In Defense of Taboola and Outbrain

Those are six words I never thought I would ever write. A year ago, one of those two services sent out an email to their customers telling them to ignore their high bounce rates. “Your bounce rates are irrelevant,” they said. They went on with an elaborate, yet faulty, attempt to educate their customers why bounce rates don't matter. They even gave a primer on how to reconfigure Google Analytics to report lower bounces. Rather than changing the measuring stick. Let’s evaluate the problem.

Bounce Rates Absolutely Matter

The math is simple. If you are paying 60 cents per click with a bounce rate of 89%. Your bounce adjusted cost per click is $5.45. Look, if your goal is to report high traffic numbers to management, you shouldn't be using either of these services because you can find cheaper traffic to get you more clicks. If your job is developing relationships, your bounce rate should keep you up at night.

Your bounce rate is an indication about how well you are targeting your message. But that is only part of what it is telling you. It also tells you if you delivered on the promise of your creative, image or headline. So ultimately who is to blame for high bounce rates?

You are, mostly. 

BuzzFeed has some responsibility.

Taboola, Outbrain, RevContent et al. are just playing their part in this highly transactional eco-system.

Before you get upset, allow me to explain. I know there is enough blame to be spread around. Taboola and Outbrain optimize their delivery for clicks, not engagement. They don’t care if the click is relevant or if the bounce rate is high. They get paid by the click. Their algorithm takes into account the likelihood of your content driving a click and gives preference to higher probability content. That is the game. But this post isn't about beating up on Taboola, Outbrain or RevContent. It is about calling attention to your role in this mess.

The problem is that too many of us are playing by those rules. BuzzFeed taught us how to write headlines that get clicked. They showed us that your image selection or headline could drive a click without regard to the customer experience. So how do you fix the problem? I am going to avoid the shameless plug here and address the topic more generally. Start by providing a window into your content. Don’t make your customer wonder what is behind door #1. Provide salience throughout the engagement. In short, does the content meet the promise of the headline? Or did you "trick the click". 

There are problems with my brand of content marketing religion. You may lose placement which means slower traffic growth. But you should notice that more of your clicks result in meaningful engagements. Commit yourself to long term relationship growth. Not quick hits.

Every bounce should feel like a bit of your soul is being stripped away. Every bounce inflates your bounce adjusted cost per click. But it is not just financial. Bounces cost you more in consumer trust and confidence. Every bounce is a blow to your brand. 

I know you cannot please everyone, but you should do better than 10% satisfaction. N’es pas?