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

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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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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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Publishers Should Totally Check Out Google’s Content Recommendation Service

google-recommendationsOn Monday, Google debuted a content suggestion module for news sites that gives readers more stuff to read – adding Google to the list of companies playing in the valuable space at the end of a news or blog post.

And I have to say – after an initial burst of fear – that I quite like what Google’s doing and it’s actually very clever. It starts with mobile, an ever-growing category of news reading, and it’s complementary, not directly competitive, with the companies, CMS modules and home-grown solutions out there.

Google’s suggestions show up on mobile devices only. When a reader gets to a certain part of the page, or scrolls back upwards after getting toward the end of an article, Google inserts a touchable bar at the bottom of the browser window.

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Reuters Re-Design Wins By Respecting the Reader and the Story

Reuters Article Preview

This is a preview of the default article template for the new Reuters site. Notice the wide margins and clean design.

Reuters is the latest big media company to re-imagine how stories should be presented online, debuting Tuesday a preview of its upcoming re-design.

Like the New York Times‘ preview, Reuters is big on white space, with a wide column for news. Reuters, however, goes even further than most – getting rid of the new trend toward a river of stories on the right rail. It’s just story all the way down the stream.

There’s a lead big image – though not as large as the Times‘s. There’s a clever X in the corner, which returns you to the section front page that the story is from (e.g. if you come into a story from a link or from the Reuters homepage, you aren’t returned there – you are taken to the section the story is in.)

There’s no sidebars in the story; there’s wide margins – compare this to the Washington Post, where the middle portion of a story is squeezed between a long left sidebar in the story body and an imposing right rail – so that the middle of the story resembles a Victorian woman in an overly tight corset. (It’s uncomfortable for the subject and the viewer.)

Washington Post Article view

Notice how narrow the story channel gets in this Washington Post story.

The stories load wickedly fast and there seems to be some pre-loading going on, as the lead story on the homepage loads faster than one further down the page. The main portion of the article – the image and the text — load very fast, while the other elements (such as the subdued share buttons) load asynchronously. You’ll also notice that after a few seconds, there’s more that loads underneath the story.

But perhaps most intriguingly, you’ll see that the horizontal slider on your browser moves down after a couple of seconds as more things load ABOVE the story you are looking at. What’s up there is the same thing you’ll see if you close the story – the section homepage. It’s not clear if readers will actually learn or want to scroll upwards, but it’s a very clever experiment with the notion of the stream. The story is clean and uncluttered, but there’s more to explore if you want.

I have a few reservations. I think there’s too much excerpting going on on homepages – I’ve seen a recent study showing that excerpts decrease reader click-through rates to stories.

The body font is a light gray I don’t love and the typesizes should all be bigger – especially the caption text which is nearly unreadable. I’m not in love with the selection of stories that show up after the post, but they aren’t awful. For those links, I think the images ought to go on the left side, before the headline, rather than on the right after them.

But, it is after all, a preview. And given that it’s built on an API outputting JSON, it should be pretty simple to experiment.

And, as an experiment goes, it’s a great one.

It respects readers. There’s no annoying fly-out of a “recommended” story. The design says that the reader’s attention on the story is primary and that relationship is not to be meddled with. There’s no unnecessary, page-viewing pumping pagination. There’s not many sites on the net that are as respectful of the writer’s story and the reader’s attention.

I hope readers respond well to it and other such layouts. If your site’s stories are good – respect that and give readers the chance to be immersed.

Drupal, Meet Contextly’s Related Links; Contextly, Drupal.

Drupal LogoDrupal, we are happy to make your acquaintance.

We’re excited to announce that we now have a Contextly Drupal module for our related links and sidebar product. We have modules for both Drupal 6 and Drupal 7.

The module is nearly at feature parity with the WordPress version of Contextly, and are having so much fun with it that Drupal may soon get features ahead of WordPress.

We’re in a limited beta, so if you’d like to try it out, either on a staging enviroment or live, drop us a note.

We’re pretty sure you’ll agree that Contextly is now the best Drupal Related Links module you can find. And if not, here’s your chance to get it us to bend it to your will.

For those unfamiliar, Contextly prizes editorial control and marries writers with algorithms. We’ve got a number of display options, CKeditor and TinyMCE support, an in-post sidebar builder, and a great way to show off internal promotions.

If you run a Drupal site and want to give it a try, write us at info@contextly.com. We’d love to have you as a early partner.