Why Publishers are Dropping Those Promoted Story Links

Usually labeled something like “Around the Web” or “You might also like,” those paid content links may be seriously undermining publisher credibility.

We’ve all seen them, and most likely have clicked on them; paid links to “other content” at the end of media brand pieces.

“Usually grouped together under a label like ‘Promoted Stories’ or ‘Around the Web,’ these links are often advertisements dressed up to look like stories people might want to read,” writes Sapna Maheshwari and John Herrman in The New York Times. “They have long provided much-needed revenue for publishers and given a wide range of advertisers a relatively affordable way to reach large and often premium audiences.”

Lately though, some big name publishers are backing away from this type of content-ad placement, due the impact they may be having on readers.

“This month, these ads stopped appearing on Slate. And The New Yorker, which restricted placement of such ads to its humor articles, recently removed them from its website altogether,” the authors note.

After struggling to monetize their digital platform, why are these publishers backing off now?  Sometimes, the authors explain, the links lead to questionable websites, or promote false information and click-bait. Or worse.

“At other times, the images and headlines create a jarring, even disturbing, juxtaposition. An article on Slate this year about misogyny was accompanied by a promotion for ‘10 Celebs Who Lost Their Hot Bodies,’” the authors note.

Not all of the links are nefarious or discordant; ChangeAdvertising.org analyzed 41 news sites and found that more than 60% of the links were from legitimate advertisers or other main stream publishers. But 26% were clearly click-bait leading to ad-heavy and intrusive pages, enough to call the entire practice into question.

We’re glad to see this change. A publisher is only as good as its relationship with its readers, and these paid content sections from names like Taboola and Outbrain can quickly erode consumer trust. Readers are either ignoring sponsored content links, or feel deceived by it when they do click.

“It is not the right look if you’re trying to say you’re a high-quality, upper-tier website — if you have something like this on it — and I think it’s time for us to be honest about that,” said Keith Hernandez, Slate’s president.

Many experts predicted that 2016 is the year that native advertising either makes it, or doesn’t. It seems that some brands are paying attention and realizing that the easy revenue gained by selling their eyeballs isn’t worth the potential damage to the brand.