Content Recommendations and Content Discovery: The Awful Reality

I spent the morning scrolling through popular news sites and checking out the content recommendations that appear at the end of each article. There’s some pretty crazy stuff happening down there and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to find out what “shocking secrets” the Andy Griffith show harbored.

So I click the link and end up on a spammy, bandwidth-sucking website littered with so many display ads that the page could barely load. Even worse the most shocking secret revealed (SPOILER ALERT) was that Opie didn’t actually throw the rock into the lake for the show’s opening credit like you may have thought!

When am I going to learn? When are any of us going to learn? Despite the scandalous headlines and sensational imagery, I keep thinking that maybe I’ll come across some really entertaining stuff. But that’s never the case. Instead, I just keep getting duped into clicking on low-quality content that takes me to questionable websites that I would never trust or frequent to begin with.

Content Recommendations & News Sites

So why would my local newspaper, CNN, ABC News and other reputable websites recommend that I check out this content and send me to some crappy website? I mean I came to those sites because their editors and reporters create good content. So why would they offer up an interesting news story about “Hillary Clinton FBI interview notes to be released to Congress” and then recommend that I go to a site called to read about shocking Andy Griffith secrets?

Really CNN? I mean I was on a roll with the Hillary Clinton article. Why wouldn’t you recommend other articles about the interview or Hillary or the FBI? Instead, you decide to recommend a story about shocking Andy Griffith secrets? Where’s the connection?

News Sites Not Actually Recommending the Content

I know. CNN isn’t really recommending those articles. Instead, they’ve sold advertising space to a content discovery company. Content discovery platforms are supposed to make the web a better place. The idea is to serve-up additional content at the end of your favorite news article or blog post that you would most-likely find interesting. It provides you an opportunity to “discover” additional pieces of appealing content that you wouldn’t have found otherwise. It’s supposed to provide a better web experience for readers who are looking for good content online.

Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening here. Instead, CNN and other reputable websites have essentially signed a deal with the devil. They’ve exchanged their reputation and soul for monetary gain. Rather than make the web a better place with good content recommendations, they’re sending their loyal readers to low-quality websites. In addition, their own sites are littered with outrageous images, salacious content and clickbait headlines. I thought this was supposed to be CNN, “The Most Trusted Name in News?”

I’m all for websites selling ad space. I’m all for content recommendations. I’m all for making the web better. I’m NOT OK with reputable new sites sending me down a rabbit hole of sensational topics. Why not sell that ad space to companies that can actually provide better content recommendations?

Content Recommendations the Right Way

Guess what CNN and other reputable news sites, you can have your cake and eat it too. Believe it or not, your readers want to discover good content. They don’t want to be tricked into visiting spammy websites with low-quality content. That said, use that extra ad space for relevant content recommendations. There are companies out there like Cranberry, that provide much more transparency with their content.


The big problem right now is that many websites are paid per click. So they are actually encouraged to get you to click on those content recommendations, hence the clickbait and sensationalism. But websites can also charge on a CPM model, where they get paid per impression, rather than clicks. This way, the website does not have to rely on clicks in order to get paid. With a CPM model you don’t need crazy headlines and outrageous images to make money.

Ad Exchanges

The next problem is that most websites are selling this extra “ad space” via ad exchanges. That said, they have no idea who is placing the ad or what is being communicated. Instead, the website puts the space up for sale via an online auction and that space is sold to the highest bidder. In order for a website to know who is buying that space and what is being communicated, they need to work closer with their advertisers. Or even better yet, only work with advertisers that have stringent guidelines.

At Cranberry, for instance, all content recommendations are reviewed by an editorial staff prior to placement on the publisher’s website. Editors ensure the copy is clean, the imagery is best-in-class and that the headline matches the actual content. In addition, they only work with websites that offer similar content to ensure relevant recommendations.

Content recommendations are an excellent way for readers to discover new content, advertisers to attract new prospects, and for websites to monetize extra ad space. Unfortunately, most content discovery platforms are shining a bad light on these recommendations with spammy content that leads to low-quality websites. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are companies out there that are doing it right and are truly committed to making the web better.