It's not just about SEO

This post originally appeared on the Outbrain blog.

One of the most common questions we get from publishers evaluating our products — both on the distribution and traffic acquisition sides — is “are we SEO positive?”  While the true answer is “maybe” (I’ll explain in a minute), our party line on this is “No, SEO isn’t one of our selling points.” Every once in a while, a publisher will get hung up on the issue of SEO (search engine optimization), believing “SEO juice” should be baked into every product decision they make.

Our belief at Outbrain is that SEO should absolutely be baked into a site’s best practices, but the selling points of our products and services are sufficiently compelling to stand on their own as a nice accessory to SEO efforts. In fact, we couldn’t do what we do while conforming to current codes of SEO-juicing because we’ve chosen JavaScript to serve our recommendations and deliver dynamic links that will always be fresh. Industry convention over the past five years has said that JavaScript isn’t indexed by Google or other search engines, a stance that Google continues to maintain publicly, notwithstanding Vanessa Foxthis guy or this guy. And that’s okay with us. Frankly, our industry-leading clickthrough rates (the predominant metric in measuring our value creation) would be impossible to achieve without dynamic, JavaScript-powered links.

For our partners, Outbrain’s value is unrelated to SEO. On the distribution side, we offer best-of-breed content recommendations through a proprietary algorithmically-driven system that yields clickthrough rates at levels that typically far exceed the expectations of our partners.  The widget itself yields traffic recirculation value (reader engagement) and creates a new revenue stream for the publishers who host it.  On the traffic acquisition front, we offer high value traffic acquired on a cost-per-click basis that can help promote branding efforts and/or deliver ROI-positive traffic to your content while helping to reach new UVs.

But back to the topic of SEO. At Outbrain, we discuss our products as “SEO neutral,” meaning no search engine will penalize you for working with us.  Further, our widgets load asynchronously — our load occurs independently of the page load; they don’t wait for each other — so we won’t slow down overall page load, which can be a factor in search engine rankings.

Today, Outbrain works with more than 50% of the top 100 online publishers.  We’ve gotten to this point by delivering compelling value for our customers without addressing SEO.  If the so-called search engine conspiracy theorists are correct and Google is, in fact, utilizing JavaScript links in measuring Page Rank, it’s merely gravy for our partners, but our products stand on their own two feet irrespective of any SEO boost and are why Outbrain has grown into the significant business it’s become.