If you’re tired of seeing “related content” widgets that are full of links that are, at best, kinda, sorta related, a startup called Contextly is trying to make things better.
The company was founded in 2012 and aimed, in the words of co-founder Ryan Singel, to create online publishing tools that were “actually designed by journalists, rather than marketers or advertisers or techie guys that don’t actually get how journalism works.” It was in closed beta testing until September of last year, when it quietly opened up its platform, and it’s officially launching the product today.
With Contextly, publishers can add recommended content widgets at the end of their posts, and there are additional tools for adding links and sidebars. Singel said the technology looks at a number of different factors — including tags, links, and “semantic similarities” — to figure out which other articles to recommend. It combines all of those approaches, tests out different “weighting” systems, and goes with the combination that’s most effective. (Singel noted that articles can attract different types of readers over time, so the strategy can also change.)
Not that every recommendation has to be generated by an algorithm — editors can manually choose them, too, or they can combine the manual approach with automated selections.
One big difference compared to companies like Outbrain or Taboola is that Contextly’s links are entirely internal — it’s not trying to link to any sites except your own. Singel described the other companies as “traffic arbitrage” businesses. He argued that it’s important to convince visitors to read additional articles on your site — not just for the extra pageviews, but because that’s what turns them into regular readers. (This is an area that TechCrunch-owner AOL is interested in, too — it recently acquired content personalization startup Gravity.)
At the same time, Singel said “there is a place for sponsored content and native advertising” in Contextly — it’s just that the team is still figuring out what that place is.
Publishers using Contextly include Make Magazine, Cult of Mac, and Modern Farmer. It can also be used by businesses that aren’t strictly in the news or editorial business, like DIY electronics company Adafruit.
Contextly was part of the Matter.VC incubator for media startups and recently joined Turner Media Camp. You can read more on the Contextly blog.