Outbrain to Azure Synapse

This page provides you with instructions on how to extract data from Outbrain and load it into Azure Synapse. (If this manual process sounds onerous, check out Stitch, which can do all the heavy lifting for you in just a few clicks.)

What is Outbrain?

Outbrain specializes in presenting sponsored website links, typically in the form of lists of links to recommended stories on news and publishing sites presented in a box at the footer of the page.

What is Azure Synapse?

Azure Synapse (formerly Azure SQL Data Warehouse) is a cloud-based petabyte-scale columnar database service with controls to manage compute and storage resources independently. It offers encryption of data at rest and dynamic data masking to mask sensitive data on the fly, and it integrates with Azure Active Directory. It can replicate to read-only databases in different geographic regions for load balancing and fault tolerance.

Getting data out of Outbrain

Outbrain's RESTful Amplify API lets you extract information about marketers, campaigns, performance, and more. You can put together an API call that specifies performance items such as impressions, clicks, clickthrough rate, and spend with a call like GET /reports/marketers/[id]/content. You can specify any of a dozen optional parameters to limit, filter, and sort the output.

Sample Outbrain data

The JSON response from an an API call for performance data might look like this:

{
    "results": [
        {
            "metadata": 
            {
                "id": "00f4b02153ee75f3c9dc4fc128ab041962",
                "text": "Yet another promoted link",
                "creationTime": "2017-11-26",
                "lastModified": "2017-11-26",
                "url": "http://money.outbrain.com/2017/11/26/news/economy/crash-disaster/",
                "status": "APPROVED",
                "enabled": true,
                "cachedImageUrl": "http://images.outbrain.com/imageserver/v2/s/gtE/n/plcyz/abc/iGYzT/plcyz-f8A-158x114.jpg",
                "campaignId": "abf4b02153ee75f3cadc4fc128ab0419ab",
                "campaignName": "Boost 'ABC' Brand",
                "archived": false,
                "documentLanguage": "EN",
                "sectionName": "Economics",
            },
            "metrics":
            {
                "impressions": 18479333,
                "clicks": 58659,
                "conversions": 12,
                "spend": 9187.16,
                "ecpc": 0.16,
                "ctr": 0.32,
                "conversionRate": 0.02,
                "cpa": 765.6
            }
        }
    ],
    "totalResults": 27830,
    "summary": {
        "impressions": 1177363701,
        "clicks": 2615150,
        "conversions": 2155,
        "spend": 455013.97,
        "ecpc": 0.17,
        "ctr": 0.22,
        "conversionRate": 0.08,
        "cpa": 211.14
    },
    "totalFilteredResults": 1,
    "summaryFiltered": {
        "impressions": 18479333,
        "clicks": 58659,
        "conversions": 12,
        "spend": 9187.16,
        "ecpc": 0.16,
        "ctr": 0.32,
        "conversionRate": 0.02,
        "cpa": 765.6
    }
}

Preparing Outbrain data

If you don't already have a data structure in which to store the data you retrieve, you'll have to create a schema for your data tables. Then, for each value in the response, you'll need to identify a predefined datatype (INTEGER, DATETIME, etc.) and build a table that can receive them. Outbrain's documentation should tell you what fields are provided by each endpoint, along with their corresponding datatypes.

Complicating things is the fact that the records retrieved from the source may not always be "flat" – some of the objects may actually be lists. This means you'll likely have to create additional tables to capture the unpredictable cardinality in each record.

Loading data into Azure Synapse

Azure Synapse provides a multi-step process for loading data. After extracting the data from its source, you can move it to Azure Blob storage or Azure Data Lake Store. You can then use one of three utilities to load the data:

  • AZCopy uses the public internet.
  • Azure ExpressRoute routes the data through a dedicated private connection to Azure, bypassing the public internet by using a VPN or point-to-point Ethernet network.
  • The Azure Data Factory (ADF) cloud service has a gateway that you can install on your local server, then use to create a pipeline to move data to Azure Storage.

From Azure Storage you can load the data into Azure Synapse staging tables by using Microsoft's PolyBase technology. You can run any transformations you need while the data is in staging, then insert it into production tables. Microsoft offers documentation for the whole process.

Keeping Outbrain data up to date

At this point you've coded up a script or written a program to get the data you want and successfully moved it into your data warehouse. But how will you load new or updated data? It's not a good idea to replicate all of your data each time you have updated records. That process would be painfully slow and resource-intensive.

Instead, identify key fields that your script can use to bookmark its progression through the data and use to pick up where it left off as it looks for updated data. Auto-incrementing fields such as updated_at or created_at work best for this. When you've built in this functionality, you can set up your script as a cron job or continuous loop to get new data as it appears in Outbrain.

And remember, as with any code, once you write it, you have to maintain it. If Outbrain modifies its API, or the API sends a field with a datatype your code doesn't recognize, you may have to modify the script. If your users want slightly different information, you definitely will have to.

Other data warehouse options

Azure Synapse is great, but sometimes you need to optimize for different things when you're choosing a data warehouse. Some folks choose to go with Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery, PostgreSQL, Snowflake, or Panoply, which are RDBMSes that use similar SQL syntax. Others choose a data lake, like Amazon S3. If you're interested in seeing the relevant steps for loading data into one of these platforms, check out To Redshift, To BigQuery, To Postgres, To Snowflake, To Panoply, and To S3.

Easier and faster alternatives

If all this sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t be alarmed. If you have all the skills necessary to go through this process, chances are building and maintaining a script like this isn’t a very high-leverage use of your time.

Thankfully, products like Stitch were built to move data from Outbrain to Azure Synapse automatically. With just a few clicks, Stitch starts extracting your Outbrain data via the API, structuring it in a way that's optimized for analysis, and inserting that data into your Azure Synapse data warehouse.