News Corp is testing a homegrown content recommendation tool

When it comes to recirculating readers, many media companies turn to Outbrain and Taboola, sprinkling ads into the mix to also generate revenue. News Corp is taking a different route, testing its own content-recirculation widget that lets several of its publications including The Wall Street Journal share their articles on each other’s sites.

The initiative, called Project Hamilton, collects relevant articles from the publications and runs them at the bottom of individual articles. The story module is running on MarketWatch, Mansion Global, Realtor.com and parts of The Wall Street Journal. It does not include sponsor content.

The project came out of the Dow Jones Media Group, a unit within News Corp that includes non-Wall Street Journal publications such as MarketWatch, Mansion Global, Barron’s and the startup news publication Heat Street.

realtor-com
Recommended links at the bottom of a Realtor.com article

In a memo to staff, William Lewis, CEO of Dow Jones and publisher of the Journal, said early results are “promising.” He said the unit’s early version got a 1.04 percent click-through rate. It’s hard to say if that’s good because there are so many factors (it’s not known what limits were set on the kinds of articles running in the modules or if other user experience improvements were made that would have improved CTRs, for example), but Lewis said that the click-through rate was more than three times the original goal of 0.3 percent.

News Corp wouldn’t elaborate on Project Hamilton, but there are a couple reasons the company would be interested in recirculation. The Journal is stepping up efforts to grow its subscription business, and the more it keeps readers engaged on site, the better the chances of getting them to become a paying subscriber. The experiment comes at a time when the Journal has been tightening up online loopholes that let people read its articles without paying.

Many of the suggested story modules on publishers’ sites are placed there by Outbrain and Taboola, the two biggest players in the content-recommendation space, which run sponsored links through them. Publishers can get paid well for hosting those modules, but they’ve come under fire for promoting low-quality content and misleading ads that can undermine reader confidence in the host’s site.

News Corp largely hasn’t run third-party modules on its sites; Outbrain’s module runs on the New York Post and ran on MarketWatch until a few months ago, but hasn’t run on the Journal in several years.

The benefit of using a third party is they use a variety of signals to determine what content suggestions to serve. News Corp did not say which factors its tool will use in Project Hamilton. In the example above, a Realtor.com article mostly served real-estate-related content.

Other publishers have created such ad-free content recirculation modules to boost engagement on their sites. The publisher might not get the revenue it would from a third party, but in theory, the engagement is higher because the articles served are presumably more relevant to the audience. Publishers also are touting their engagement as clicks lose value with advertisers.