In early 2015 the company rebooted its offering to publishers to deliver a new platform that collates unified audience insights on growth, engagement and loyalty. Since then Parse.ly has learnt a great deal about online audiences. Below Sachin shares insights on measuring everything from video to content on social platforms, as well as discussing how data should power monetisation strategies.
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What do you think will be the key innovations in audience analysis in the next few years?
I think that two specific trends in the digital publishing space will contribute to key innovations in audience analysis over the next few years.
Distributed Content Becomes the Norm: In addition to developing audiences on their own sites, today’s top publishers have an unprecedented opportunity to reach massive new audiences by distributing their content to third-party platforms like Google and Facebook. As such, digital publishers who have been tracking the performance of their on-site content will be looking to track the performance of their distributed content. Parse.ly is one of the only analytics tools that can track distributed content on Google AMP and Facebook Instant Articles, and consolidate these analytics alongside an organisation’s on-site data. We’re working closely with third-party platforms to enhance this technology over the next few years.
Video Picks Up Steam: Digital publishers and brands have been interested in the possibility of video for quite some time, and some are getting pretty serious about creating active video strategies. Analytics will be a key piece of the puzzle, and from this perspective, video is now considered in the same way that text was considered five years ago; it is difficult for content creators to understand how it is doing, overall. Now that more video is being distributed, the digital publishing space needs to get serious about measuring, iterating, and improving access to analytics. Parse.ly released (in beta) a video analytics tool that provides easy access to the analytics that will prove what works and improve what doesn’t for anyone that needs it. Over the next few years, we’ll be finessing the product to best meet the needs of digital publishers.
Since your major reboot in 2015 (where you unified audience insights on growth, engagement and loyalty in a new analytics platform) what has been the most interesting and surprising thing you have learned about publisher data?
In a recent survey, Parse.ly learned that 54 per cent of digital media professionals do not have a common definition of audience engagement at their organisation. It is surprising that so many organisations are prioritising measurement of audience engagement when they don’t necessarily have a clear picture of what it is.Parse.ly has been very successful in looking at data across our network of digital publishers and extracting meaning from it (check out our Authority Reports for additional insight). And while these metrics serve as useful benchmarks for many content creators, the most important source of truth for individual publishers is their own data – especially as it relates to the unique goals of their organisation. There isn’t one “golden” metric that will solve a publisher’s problems; what works for one publisher may not work for another. So, perhaps one of the most interesting and surprising things we’ve seen since our reboot last year are the myriad creative ways in which digital publishers and brands use our data to make sense of their audience.
In fact, we’ve come to realise that customers are not satisfied with a surface-level understanding of their audiences. They understand the value of data – and they want to dig deeper. They’ve hired analysts, product engineers, and data scientists. As a result, we’ve launched the Parse.ly Data Pipeline, which makes it easy for digital publishers to build an in-house practice around analytics. The product unlocks 100 per cent of the data behind Parse.ly’s analytics, and helps digital publishers to analyse it for their own needs. It’s been very well-received.
How do you think the emphasis on non-advertising sources i.e. events, ecommerce, sponsored content, research reports and paywalls is shaping the future of publisher analytics? What advice would you give to publishers on identifying their high value opportunities?
No single revenue model will fit every single one of a publisher’s needs. The variables involved, including type of media organisation, audience, and budget, make the hunt for the best revenue stream impossible to duplicate across companies. But that’s not a bad thing – in fact, that’s arguably what makes publishers’ jobs exciting. There are plentiful opportunities for success, thanks to the many different avenues that exist for media companies to make money. A little creativity and foresight can shift a media company’s monetisation method for the better.
But that means it is more important than ever for digital publishers to pay attention to what types of content appeal to their audiences, and why, so that they may use this insight to identify high value opportunities. If your organisation relies on sponsored content, for example, be sure to tag that content clearly so you can look back at how sponsored topics fare versus editorial topics. Gleaning this type of insight ensures that your monetisation efforts remain focused.
Are engagement levels now the most important metric for publishers’ data?
Content creators are becoming increasingly sophisticated in how they measure audience engagement; but it would be disingenuous to say that engagement levels are the most important metric for publishers’ data because – as I mentioned earlier – we are having some trouble defining “audience engagement” as an industry. However, I do believe that the engagement metric will become more meaningful to digital publishers as they further integrate it with the goals of their organisation in an effort to create more understanding. So, for some digital publishers, audience engagement may be the ultimate metric. For others, it may be a combination of metrics. It all depends on your organisation’s unique goals and audience.
In June you launched a tool to monitor real time traffic to publishers from Facebook? What has been the level of interest in the tool from publishers, and what surprises has this data thrown up? Are there lessons that publishers can learn about social traffic from the tool?
After Facebook announced its algorithm change in June, digital publishers began to question whether continued reliance on Facebook as a third-party distribution platform was a wise idea. It’s only natural for digital publishers to be concerned; Facebook and Google are responsible for the majority of their referral traffic overall – and if Facebook or Google are no longer sharing their content, publishers’ page posts may not be as visible. Andrew Montalenti, CTO at Parse.ly (and my co-founder), believes that Facebook’s announcement reinforces the importance of publishers practicing what he refers to as “traffic source diversity.” Once they decide what type of risk they are comfortable taking with respect to their reliance on various distribution platforms, they will be able to garner the best returns on their level of investment.
Do you think that measuring social traffic will become an ever-bigger part of the parse.ly offering?
Parse.ly currently tracks all referral traffic to our network of digital publishers, so individual organisations can look at their social traffic and social engagement. We also publish the percentage of aggregate traffic that Facebook drives to digital publishers versus Google on a quarterly basis. Given the level of industry-wide interest in this information, we’re working on launching a public, real-time referral dashboard that will depict the top ten traffic sources to Parse.ly’s network of digital publishers and brands to help digital publishers develop a better understanding of how social sites impact their audience.
What processes would you advise time poor publishers and editorial staff to create to deal with the huge amount of data that is now accessible to them?
Parse.ly typically advises digital publishers and editorial staff to take five initial steps to start successfully tracking audience analytics:
- Know Your Audience: Figure out who is reading your content, and what makes them act. When do they read and what do they care about? Understanding what makes them tick will help you to create a solid basis for connection.
- Pick Your Goals: Decide on measurable goals based on the information you’ve gleaned about your audience. Figure out a way to track your progress in reaching these goals.
- Translate Data: Change the way you collect and share data by making it more accessible to your team.
- Democratise Data: Get the rest of your organisation as excited about data as you are!
- Act and Analyse: Adopt a new content creation schedule that takes readers’ feedback into consideration.
However, if you don’t have a lot of time and you find yourself overwhelmed by a large amount of data, focus on understanding what data you have available to you and think about how it can help you to create an editorial strategy in line with your organisational goals.
Given the huge growth of video content are you creating more tools that give publishers more details about their videos’ performance?
Digital publishers have been interested in the possibility of video for quite some time, and some are getting pretty serious about video as a viable strategy. In response, Parse.ly has introduced video analytics (in beta) to our analytics dashboard. Publishers may now view video metrics about each video they post online; or, they can put these metrics into context – looking at video metrics by creator, section, or tag. They can see video metrics right in an article page, or investigate on which pages readers watch videos the most.
As a business you make heavy use of content marketing, and especially thought leadership to generate new leads. Do you think content marketing is not the most important way of creating a sales pipeline for B2B companies the media space?
Parse.ly is uniquely positioned to look at trends across our network of users. Compiling these insights into powerful content – Authority Reports, webinars, events, blog posts, bylines – for current and potential customers allows us to demonstrate and share our expertise. In this way, our content marketing and thought leadership initiatives serve as powerful drivers of new leads. However, in creating our sales pipeline, we equally experiment with website optimisation, email marketing, tradeshows, and other types of lead generation campaigns.
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