Every successful media company has at some point paid to increase its audience – so if you want to be a successful brand publisher, you have to do the same.

After all, the rise of content marketing has transformed every brand into its own mini publishing house.

With the rise of content marketing has come the dawn of paid content promotion.

Now that we understand the true business benefits of quality content production, brands are now not only interested in driving traffic to sales pages, but also in paying to promote their blog content.

With so many options out there, I wanted to test three platforms to see how effective they were for paid content discovery. I tested each side by side and compared the results.

Here are the three platforms I chose:

The Platforms

1. Outbrain

Outbrain is a relatively new native advertising platform partnered with some of the top media companies across the world. Outbrain ads are displayed in line with content similar to how many online publications display “featured posts”.

One of the platform’s biggest selling points is that it lets users tap into the online audience of some the top media companies, like the BBC, The Guardian and The Telegraph.

The theory is that because the user is already engaged in some form of media, they’ll be more open to suggestions for more. The ads are more natural (native) and non-intrusive than classic display ads, which should increase click through rate (CTR).

You have an option to select multiple images and headlines for each URL, and can also set a target country, cost per click (CPC) and daily budget.

Outbrain also generates a list of sites where your ads have been delivered and gives you the option of blocking unwanted publishers.

The ads are displayed on mobile and desktop, usually at the bottom of articles, in a grid format:


2. Facebook Ads

Facebook’s ad network is an incredibly advanced ad platform that lets you implement very specific parameters for targeting, including age, gender, location, likes and interests.

Ads are displayed in a number of different ways, including in the right hand column of the desktop site, in newsfeeds on both desktop and mobile, and on third party apps through Facebook’s audience network.

Differently from Outbrain, a Facebook ad will include an image or video of your choice, a headline and a short amount of accompanying copy.

Here’s an example of how one looks on the right side of a Facebook homepage on desktop:

Facebook Ad

Additionally, the audience network was launched in April 2014 and uses Facebook’s advanced audience targeting to seed out ads on relevant mobile apps.

Facebook Audience Network

3. Google Display Network (GDN)

Google’s display network automatically matches ads to websites and other placements, such as mobile phone apps, when your keywords are related to the sites’ content.

According to Google, its display network reaches 90% of Internet users worldwide and includes more than 2m publisher websites.

The ads appear in a number of places, from banners on desktop sites, to pop ups in mobile apps.

Ads can be targeted in all manner of ways. Contextual targeting allows you to input keywords which Google uses to find publisher sites.

Unlike Outbrain, which only allows you to blacklist certain sites, with GDN you can choose specific websites where you want your ads to appear.

Finally, remarketing allows you to target people who have already visited your site.

With GDN you have complete creative freedom over how you want your ad to appear. You’re given set dimensions and you create an ad that fits. This gives more flexibility, but is also more time consuming and resource heavy.

The test

The post I chose to promote was written by one of my clients, an Indian chef called Hari Ghotra, and was about the history of curry in the UK.

It featured on the magazine.co.uk blog, The Hub, which is a Jellyfish-owned site. I chose this article because it had proved very popular on social, so I could be pretty sure it was an engaging post.

I made the targeting as similar as possible on each platform and each campaign had a £100 spend over one week. Here’s how each platform got on:

1. Driving Genuine Traffic

It was interesting to see the number of actual page views recorded by Google Analytics compared to the clicks each platform registered. The difference is due to users clicking away from the page before it loads.

The percentage difference between clicks and views is important because these platforms charge you by the click, so you want to make sure that as many clicks as possible convert to genuine traffic.

Nick Fettiplace, SEO Director at Jellyfish, said:

With native ad platforms like GDN and Outbrain, people realise they are clicking on an ad as it’s clearly marketing – Outbrain ads are even labelled ‘More from around the web…’

On the other hand, with social platforms like Facebook people are more inclined to think they’ll be staying on the same site, so when the URL re-directs the instinct can be to bounce back.

Our results certainly reflected this – far more users loaded the page on GDN and Outbrain compared to Facebook.

2. Engaged users

Facebook was the clear winner when it came to engagement, with users spending far longer on page than on the other two platforms.

Hannah Rainford, Senior Social Media Manager at Jellyfish, has a good idea of why this might be:

Facebook is traditionally the place where you would connect with family and friends, and there is a real push from Facebook at the moment to become the place where you hear about breaking news.

Equally, Facebook is a platform people turn to in times of boredom so users potentially have more time to read articles.

Whereas GDN and Outbrain serve ads to people who may not currently be “at leisure”, people using Facebook are almost exclusively doing so in their spare time.

They’re also actively looking to discover new things. These factors combine to create a more receptive and engaged user.

3. Most bang for your buck

Our test showed that if you’re looking to get the most clicks, GDN is the clear winner.

The fact is that Google’s network is unrivalled in terms of reach, so it’s always going to win the numbers game. The downside is that if you’re not careful, your ads may end up being served in undesirable or irrelevant places to your audience, which can result in a poor CTR.

This is why you should get professional help with targeting if you’re unfamiliar with the network.

So what’s the best option?

There is no out-and-out winner from this test. The reality is that different platforms will suit your needs depending on what kind of content you want to promote.

If you’re a bit low on resources, or have limited access to creative talent, then Outbrain or Facebook are the better choices, as their ads are of a preset format.

Also, consider the state of mind your users might be in when they see your ad. Facebook will suit content that’s more light-hearted and of strong human interest.

With Outbrain you’re targeting users already consuming online media, so you could get away with heavier topics.

Ultimately, if you’re unsure which platform to go with, use a small amount of budget and test each platform. That should give you an idea of how successful a full campaign might be, helping you choose the most cost efficient.