In this conversation we speak with Parse.ly CEO and Co-Founder Sachin Kamdar on how his company helps media outlets, brands, and content publishers of all kinds measure the effectiveness of their work. We touch on everything from the monetization of content, increasing competition among media publishers, and of course fake news. Read the full Q&A below.
1. Can you start by telling us what Parse.ly does and who you work with?
While you read an article or watch a video online, it becomes the center of your attention at that moment. We show our clients their audience’s attention at scale and help them to create more moments that capture it.
We work with companies that want an engaged digital audience; they want readers to pay attention to their work. This includes media companies like The Wall Street Journal and HuffPost, foundations like The Brookings Institute and the World Economic Forum, and brands including Headspace and Artsy.
Our analytics dashboard and data products are built to capture the relationship between readers and content. Editors log in to see the most popular stories of the day. Audience development teams set up reports that show each author where his or her readers came from. Developers use that same data to build a personalized reader experience on their site.
2. It was recently reported that Time Inc. publication People saw pageviews increase by up to 70% after implementing Parse.ly. Can you talk about the importance of usable data insights in the increasingly competitive media industry?
If an article gets published on the internet, does it make a sound? So much information bombards audiences for their attention everyday, and people have more ways of finding that information than ever before.
Our clients, including Time Inc., love that everyone that shapes the audience experience — from editors to execs — can understand and use data from Parse.ly. Our dashboards and reports show how audiences respond to their content; they become a shared language among teams that might not normally talk to each other. This helps the entire company make changes to their strategy that they can watch and measure, as People did recently.
It can be easy to forget about building a long-term audience because everything happens so quickly online (um, hello Twitter!). But media companies can’t be short-sighted about brand loyalty and customers willing to pay for their services. We provide support, advice, and services that focus on the long-term.
3. Your data recently showed that articles in the business and finance category — which would typically have the highest-value audience — saw the lowest pageviews. Do you see publishers grappling with monetization of content versus expected pageviews?
Data helps force people to confront myths that want to believe, including “If more people see something, it must be better.” We’re taught from a young age that bigger is better, so our dashboards use context to help people see the nuance behind the numbers.
For example, in the research mentioned, the assumption that people were operating under was that “every pageview is created equal,” and so some companies monetize with that in mind. When you start to see that some pages, sections, authors, or topics have more engagement, you can start to question that original assumption and find ways to monetize based on the actual value of the audience.
4. A Parse.ly study looking at how different audiences find different topics online — looking at distributors like Facebook and Google — has been wildly popular. Were you surprised by the data? What do you think it says about the future of media distribution?
We looked at outside sources that we can identify — which means the reader didn’t come from another article on the same site or from a direct source, like an email or chat app — and found the biggest difference between readers for articles about lifestyle and technology.
For lifestyle readership, 90% of external readers came from Facebook — that’s almost all traffic coming from one place for this topic. For technology articles, 60% of external traffic came from Google Search. We weren’t that surprised by the different actions — lifestyle lends itself more to discovery, whereas you may have specific questions about technology you ask on search — but the volume of the action at scale, that surprised us.
5. What’s your take on the rise of fake news? Are content distributors doing enough to mitigate the spread of misinformation?
“Fake News” isn’t a “news” problem, it’s a platform and business model problem. Legitimate news sites don’t create fake stories. Fake stories get created because Facebook, Google and other ad tech platforms make it possible and profitable. Even assuming those companies are operating in good faith, I don’t think they even have begun to be able to figure out how to address this problem. Europe’s push into fines and more regulation, while not directly related to fake news, will be interesting to watch and see how it affects trends across the globe.
6. What does the future look like for Parse.ly? Any forthcoming plans or focus areas you can discuss here?
There’s a world of data yet to be uncovered online and we want to help tell those stories. We’re new technology, including machine learning and AI to ask more about the trends uncovered by our network. We want to help rebalance the monetization scale so that people who create content can make money from it, not just the huge platforms that use it to keep their users. And we will always keep our focus on what’s at the center of attention online!
7. P.S., What’s the thinking behind the name?
When my co-founder, CTO Andrew Montalenti, and I first started the company, we noticed we were using the phrase “Parse” frequently. We talked about “parsing data,” “parsing meaning,” and it became a bit of a refrain. The name Parse.ly appealed to us because it represented that theme and was recognizable as an existing word (the herb, of course, Parsley).
We’ve also explained this in our own words in more detail here.