January 29, 2015

Parse.ly, one of the major players in the growing business of sophisticated measurement of digital audiences, is out with a new suite of services this morning.

“The conversation around what success means and how we measure it” continues to develop, CEO Sachin Kamdar told me in a phone interview. Eleven new Parse.ly metrics, like “breakout of traffic recirculation” aim to give publishers a range of tools they can match with differing objectives, he said.

The Parse.ly rollout is way more advanced than the general overview of analytics trends I provided in a post earlier this month — but consistent with it.

The concept, according to the company, is to unify insights on growth (as still measured by uniques and page views), engagement (as typically demonstrated by time spent) and the newer concern with loyalty (described by several as “time well spent” in my earlier piece).

In an essay on Medium January 9, responding to an earlier post by Medium and Twitter founder Evan Williams, Kamdar commented:

Just as we’ve heard an almost exhausting amount about “engagement” in 2014, I expect we’ll start to hear much more about actual value in the coming year. The VCs (venture capitalists) and meta-media are starting to look for blood in the water, and businesses won’t be able to defend a strategy that only has high engagement metrics to show for its troubles.

Kamdar told me the new service, already tested in beta with top clients, will supplant rather than supplement Parse.ly’s existing offerings within a matter of weeks.  Publishers will have flexibility in which features they order so the service could end up more or less expensive than its predecessor.

In a demo, Kamdar showed a sample breakout that would show reporter performance  over several weeks as measured by uniques and time spent per story.  One reporter might be bringing in more traffic, another engaging greater attention of the audience.

The company’s release describes multiple goals:

Beyond precise measurement of views, visitors, shares and time, the platform now includes breakouts of on-page attention, mobile devices and visitor retention. Publishers can use this data to identify high-quality long-form content, engaging images/videos, new traffic sources for distribution and audience interest segments that lead to loyalty.

Digital publishers use Parse.ly data throughout their organization, including: editorial teams that use Parse.ly’s reporting suite as a basis for weekly meetings with reporters; developers that create products to encourage on-site recirculation; analysts that use it to identify evergreen content; or, sales teams that create sponsored content reports for native advertising clients.

The release includes an endorsement from Conde Nast, among the most prominent of a client group including Fox News, Advance Digital, Reuters and Upworthy.  Coincidentally, Conde Nast, earlier this week, announced expansion of its native advertising/sponsored content efforts with editorial writers producing some of the pieces and expanded video capacity.

For a publisher focused on sponsored content, Kamdar told me, the metrics would let a publisher show a client how a campaign did over a period of weeks, which pieces performed best — and thus allow for adjustments and improvements.  His demo included such a dashboard for a Microsoft 3 series of sponsored content ads in November.

I’m not enough of a user of analytics to assess the merits of Parse.ly’s offering compared to those of competitors like Chartbeat or Google Analytics.  My editor Seth Liss uses all three and finds them helpful in different ways — so it is not necessarily an either-or decision for digital publishers.

Kamdar facetiously described Parse.ly as “an older company” among startups.  It was founded in 2009 as a news reader that could link a user to deeper content on a given subject.  But it morphed by 2012 into an emphasis on analytics. “The software (of the time) was not really built for publishers,” Kamdar said.  “They might be trying to adapt an Excel report for data that was really important to managing the business,” he said, and the tools were not well-matched to getting audience feedback.

The main purpose of the expanded service is to measure audience in more ways and finer detail, but Kamdar said there are various applications to other business challenges as well. “The ad industry is not going to change (from raw measures of traffic) as quickly as we might wish…,” he said, “but that’s not the only way to make money.”  The metrics could be applied to paid subscription strategies or pitching sponsored events to target audience segments, Kamdar added.

While trends start and stop unexpectedly, I would be very surprised if the interest in improved metrics (and the business opportunity) went anywhere but up over the course of the year.

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Rick Edmonds is media business analyst for the Poynter Institute where he has done research and writing for the last fifteen years. His commentary on…
Rick Edmonds

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