Why Content Recommendation Widgets Will Hurt Publishers In The First-Party Web | AdExchanger

Alessandro De Zanche
3 min readJan 11, 2023

The 30-year agreement between Yahoo and Taboola recently made headlines, but it also left a few in the industry wondering.

Remember: Yahoo’s ownership has changed hands twice in the last six years. And only two years ago, Taboola and Outbrain decided to merge before abandoning that plan. In 30 years, the internet will be completely different from what it is today.

Regardless, Yahoo and Taboola’s partnership should be cause for reflection on media owners’ strategic approach to their future and monetization overall.

It is an intriguing dynamic, as partnering with a content recommendation provider often goes straight in the opposite direction of publisher priorities like audience-centricity, creating a quality user experience, trust-building, asset protection and brand reputation. After all, bad content dilutes a media owner’s reputation. It affects the narrative on brand suitability, demoralizes editorial teams and demeans the editorial product.

Publishers can’t afford to make these sacrifices on the first-party web. On the contrary, success in the first-party web is based first and foremost on relationships, quality and trust, neither of which are improved by most content currently provided by recommendation engines.

Quality is at stake

In the first-party web era, the short- or long-term strategy of a media owner is not determined just by the length of a contract but rather by how that contract contributes to a publisher’s audience-centricity, content quality, high-trust digital advertising environment and diversified revenue streams.

For media owners to become self-sustainable and reset their position and role in the first-party ecosystem, they must make bold, often tough, choices.

Instead, it seems that many of them are still trying to compromise and go for the easy path, not realizing their decisions are not made in a vacuum. The consequences are real.

How else to justify the widespread snubbing and criticizing of “Made for Advertising” websites while many quality publishers drive users to these sites through content recommendation widgets? How else can we explain industry thought leaders saying quality media is the answer to brand safety while those very publishers make themselves the access point to sites that host sometimes low-quality, often embarrassing content?

How can a media owner effectively protect its own audience data when it’s also hosting a third-party recommendation widget on its pages?

How can publishers appear reputable and trustworthy and have the ambition to convert users into subscribers when they display dozens of freely accessible — and often questionable — stories just a few pixels below a registration wall?

Looking ahead to ensure longevity

In the first-party web, getting away with compromises and shortcuts is not as easy as it was just a few years ago.

So let media owners celebrate their deals with content recommendation providers. But it’s a short-term solution. And short term perspectives lead to shallow tactics, which result in shaky outcomes, rendering media owners much more vulnerable to external factors (like a pandemic, a war, a recession).

Publishers then find themselves locked in a constant state of emergency, with the ever-present necessity to find some short-term survival option to save the quarter, just to get by until the next crisis. It becomes an endless loop. To avoid it, it is vital to remember the long-term implications.

Originally published at https://www.adexchanger.com on January 11, 2023.



Alessandro De Zanche

Media and advertising. Data, audience and monetisation strategies.