A lot has changed in the seven plus years since Taboola started suggesting ‘Content You May Like’, and CEO and founder Adam Singolda doesn’t think placing widgets at the bottom of article pages is enough anymore.
His business sits successfully at the centre of the ‘content discovery space, making 200 billion content suggestions to 550 million site visitors each month. It generated more than $200 million from placing sponsored links on publishers’ websites in 2014; profitable for the last six quarters.
In February Taboola raised $117 million in series E funding, and that’s important news, because Singolda believes the business of content recommendation needs to move to the next level. “Everything has changed since we started Taboola, people’s intent when consuming content became fragmented and dynamic. We used to think personalization was the difference between one person to another, but we were wrong. It’s the difference between how a certain person behaves in the morning versus at night” he says.
Singolda started Taboola in 2007 after serving as an officer in an elite encryption unit of the Israeli army. When he left the military he decided to take some time off to relax and watch some TV. The problem was he couldn’t find anything he wanted to watch.
He says this made him very passionate about what he came to see as the mission critical problem of content discovery. “Being discovered is important, it’s the cornerstone,” he explains. But he also realised that if people don’t know about you or your product, you need a distribution strategy and began working on a ‘search engine in reverse’ that allowed content to find people, versus people typing keywords to find content.
That was 2007 and since then, Taboola has grown to distribute over 5 million pieces of content each month through its partnership with publishers and media businesses from the MailOnline to The Atlantic to Yahoo Japan.
Growth has been supercharged by the shift in promotional spend from display to content marketing and native advertising, but to continue growing Singolda says the business has had to respond to changing Internet usage.
He explains that, seven years ago, most of the web was driven by search on large screens. Today’s traffic is from smartphones and tablets, with about half of Taboola’s revenue coming from mobile. “Traffic used to come from big screens on the desktop, not mobile, not tablet,” Singolda says. “And seven years ago, SEO was everything: the most important thing was where [your article appears] on the first search result. Now social has eclipsed search to become the biggest traffic driver, to some it’s Pinterest, and to others it’s Facebook.”
Singolda points out that the behaviours of visitors coming to publisher sites from social media on mobile are very different from desktop users. “On traffic that comes from Facebook, statistically, most people will never finish reading the article, and most people will never tweet. Question is how can we do something different to address this “new fragmented web” and offer a better web for consumers.”
The answer is personalisation and segmentation and Taboola is investing to better understand the context of content consumption and the delivery of relevant recommendations in a market where the way people consume content became dynamic, and changing during the day. At times you’re super engaged, and in others you’re not at all – and — you are the same person.
Taboola’s work around the development of segmented layout and content format options relies on the use of behavioural data to drive personalisation. Singolda says publishers have the opportunity to look at new type of exciting audience-data, which is more around “behaviours versus demographics.”
Besides technology development, Taboola also plans to use new funding to grow through acquisitions. An early purchase was Perfect Market, which has been integrated with Taboola’s technology platform to become Taboola-X, giving publishers and advertisers a full suite of programmatic text and IAB-compliant native advertising that can be deployed anywhere on the page.
“We’re excited about a future that is all personalized, a true web of one, where the experience is tailored not only to who I am, but also to why I am here now.” Singolda says.