Community news sites face increasingly tougher sales with potential advertisers. Businesses, right down to the local pizzeria or dry cleaner, have many more digital choices than they used to when it comes to reaching customers. Some of the most formidable competition comes from Facebook Ads, which allow businesses to see, in great detail, how their messages are doing — impressions (including frequency), reach, “likes” (both for the ad and what it generates for the business’ social page), comments and click-throughs, the works.
Audience analytics firms Parse.ly aims to give community news sites the same kind of in-depth information about how users are responding – and not responding – to editorial content, in real time, so quick pivots can be made about how a story should be written and presented and when and how long it should be displayed.
In this Q & A with “The New News,” Parse.ly Head of Communications Allie Van Nest talks with us about how her company helps editors and reporters make decisions that can go right to the bottom line with higher revenue:
You offer news sites three sign-up choices — “Content Team,” “Analytics Team” and “Data Pros” What do they do and how do they differ?
Our customer success team is responsible for helping new customers to integrate Parse.ly into their existing workflow. Trainings with our success team start with strategic recommendations on using data at a media- or content-based organization before suggesting which buttons to click, or which reports to run.
Parse.ly customers invest in one of three plans customized to the granularity of data that their team needs, and Parse.ly VP of Marketing Clarr Carr described these really well recently in this blog post.
Can a community news site put its Parse.ly analytics to work on the fly when a story breaks, so the site makes sure the reporter asks the right questions and the editor makes the right presentation decisions when the story is published?
Absolutely! Parse.ly updates in real-time. We often see reporters making editorial decisions based on the data they derive from Parse.ly’s dashboard. And in terms of presenting the story, we’ve noticed that the success of particular homepage layouts varies among digital publishers, but one thing remains universally true: in order for homepage editors to make the most effective decisions about their homepages, they need to consider what resonates best with their unique audience. The best way to access that information is through analytics.
Homepage editors have some unique needs when it comes to analytics. They’re the ones responsible for making sure that readers landing on the homepage see the latest and greatest stories. Not only do they need quick access to the data on each post, but they need to understand how other factors come into play – in particular, the location of a particular story on the homepage.
This year, Parse.ly announced a position-tracking feature that helps newsrooms to better understand how a particular location, or “slot,” on the homepage is performing — now, and over the past six hours. Understanding how the position of a post impacts its visibility among readers helps homepage editors to find answers to some important questions: Should this article be promoted elsewhere? Did a recent change to the headline or image cause this?
“Old” news can have a longer shelf life, one of your clients, the Ocala (Fla.) Star Banner, discovered. How did Parse.ly intervene there?
Parse.ly found that online articles typically have a three-day lifespan. “Evergreen content” refers to any post that extends beyond this cycle. This means that the post is attracting readers, often on its own through search or referral links. Finding this content and incorporating it into social media or re-packaging opportunities allows your team to provide additional relevant content to your readers, while editorial works on new pieces. Parse.ly will automatically identify evergreen content, and potential evergreen content (evergreen candidates), and will display them through our Evergreen reports.
With Ocala’s Star Banner, in particular, editors saw some stories over a weekend that were gaining a lot of social referrals, as is evident via Parse.ly’s dashboard. The editors moved the stories back onto the homepage, despite them being older stories, to increase visibility. One story reached its peak page views per minute at 9 p.m. on a Sunday night as a result.
One of your clients, the Rockford Register Star, noticed that a letter to the editor thanking a local hospital was a hit on social media. Can Parse.ly analytics red-flag unusual user activity like this even if the paper itself doesn’t notice such engagement on its own?
Parse.ly’s dashboard includes messaging for users that signals when data for a particular day goes above and beyond (or is significantly below) typical traffic. Of course, users must sign in to see this messaging. Our dashboard integrates with the API’s of most major social networks to provide information on shares, likes, retweets, comments, and referrals. If a piece of content is receiving a high number of social interactions, it will be displayed at the top of the list, sorted by social interactions, in Parse.ly.
Parse.ly also introduced a Slackbot which can automatically alert users when certain metrics (posts, authors, sections, or tags) are popular right now or for the past day on their site. You can set your Parse.ly Slackbot to alert you to posts that are getting more attention than usual, so your team doesn’t miss any chance to engage with your audience in real-time.
Parse.ly’s Slackbot allows users to set a custom pageview threshold, so your channel will be alerted immediately with any stories that go above the threshold. Your team won’t lose any time; you’ll see trending posts right away so you can respond quickly.
Most newsrooms are a lot leaner these days. Would you argue that Parse.ly can maintain and even increase the quality of content and rates and duration of reader engagement in such circumstances?
Newsrooms who use Parse.ly are able to take audience preferences and insights into consideration in a way that newsrooms who do not rely on data cannot do. So, although Parse.ly cannot increase the quality of content that a newsroom shares with its readers, it can improve its relevance and value to a publication’s particular audience when incorporated into a newsroom’s editorial strategy.
Here’s the bottom-line question: If a site uses Parse.ly analytics aggressively, day in, day out, will that lead to levels of reader engagement that will attract more advertisers and, with them, higher CPMs? Do you have any backup to support your answer?
Using Parse.ly enables newsrooms to understand their audiences in ways that they have not been able to do in the past. Rather than relying on “gut feelings,” editors, journalists and writers can rely on data to determine what is resonating most with their particular audience — often improving reader engagement and/or generating more traffic, depending on their particular site goals. Many platforms offer audience data, but Parse.ly is the best at making it accessible to editors, and encouraging people who may have been intimidated by audience data to use it every day.
Anecdotally, we’re often told that Parse.ly helps clients to generate revenue and close specific deals. By simply putting in the effort to better understand their audience, many publications are able to create content that justifies and enables alternative monetization strategies like paywalls and subscriptions.
Tom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of hyperlocal news network Local America, and is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.