“Related Content”, “Related Posts”, “Our Favorites”, “Trending Articles”, “Recommended Articles”, “Most Popular On The Web”. You might notice these phrases sometimes at the bottom of a post or article just above a handful of thumbnail links to articles. Those are “Related Content” widgets and usually feature a mix of posts drawn from the site’s content and posts from paying advertisers.
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The reason Related Content widgets are so popular is that they are, effectively, a win-win-win proposition. If the reader wants to continue looking at your content, then relevant and interesting posts are served up to them. On the other hand, if the reader has read enough of your stuff and wants to keep surfing, the related content widget will serve them interesting articles that pay you a commission. Finally, if your reader has no interest in either of those two things, you at least have an attractive, clean, and colorful content area on your page.
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The WordPress platform actually supports three excellent WordPress Related Content plugins that allow you to offer both your own content and sponsored advertising in a widget:
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Seeing as nRelate.com itself is a WordPress website, it is no surprise that it is also uniquely well set up to work with the WordPress platform. They go about this in two ways:
First, nRelate makes it especially easy for the WordPress user to get started. Simply install the plugin and it will issue you a publisher’s ID with which you can sign up for the service (a welcome reverse of the normal way of these things).
Second, nRelate gives you a variety of ways to control where your Related Content widget is displayed. You can place it using the following methods: have it automatically entered before or after a post or page; insert it using a shortcode in a post or page; drag their widget into your sidebar or footer; or directly include it anywhere in your theme using a PHP snippet.
There are two other features that I particularly liked:
- You can choose to display related content from your own links lists. If there are websites whose content you especially like, you can choose to have their content featured next to yours below your posts.
If there were any service that has really established itself as the market leader, it would be Outbrain. It is used on sites like CNN, Mashable, Slate, New York Post…the list goes on and on, comprising many of the biggest names in blogging and online publication. Considering how prestigious the client list, you would think that joining their network would be intimidating and difficult. And you would be utterly wrong. Simply download their plugin and sign up for their service; within minutes, you are ready to go.
Part of the ease of the service’s setup, though, comes from the limited settings and options you have to choose from. The widget automatically inherits your CSS and does not allow for a lot of easy customization. In terms of placement, you get to choose whether it is shown on pages or posts, but do not have the ability to manage the control to a finer extent (i.e. by individual page or post or category). Additionally, the only available widget is their “Most Popular” post widget which shows links to your highest rated posts. They do allow you to automatically donate your earnings to the International Red Cross, which is an unheard of feature and kind of nice to see.
One final benefit to using the Outbrain network is the ability to easily integrate with Outbrain Amplify, a service that allows you to use their huge content network to push your own posts to a broader audience.
For those of you who might want more control than Outbrain provides, but with a slightly more user-friendly and intuitive interface than nRelate, Content.ad might be the just warm enough porridge (here’s the plugin). Those easily-managed options come in two categories: Display Options & Content Options.
The Display Options allow you to manage the look of the plugin itself and are more or less similar to those of nRelate. First, you have to decide whether the widget will display a Thumbnails & Text, Text Only, Dual Column, or Banner Ad configuration. Then you determine how the panels or text will look; you can either create your own CSS or choose from one of a half-dozen different styles.
Next, you determine how many content links you would like to display, how long the titles should be, and how the images should look (as well as the alternative images). Uniquely, they will also allow you to directly view and edit the HTML that makes up the display panel, thereby allowing you quite a bit of control over the look and integration.
The Content Options are more robust and comprehensive than those of either of the other two plugins. They allow you to choose:
- To show a certain percentage of sponsored content (0, 25%, 50%, 75%, 100%)
- To show your own related content or only sponsored content
- To always display links to your internal content before links to outside content
- To display only very conservative sponsored content
- To show a disclaimer on sponsored posts