Ars Technica and the Art of the Dash API
At Parse.ly, we’re keeping a big secret: Dash isn’t just an analytics tool for web publishers. We also offer our clients access to our API. Ars Technica, a tech news site that caters to the “alpha geek,” has been putting the Dash API to work. As Conde Nast’s only completely digital publication, Ars Technica is a natural fit for our innovative and open development structure. With the help of our API, Ars Technica has translated their analytics data into a better reader experience and better marketing strategies.
Ars Technica has implemented the Dash API in two areas, a site overlay and a recommendations engine. The site overlay displays real-time page view data on top of the Ars Technica homepage, allowing editors and writers to respond quickly to trends and to adjust article distribution pathways. According to Jason Marlin, the Director of Technology at Ars Technica, the response-time of the Parse.ly system made the overlay possible. “You start to look at what’s available to you, and Parse.ly’s already got this page view data available. We can just cache that for ten minutes and show that rather than building from or extending our existing crazy pixel system,” Marlin said.
Using the overlay, Ars Technica has already seen measurable results. “We just had a really good month in the month of June for Ars, it was actually the best month we ever had in terms of page views and visits,” Marlin said. “I’d like to say that some of that is probably attributable to other editors logging into the site and seeing all these numbers at a glance, and recognizing that other writers are going to see those numbers as well…I think having it right there at a glance has helped people tweak how they make their headlines and the types of content that they write about.”
Besides the site overlay, Ars Technica uses the Dash API to power a recommendations engine. The recommendations appear in two places, in a “My Stories” space tailored to specific users and in a grid underneath posts. “We’re using the profile capabilities of the API where we’re storing a user profile, so that we can build a base of information and browsing habits on specific users whether they’re anonymous or not,” Marlin said. Since switching from a commercial recommendations system to their homegrown engine, Ars Technica has even seen a slight increase in the percentage of users clicking-through the recommended stories.
Over the long-term, Ars Technica has a specific goal for the Dash API—to increase the number of pages per visit. “That’s something we’ve had trouble growing,” Marlin said, “because naturally as you grow the number of unique visitors to the site, the amount of overall and the breadth of the traffic, the type of different users you get when you’re reaching out to Google News versus the same two hundred users, those stats are going to go down.” Using Parse.ly, the Ars Technica team can “make the individual user experience ever more tailored to the needs of that user.”
For example, evergreen content that hits it big on Reddit can escape the notice of new visitors. “Sometimes there’s some pretty cool things that happen where you have a story that was a year old that suddenly spikes through the roof because it hits Reddit or people are passing it around Twitter,” Marlin said. “It’d be cool to surface some of that stuff for users, so the user coming to the site can take part in the social discovery that’s going on even though they were not exposed to it through Facebook or Twitter.”
As Ars Technica continues to evolve, the Dash API will along with it. For Ars Technica’s team, “the best part of working with Parse.ly is just how good you guys have been about implementation versus, ‘oh well we’ll put this in our future request list and it might make version 12 or something.’ It looks like you guys have a more agile development environment,” Marlin said.
At Parse.ly, we’re committed to going where other analytics providers can’t or won’t. “I guess real time stats are a pretty crazy idea,” Marlin said. But when we think about Dash, “crazy,” never crosses our minds—because with our API, we can make crazy possible.