Publishers’ Reputations, Not Just Money, At Stake in Content Suggestion Battle


That space at the end of a story or a blog post is turning into a battleground, with the dominant, VC-backed players like Outbrain and Taboola fighting hard to control that publisher real estate.

But what’s more important than which over-funded advertising company will win the most space in the next year is the bigger battle over what that space is for and how online publishers adapt to the pressures of online publishing.

One might even say that what a publisher does with that space defines what kind of publication it actually is.

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Are You Making the Most of Your Content Marketing or Just Wasting Money?

Portrait If you are paying to get someone to visit your site, the last thing you want is for that visitor to bounce off your site. That’s just money wasted.

Depending on your organization’s business goals, you want that visitor to sign up for a product demo, join your e-mail list or simply share the story they read on Facebook.

Regardless, you need to think about two things: One, what does this person want and Two, how can I meet that need, while also promoting my business objectives. If you don’t do this, you are going to waste precious paid media dollars you are spending on “promoted” or “sponsored” content.

Contently, a company that helps companies create great content for their sites and marketing campaigns, runs a fantastic content marketing blog with practical tips for their customers and thought-leader pieces to raise awareness of their company generally.

Contently does two very smart things on their blog.

They have a very useful e-book called “The Beginner’s Guide to Blogging and Content Strategy” that’s very good – and you can get it simply by giving them your e-mail address. And there’s a clear and easy way to get it. At the end of every post, there’s a box that offers it to readers.

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The second smart engagement thing they do is use Contextly to surface relevant, engaging and personalized content recommendations. This is a bet that they can entice readers to dive deeper, find more great content and become a loyal reader.

It’s a notion that’s backed up with research. In January 2014, Chartbeat released a report that found the single most important factor in whether a Google, Facebook or Twitter visitor to a publication would return was whether they read more than one story. That’s another way of saying that reducing your bounce rate will increase your return readership.

Contrast that with AARP’s sites. I don’t know what the long-term value of an AARP member is, but dues are $16 per year and they have a magazine packed with ads targeting a lucrative demographic.

Like Contently, AARP buys traffic into their site and they have a few calls to action in their content.

But at the end of their stories, they include Taboola ads that take readers off of the site. So on a story about “10 Great Small Cities for Retirement“, AARP is showing ads for “Here’s the Navy’s awesome new stealth-fighter drone in action” that takes the reader off the site.

That’s not just not relevant; it’s nuts. AARP has a reader who is interested in the best places in the U.S. to retire — and AARP is a group that helps retired people — and someone there decided it made sense to make ten cents sending that reader off their site to a story about stealth fighters, instead of showing that reader their best content for retirees or those about to retire?

Taboola is what publishers use on their own site if they have a large amount of traffic, no concern for their brand and no way to make enough advertising money. (And yes, I’ve heard the argument that publishers use the money from sending people off their site to bring new ones in. It’s a great sales pitch, but it’s economically ridiculous. One does not buy high and sell low from the same arbitrager. Only one party wins there and it’s not the publisher.)

If you are a content marketer, you *might* want to buy traffic from Twitter, Facebook, Outbrain or Taboola to see if you can profitably acquire users, but you shouldn’t be selling traffic.

Jay Baer, who runs Convince and Convert, does some smart state to engage readers on his content marketing blog, as well.

He uses a smart “Hello Bar” that is currently promoting an upcoming conference his company runs. His header promotes his newsletter tied to his book “Youtility, while the top of his blog post suggests that readers ought to buy the book, with links to Amazon and Barnes and Noble to make that easy.

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And finally, he also uses Contextly — in a different configuration than Contently, to show off his relevant and popular and evergreen content (he’s got a *lot* of evergreen content.

If you are a content marketer, you want to convert your readers into a loyalist and eventually an evangelist.

This is especially true with paid promotion of your content. Don’t waste your marketing budget by not taking advantage of every opportunity to provide value for the readers you paid to get to your site.

There’s a large continuum of loyalty when it comes to readers.

It could start as simple as someone who will recognize your company name the next time your content shows up on their Facebook page or in their Twitter stream.
That means they might remember that the last time they read something on your site it was good, so they don’t hesitate to click.

And on the far end, you get to someone who uses your service, who visits your site regularly – who recommends your site or product to friends and colleagues – and searches out your content to share because it makes them look smarter.

Why Contextly is Fighting for An Open Internet

Open 24 Hours Sign
Back before the iPhone app store and then Google’s Android app store, building software to run on mobile phones was a loser’s game. You had to get the permission from Verizon or AT&T, and then you might have to sign an exclusivity deal and share profits and be at their whim.

But, the Web has never required online services to get permission to launch or reach everyone. There are no trolls under bridges in the web kingdom.

All you need to launch something that could reach millions or billions of people is, to paraphrase a poker saying, a silicon chip and a chair.

That’s thanks to an open internet governed by principles known as Net Neutrality.

It’s a simple enough concept: the companies that Americans pay to in order to get online — Comcast, TimeWarner Cable, Verizon, AT&T — should deliver the content that a user requests and not block sites or degrade service or play favorites.

That open platform allowed me to start Contextly, back when I was a writer at Wired, using just my savings to pursue a vision for how online publishing could be made better for readers, writers and publishers. We show millions of content recommendations daily and there’s no way we could have afforded to pay AT&T and Verizon and Comcast for the fast lane to get our images loading quickly.

The FCC has proposed rules to protect the internet. But they actually do the opposite; they open the way for ISPs to make fast and slow lanes and to act as trolls undermining and preventing innovation.

That’s why Contextly has filed detailed comments with the FCC. The open internet and the innovation it allows was necessary for Contextly’s birth and the new rules threaten our future — and the future of thousands of other startups.

Time is the most precious thing any startup has. While I wish it hadn’t been necessary to spend a Sunday explaining to the FCC how dangerous their proposed rules are, I did so because the internet is the most amazing communications system ever invented and it deserves defending from the corporate greed of Verizon, AT&T and Comcast aka Cable Company Fuckery.

This is a snippet of what we filed Tuesday and the full filing is embedded below:

Contextly was incorporated two years ago, while I was a writer and editor at Wired. After being on the frontlines of the digital publishing revolution for ten years, I was frustrated at the tools publications had to guide readers to previous coverage of a topic. I founded Contextly, relying on my own savings, and built out a barebones version of the product.

After getting some early customers, I left my job as an editor at Wired in November 2012 to pursue the vision – without any funding. Over the next year after leaving Wired, Contextly grew in customers, revenue, and employees.

I found an amazing co-founder and we were accepted into an accelerator called Matter.VC, which is dedicated to helping companies trying to change media for good. We’ve since gotten funding from Turner/Warner Brothers and created awesome technology that’s superior to that of our two largest competitors who have raised over $100 million collectively.

We give free service to help high-school and college newspapers, non-profits, and public broadcasting news organizations like PBS and KQED. We’re in talks with some of the nation’s biggest news brands and we will be hiring and growing rapidly in the next 12 months.

None of this would have happened under the rules proposed by the FCC. I would have never left my job or tried to start a company when everyone around me thought I was just a journalist with a crazy idea that high quality recommendations can help good journalism and storytelling thrive.

Direct Link to the PDF.

And if you want to file your own comments, the easiest way is through Dear FCC.

And if you run a publication, from a personal blog to a big news site, you should check out Contextly’s awesome tools to build a loyal audience in the age of drive-by readers.

Photo: CC-licensed photo by Tom Magliery

Contextly Launches Wicked Smart Content Recommendation Service for Publishers




The most powerful tool for publications looking to build a loyal, high-value audiences just got even more powerful.

And a lot more public.

On Wednesday, Contextly’s current and new publishers will be powered by our next-generation content recommendation system.

Instead of having an algorithm that uses a one-size-fits all strategy for generating recommendations, our new machine learning system uses multiple strategies for building multiple content recommendations for each post of a publication. As readers interact with the recommendations on a post, the optimization system selects the recommendation strategy with the best performing recommendations.

Contextly helps publications build engagement and a return audience by giving readers the ability to dive deeply into a subject with recommended related content. For those in browsing mode, Contextly also shows off engaging and interesting stories from around a publication.

Co-founded by longtime journalist Ryan Singel and technologist Ben Autrey – a ranking and recommendation specialist, Contextly is the only content recommendation system that combines the power of editorial curation with state-of-the-art machine learning.

Using Contextly’s optional editorial tools, writers and editors can quickly choose related links and link back to previous work without adding additional time to the editorial workflow. In turn, Contextly captures that editorial wisdom in order to feed a sophisticated machine learning recommendation system.

Unlike most “content recommendation” companies that are actually simply advertising companies with unlabeled paid content recommendations, Contextly doesn’t tarnish publishers’ brands with low-quality outbound links to content publishers don’t control.

Contextly’s links are purely internal, turning drive-by visitors into loyal readers.

Contextly also give publishers a powerful way to promote videos, events, conferences and newsletters. Additionally, Contextly can pair product recommendations with content recommendations for sites that combine editorial and retail, such as our good friends at Adafruit.

As Chartbeat documented in its 2013 Annual Report, the largest predictive factor in whether a reader following a link from Facebook, Twitter or Google search would return to a site was whether that reader read a second article.

Contextly works with publishers that want to build, not dilute, their brands, and which are committed to the principle that the way to build a long-term, high value audience is to pair high-value content with high-quality recommendations.

Contextly’s curation, technology and mission makes it perfect for brand name publishers with high-quality content, trade publications, niche publishers, content marketers and company blogs.

Contextly honed its new recommendation system while in the second Matter.VC class and recently accepted investment from Turner’s MediaCamp.


The Most Important Thing Publishers Need to Do to Build a Long-Term Audience

One of the things that publishers struggle with is trying to figure out how to turn drive-by readers into loyal readers.

At Contextly, we think that one of the best ways to build an engaged audience is to pair great content with high-quality recommendations that are a mix of very relevant content and engaging, but not-necessarily-related content from your own site.

Contextly doesn’t include paid links that send readers off publishers’ sites because that’s no way to solve an engagement problem or build a loyal audience.

Chartbeat just published an infographic from the traffic data they’ve analyzed from over 60 billion page views, and it backs up that thesis. The company combed through its data to figure out what it is that brings a reader back to a publication — which is to say return readers.

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Add Related Posts and Content Recommendations to Custom Post Types

Contextly Admin interface for choosing custom post types

Here’s where you choose what custom post types to show Contextly widgets on.

I’ve heard the question a few times, “How do I add related posts to Custom Post types in WordPress?”

That’s a new feature in Contextly as of version 1.0.85 of our related content plugin (our big summer 2013 release), but it’s super easy to add content recommendations to custom post types. (For those unfamiliar, Contextly is the best and easiest way to add awesome content recommendations to your blog or publication, including related and engaging stories.)

Simply navigate to in WordPress to Settings –> Contextly –> Advanced. Towards the bottom, you will see a list of custom post types. Simply check the ones you want related links to show up on, and we’ll take it from there.

Also, just a reminder, you can turn off Contextly’s related post widget and the sidebars in any post.

Just look in the preview box below your post text. There’s a little button there you can turn off the widgets on a given post. This is useful if you turn our related posts on for Pages, but have some pages that don’t need them (like a privacy policy, for instance.)

Fully Auto, Responsive, and Custom: Contextly’s Big Summer 2013 Release

This is one of the new responsive displays.

This is one of the new responsive displays.

We’ve had a long hot summer at Contextly working on some awesome updates to our core content recommendation service and our WordPress and Drupal plugins.

On Monday, we released a big update for WordPress-based sites.

It might count as bragging, but with this new release, I think we’ve made it pretty clear that Contextly is the most powerful and innovative content recommendation system for WordPress-powered sites.

We’ve got great displays, related and engaging recommendations, awesome sidebars, a way to add in-post related links, house ads, A/B testing, and great analytics reports. Oh, and there’s this fun video recommendation system (YouTube only for now). Continue reading

What’s the Best Content Recommendation and Related Links Plugin for WordPress?

I gave a lightning talk at the San Francisco WordPress meet-up in June that looks at the available related links plugins and services for WordPress blogs, stressing why the spots at the end and in the body of posts is so powerful and necessary for sites in the time of social sharing.

I talked about the pros and cons of internal plugins like YARPP and MicroKids (now called Related Posts for WordPress) and discussed external services like nRelate, LinkWithin, Taboola, Outbrain and, yes, Contextly. It’s not a full-on sales pitch as Contextly’s not right for every site.

I talk about a few considerations:

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How to Embed Instagram Photos Into WordPress or Drupal Responsively

Yes, Instagram now lets you embed Instagram photos right into your blog, but as Joshua Benton noted over at Nieman Labs, these embeds don’t play nicely with responsive designs.

Luckily, as Benton points out, there’s an easy workaround, thanks to Jeff Hobbs and his site Embed Responsibly.

Here’s two versions of the same photo from the TSA’s Instagram account, which features pictures of weapons that people tried to bring on board airplanes.

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Don’t Bury the Link Under All That “Snow Fall”

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 1.09.30 PM“Snow Fall” is a dead-end.

The New York Timesonline feature about a deadly avalanche broke new ground in using images, video, geo-data and interactive elements to help tell a story. It quickly drew in 3.5 million readers, according to Romenesko; was influential enough to turn “Snow Fall” into a verb; and launched a thousand debates on what it meant for the future of journalism.

But yet the story remains a dead-end.

Not for online storytelling. Some publications have been working on similar things independently, and many that weren’t are quickly learning to add many of the tricks to their storytelling reportoire.

It’s a dead-end for a simpler reason.

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