain, these results would be difficult to trace directly back to Outbrain’s product. Part of that has to do with the programming running Outbrain’s module; part has to do Google.
As Outbrain noted in a recent blog post:
Our module does not impact a website’s SEO efforts directly. This means it also has no negative impact on your SEO efforts. (Emphasis Outbrain’s)
In fact, the same blog post boasts about Outbrain’s SEO value. For publishers, the Outbrain Engage product promised to help readers discover “interesting and relevant” content within the site. For advertisers, Outbrain Amplify promised to help reach users and potential new customers and grow traffic.
Now, there’s no reason to think that some users wouldn’t find some content interesting and relevant or and become potential users or customers of Amplify advertisers. And it’s also true that Outbrain Engage breaks zero rules when it comes to Google’s webmaster guidelines. It’s all above board.
Conclusion: It’s Still Risky
Nonetheless, Outbrain is still risky from an SEO and content marketing business perspective. And while the answer to the initial question is “yes,” it’s not for obvious reasons. That’s because SEO tracks what people do or don’t on your site — not why. And Google bases the ranking of your web properties in the SERPs on objectively measurable site performance — it’s not concerned with why your bounce rate is high, why your time-on-site metric is low, why engagement is low, why users don’t scroll and read the entire page of content.
Google won’t speculate that your user engagement is low because of intrusive ads for unrelated content. It will merely note that your user engagement leaves something to be desired — and rank your site accordingly.