Sometimes I think there’s an entry on a WordPress blog development checklist somewhere that says “Add Related Posts”.
So sites add some plugin that adds Related Posts, because that’s what the checklist says. I think that also explains why there are so many “Best Related Posts Plugins for WordPress” blog posts.
Don’t get me wrong: giving readers a way to dig deep into a subject is a very good thing.
Related post recommendations do help readers read more from your site. And having readers read more is the best way to build a return, loyal audience.
But why just related? Is that really what all readers want?
What we’ve found is that readers want more than just related. It’s a lesson we learned early in the development of Contextly, which started as a way to make better related posts.
Contextly grew out of my frustration when I work at Wired at how related links we chose for a story never got updated.
Contextly set out to make those links dynamic, so that when a new story was published – the older stories pointed to the new ones and the new ones could point to the older stories.
As a writer, this was great. A story I wrote in 2012 on a Facebook privacy change would get a set of related links that could take one back years, even as far back as to a 2008 story about Facebook Beacon – and that older story would point to the newest one.
And what reader of my new story wouldn’t want to dive into that history?
Well, it turns out, in a blow to my writerly ego, readers don’t always want to dive deeply into a subject.
Some readers got all they needed from that story, or already know the context or are just looking for something new.
For these readers, related recommendations aren’t what they were looking for next. They have different motivations.
We realized that Related recommendations are only one approach in an overall engagement solution.
So we added some other approaches.
One was detecting and recommending Evergreen stories, a site’s best older stories that have long fallen off the homepage and were probably missed by that reader.
Another approach was looking for topics that a reader is interested in and giving the reader personalized recommendations.
Yet another approach is recommending Popular stories that are relatively high performers over the past few weeks.
Working with mulitiple approaches means you are serving more readers and getting more readers to read more posts.
We’re continuing to build on that insight.
Or put another way, Context may be king, but exploration is queen. (Just think of how the Queen gets to move around on a chess board.)
For instance, for our Business and Enterprise customers, we pull in their videos and products into the recommendations to provide a more integrated experience.
We also introduced the FollowUp button that lets readers of our Enterprise clients subscribe to individual stories.
Then last week, we launced the Siderail, which offers yet another spot to show readers great stuff they haven’t seen before. This module lives next to a post in the navigation rail.
The Siderail complements our existing in-story Sidebars. Those live inside posts, and sites use them to guide readers to related and interesting stories on their site, using a very handsome display in the body of the story.
We’ve got some other cool stuff coming soon as well that’s built off the realization that there’s a lot of ways to serve readers needs beyond just a set of related links at the bottom of a post.
Image: Jurgen Appelo/CC 2.0 By