Favorite Feature #17: Let Readers Follow Topics on Your Site (Channels!)

It shouldn’t be so hard for your readers to stay notified of the stuff they care most about. Also it shouldn’t be so hard for YOU to get your stories to the readers who care about them.

Search and social are good ways for people to find you, but how about having a way to PUSH stories to the right readers without annoying them or invading their privacy?

Contextly makes that possible with Channels.

Channels lets readers subscribe to follow topics on your site and get notified when you publish more about that topic.

So if you post a Daily Deal or a new post about Knitting, readers that subscribed to those topics will get an email letting them now about the new story.

And, what’s even better: you and your editorial team don’t have to do *anything* differently. There’s literally zero extra editorial work. Just write and tag your stories as usual, and we’ll do the rest of it.

Here’a an example email notification from Cult of Mac to readers that subscribe to its How-To channel:

Contextly Channel Email Example

A couple things to note here:

  1. The email looks like it comes from your site, but we send it for you
  2. Your logo is up there
  3. We notify the reader about new posts about the topic AND fill out the email with other suggestions from your site

Channels are now included in your base Contextly fee. Yup, no extra charges.

To get readers to sign-up, you can either use our inline form (see example below) or a subscription button that shows up in relevant posts on your site.

Email Subscription Sign-Up Form on Mobile

This is an example of the Contextly Channel subscription sign-up form on mobile.

We use your Categories and Tags to categorize posts, and you have control over which ones readers can subscribe to. Additionally, you have lots of easy-to-use controls on what the sign-up prompt looks like, where it is placed and what the notifications look like.

We’ll send you separate reports on how the Channels are doing, including which ones are popular, how many folks signed up, how many notifications we sent out, and how many we think were opened (an imprecise measurement, because not all email clients let us know when an email is opened).

As for privacy, we don’t spam or otherwise annoy these readers. We only email these folks to tell them about your new stories. If they want fewer notifications, they can choose that via a link at the bottom of the notification email, just above the unsubscribe link.

We hope you love building a direct distribution channel to your most loyal readers.

Favorite Feature #16: Reports on Referrer Sites and Homepages

Many Contextly users say our daily, weekly and monthly reports are their favorite part of our content recommendation service.

To make our reports even more useful, we’ve expanded our reports to include information on home pages, tag/category pages and about where your traffic is coming from (referral reports). We’ve even given the service a name: Contextly Analytics.

Starting with version 6.0.2, Contextly will collect data on homepage visits and to visits to tag and category pages. We don’t show recommendations on these pages, so these aren’t counted in our calculations of CTRs.

They are, however, included in the summary,

Contextly Analytics Email Sample And, in a longer breakdown,

Contextly Analytics Email Sample

We also now record referrers to your site, and break those into buckets. This lets you see how many people come to your site via social media channels like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as with Search (e.g. Bing, Google, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo).

We also keep track of Internal referrers, which is views that come from links on your own site.

Contextly Analytics Email Sample

We also break out top pages per source, so you can see what’s doing well on Facebook and what’s doing well in search.

Contextly Analytics Email Sample

We hope these easy-to-use reports help you better plan your editorial strategy and plan to build on them soon to make them even more useful.

One thing to note: measuring web traffic is more art than science. Our numbers will be different than other analytics such as Google Analytics. That’s because each service filters out bots differently; counts partial page-loads differently; and get blocked by user browsers’ differently.

But our numbers will be directionally correct, and our analytics are intended to help you understand what’s going on with your site and what content is resonating with readers. Our Contextly Analytics are meant to help with your editorial strategy.

Remember, you can add as many people in your organization as you like to the list of those that get the emailed reports, and for those of you who don’t need all the reports, you can turn off daily, weekly, or monthly reports – just look at the end of any report sent to you for unsubscribe options.

Finally, as a note on privacy, Contextly’s service does not rely on cookies either for recommendations or our analytics (though our CDN does use a necessary and permitted session cookie to prevent malicious attacks). We remain fully compliant with both the GDPR and CCPA as we don’t track readers of your site.

Favorite Feature #15: Filter Related Posts by Date, Categories and Tags

Contextly recently introduced powerful tools to let sites make related post and popular recommendations on their sites more customizable to their needs.

There’s now 3 main ways to filter recommendations:

  1. By Post Date
  2. By Categories or Tags
  3. Blacklisting single urls or word/phrase

By Post Date: Contextly now lets you limit how far back our recommendations go. So for instance, if you have 10 years worth of posts, you might want to only show readers recommendations from the last three years.

You can now set a Global Default that limits this.

Older posts will still show recommendations, but the older posts don’t show up in recommendations.

But we also realized two things:

A) You should be able to override the Global Default for certain content so that older posts like How-Tos still show up.

So we made it possible for you to do that.

And B) that some content is better with a very short-time limit. So we made it possible for you to limit those even more than the Global Default. For instance, you might have a category called Deal of the Week and links to older deals aren’t great because they’ve expired.

So in that case, you can set that category to 7 days, while the Global Default is 3 years.

See below how the Global Default is 2 years, while posts tagged Fashion got set to 6 months and posts in the Cars category are set to 1 year.

Post Date Related Post Filtering

By Tags and Categories:

If there are particular tags or categories you simply don’t want included in related post recommendations or even in your popular posts or evergreen post recommendations, you can exclude these posts from the recommendations.

For example, you might have a tag for corrections or for internal announcements.

Simply choose which ones you would like to exclude under the Content Settings tab and the option “Filter by Tag/Category”.

Here posts tagged Advertisement are excluded as are posts in the Categories “Expired” and “Uncategorized.”

Post Date Related Post Filtering

By Url or Keyword:

You may have very particular content that you don’t want surfacing in recommendations. If you want to exclude a post from recommendations, simply copy and paste the url into the exclusion box.

For instance, you might have an older post that’s clickbaity or just not your best work. This lets you keep it out of the related posts and out of the popular and evergreen recommendations. However, posts that are excluded from the recommendations will still have recommendations on them (this is a feature, not a bug).

You can also filter related posts based on keywords. So, for instance, if you wanted to filter out posts with the words “car accident” or “NSFW”, you can do that as well.

You can find both of these filter tools under Content Settings -> “Filter by URL/word”.

Filter Related Posts By URL or Keyword

As always, if you have feedback or other needs, just drop us a note at info@contextly.com



A profile of Contextly’s “powerful content recommendation system”

I recently had the chance to speak with Christine Preusler at Hosting Advice, who then wrote up a detailed and insightful profile of Contextly’s recommendation service and how our model of quality links back to publishers’ own content resonates with publishers as they move to building loyal audiences.

We’ve found that being the best related links plugin for WordPress has helped us win high-quality publishers of all kinds as clients – from brands to tech media. (We’re not just WordPress, of course, we also have a supported Drupal related links plugin and have an API version that works with nearly any publishing system.)

Ultimately, Ryan said Contextly’s value proposition varies based on the type of publications it serves. “The one thing we’ve found is that people publish for so many different reasons,” Ryan said.


For customers like Stitch Fix, an online personal styling brand, the goal is to attract as many readers as possible in hopes of converting them into loyal paid subscribers. Cult of Mac, on the other hand, is focused on building its readership base and increasing credibility.


“Everything we do in terms of our recommendations goes back to that publisher’s own content,” he said. “For some publishers, we do that cross-publication if they have sister sites, but our focus is typically on smaller sites and niche sites that value maintaining trusted relationships with their readers.”

Full profile of Contextly.

GutenSidebar! Contextly’s Sidebars Now Work with the Gutenberg Editor

WordPress recently switched to a new default editor called Gutenberg, which treats contents of a post — images, embeds, paragraphs of text — as separate blocks.

That change broke several of Contextly’s editorial tools, including the ability to add sidebars into the body of stories. (A style note: we call in-post recommendation blocks Sidebars, and recommendations that show up on either side of the post Siderails. This is how the news industry refers to these units, even though WordPress, inaccurately, calls units to the left or right of a post “Sidebars”.)

For example, Manual Sidebars are added via the Classic Editor using WordPress shortcodes in the text of the post. Those sidebars can be edited, but not previewed, in the Classic Editor.

Due to how Gutenberg blocks work, this shortcode insertion method doesn’t work with Gutenberg. So we built a new method for adding sidebars in Gutenberg.

Contextly Sidebar Gutenberg

Starting with v. 5.0.4, you can now editorially add Sidebars to posts if you are using Gutenberg or the Classic editor. You can add either Auto-Sidebars (where the content is chosen algorithmically and changes over time) or Manual Sidebars where you choose the content (static recommendations).

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Design for Readers, Not Against Them

Soldier Obstacle CourseWhen I quit my editing job at Wired in 2012 to spend more time with my startup, Contextly was focussed on helping readers dive deeply into a story, via smart related links at the end of stories.

I was frustrated then at the state of digital publishing tools and the lack of innovation in the news media generally.

I still am.

After all, one of the benefits of digital publishing over paper publishing is the ability of readers to find stories that aren’t that day’s stories.

We found that readers *really* respond to smart related recommendations pointing them into a publisher’s archives. Readers are curious.

But one of the things we realized is that not all readers are in deep dive mode.

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Contextly Passes the 100,000 Email Mark with B2B Travel Disrupter Skift

Rafat Ali

Rafat Ali, founder of the B2B travel industry publication Skift. CC-licensed photo by World Travel & Tourism Council

In 2014, Rafat Ali’s Skift was in big trouble. The B2B travel industry upstart was three months away from burning through all their cash and they were unable to raise more capital.

Oh, how things have changed.

Today Skift is profitable, has double digit revenue growth, quadrupled its staff, and is on track to hit $10 million in revenue per year in the next 18 months. Perhaps what is most stunning is how this was done on only 1.5 million unique visitors a month.

How did Skift pull it off?

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Contextly Channels Let Readers Follow Topics They Care About

Publishers have just gained a potent tool in the battle for readers’ attention and loyalty. Today Contextly introduces Channels.

Many publishers write stories that consistently fall into a small number of topics. Contextly Channels now make it possible for readers to subscribe to these topics without any editorial work.

What are Channels and how do they work?

1) Contextly will identify 10-20 topics that are most salient in your publication. The objective is to have over 50% of your stories fall into one of these topics. These form the basis of Channels. The Channels do not rely on your tags and categories. (You can give editorial input into this process if you like, but for the sake of efficiency, editorial involvement in selecting the topics is optional.)

2) A Channel Button is then inserted in the stories that belong to a topic.

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An Auto-Sidebar in Every Post (Better than a Chicken in Every Pot)


This is a Contextly Auto-Sidebar on Cult of Mac. The recommendations are algorithmically chosen, and the Auto-Sidebar updates as you publish new content.

At Contextly, we’re big fans of sidebars in the body of stories. Sidebars with smart recommendations show off the depth and breadth of your site, and add a nice visual flair without interrupting a reader’s flow through a story.

Sidebars also typically bump recirculation CTRs 25 to 50%.

So we’re excited to announce that it’s now possible to put algorithmically powered, constantly updating sidebars in every story on your site.

Previously, Contextly sidebars required a little editorial effort to place them in a story. That’s no longer the case.

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Infinite Scroll Is (Usually) Just a Bad Recommendation System

Stairs going down

Only one way to go with infinite scroll.

Infinite scroll, the web design practice that lets readers scroll down into more stories on a news site after reaching the end of a post, became popular with news publishers after the rise of feed-based sites like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Infinite scroll’s not a simple thing to implement. URLs have to change in the address bar as the reader moves to the new story. Analytics packages have to know when to recognize a new read. Ad units have to be timed to fire again.

Infinite scroll is a recommendation system.

But infinite scroll looks like social networks do, so publishers keep adopting it. (Though some, like Forbes, have abandoned it).

I’ve never seen an infinite scroll implementation that’s smart. Or to put it more kindly, I’ve never seen an infinite scroll site that uses data smartly to decide what to show next.

Why does that matter?

Infinite scroll is a recommendation system.

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