[For the month of November 2015, in honor of National Novel Writing Month and National Blog Posting Month #NaBloPoMo, I’ll be writing a post a day about a favorite Contextly feature. It’s a bit of a love letter and a bit of a how-to.]
Contextly originated in part at my frustration at the limitation of the tools we used at Wired (we used WordPress). Linking back to previous stories was just a pain. But links are good for building SEO, and also just plain useful for readers, so we added them every day.
But creating links to previous stories required writers to open a new tab; create a site search like this in Google” “site:blog.contextly.com evergreen”; then click through the search results to get to the normal link; copy and paste the link; and finally, go back to WordPress and copy it in.
So one of the first features we built remains a favorite: making it dead simple to link back to a previous story in the story you are writing.
We’ve had Auto-Sidebars for a long time, and the first version was pretty cool. Version 2.0 shipped this week and now they are wicked cool. The sidebar below is a live Auto-Sidebar.
Basically, Auto-Sidebars are sidebars that live in the body of your story showing related content without you having to choose the stories. They look great as visual elements on the page and help readers dive deeper into your content (sometimes known as reducing your bounce rate.)
And as you publish more stories to the site, they update across the site auto-magically.
But, up until now, Auto-Sidebars were an advanced feature that was a bit confusing.
With the release of 3.2 for WordPress and our Enterprise API edition, Auto-Sidebars got way cooler and way easier. (For those of you who prefer a visual demo, we made a short How-To Use the Auto-Sidebar video.)
Here’s the 5 things to know:
1) From the text editor in WordPress, you can drop an Auto-Sidebar into a post with just two clicks. Simply click the right side of of the Sidebar button, choose “Add an Auto-Sidebar” and the shortcode [contextly_auto_sidebar] goes right where your cursor is.
How to Insert an Auto-Sidebar Manually in WordPress’s Visual Editor
Once you save the post, you can preview it and see it in action.
2) In the Control Panel, you can choose the default title, description, the number of stories to show and the size of the thumbnail image. You’ve got lots of control over how it looks, including whether it lives on the left or right edge of your post. You can even have it run across the page.
3) You can edit the content of any Auto-Sidebar.
If there’s a story, you want to put in there you can. So say you have your Auto-Sidebars set to show 3 posts. You can then highlight the shortcode, press the Sidebar button and choose a story. We’ll then show 3 stories – the one you chose and 2 algorithmic. You can choose some or all.
4) We kept the old method where the Auto-Sidebar code can show up automatically when you start a new post. You can then type around it and put it where you like, or just leave it at the top of the story.
What it looks like when you start a new post with Auto-Insertion of Auto-Sidebars. So much automation.
5) You can also edit any Auto-Sidebar to have a different title, description or placement. Just highlight the shortcode, press the Sidebar button, and change those items.
There’s more to come soon, including being able to choose different kinds of default recommendations. As always, Auto-Sidebars won’t slow down or crash your site as they are powered by our proprietary recommendation system that runs on our servers, not yours.
But the new Auto-Sidebars are really fun, and we’re wickedly excited that these are now ridiculously easy to add to stories.
Interest in evergreen story detection algorithms is driven by the underlying economics that characterize publishers’ archives. Publishers’ archives can be hugely valuable to readers, but remain mostly inaccessible to readers due to the cost of finding content in those archives. Thus, it is important to lower the cost of finding content in those archives to the point where the value to the reader exceeds the cost to the reader. In this case, the market maker is an evergreen story detection algorithm.
This is not the kind of technology you want creating recommendations for your readers.
WPEngine, one of the premier WordPress hosting sites, allows sites to run almost any plugin.
But notably WPEngine blocks a number of related posts plugins, including Dynamic Related Posts, SEO Auto Links & Related Posts, Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP), Similar Posts, and Contextual Related Posts.
It’s not competition thing for WPEngine. It’s that these plugins beat up databases, slow down servers and can even crash a site under heavy load.
Fundamentally, WordPress’s architecture which uses a MySQL database is built to serve posts to readers and give sites lots of design flexibility.
It’s not an architecture built for the computationally expensive task of figuring out content recommendations – even if it’s just looking for posts with similar tags or categories.
WPEngine recommends a few recommendation services, incuding Contextly, that create content recommendations outside WordPress as substitutes.
Why is what we do better than a service that runs on your WordPress site?
It’s that these plugins beat up databases, slow down servers and can even crash a site under heavy load.
Sometimes a new paint job is more than just a paint job.
We set out a while ago to move to a more modern design with our recommendation modules, and we definitely did that with 3.0 which we released on Thursday.
For instance, here’s a screenshot of a live 3.0 main module display.
And here’s the new default sidebar design. (Have you made or re-used a sidebar yet today?)
We also gave publishers more point-and-click controls over the display:
And there’s lots more font choices now, including your site’s default.
We also decided it was time to optimize some old code and lay the rails for some new features.
So in addition to the cleaner display, we re-wrote the code that makes our content recommendations modules responsive. Now we handle some edge cases better – like really wide displays and large images in the in-story sidebars.
We also added a little more space between individual recommendations and between rows.
For our Enterprise sites, we updated the FollowUp button so that the second time a reader chooses to follow a story, the subscription is auto-magically added to their subscription list without need to re-enter their email address.
Perhaps most importantly, underneath the new paint, we built a foundation to make it easier for us to introduce new features and display modules. The details of the scaffolding aren’t very exciting, but the possibilities are.
With 3.0 out and sitting pretty, we’ll be rolling out these new features over the coming weeks and months to give publishers even more tools for building engagement and giving readers great experiences.
Following the news you care about shouldn’t be hard.
But we’ve all had that situation where we read a story that leaves us with questions and wanting us to know what’s next. Recently, the two-week Ellen Pao sexual discrimination case roiled Silicon Valley, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he would not seek re-election, and, in California, nearly everyone is concerned about the ongoing drought.
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to a miss crucial update to a story, or to show up in the middle of a story and feel like you have been dumped into the Sea-of-Contextlessness.
Making it simpler for readers to follow the stories they care about is why we built the FollowUp button, which we are announcing today.