Author Archive

Last month, Chartbeat celebrated its sixth anniversary. Over those six years, we’ve worked with thousands of incredible partners; raised $15.5 million in venture capital; committed code to GitHub 72,000 times; watched the internet break over Obama’s election, the Egyptian uprising, and the color of a blue and black dress; and influenced how the media industry uses data.

In the spirit of if something was fun the first time you should do it again, I’d like to announce that we’ve taken a $15.5 million Series C investment, doubling the total amount invested in Chartbeat to $31 million. The round is led by Harmony Partners, joined by current investors DFJ, Index Ventures, Jason Calacanis and Jeff Clavier and new investor Digital Garage. We’re thankful for the faith our investors have shown in us and we will be celebrating internally.

However, new funds are more than an excuse for a celebration. It’s a promise we make to our investors and to our customers and partners that we won’t stop pushing forward, that we won’t stop building, and that we won’t stop trying to take this industry to a better place.

And this industry needs to get to a better place. We have a simple mission: We want to make sure that ten years from now, it’s possible to build a sustainable business around quality content. We want those in the business of content to succeed by appealing to their readers’ minds more than their index fingers, and to know that the quality of their content affects the value of the page.

With that in mind, today we’re launching two new tools for publishers’ editorial and advertising teams. In the short term, they help to solve the viewability problem for publishers. Over the long term, they help to prepare the industry for an economy based on attention rather than pageloads, an economy based on what matters.

We hope you like them.

Introducing Engaged Headline Testing

And a powerful new Heads Up Display

Chartbeat 2015_Heads Up Display_Headline Test Winner

One of the criticisms of data tools can be that they prioritize clickbait over quality. Tools like traditional click-focused A/B testing can aid and abet that issue, where the most provocative headline wins regardless of the content that supports it. Moreover, tools built for long product-focused tests can struggle when applied to the fast lifecycle of a news headline, where the half-life of the story has expired before the test has finished.

Our newest editorial tool — Engaged Headline Testing — is the first multivariate testing tool built specifically for media sites. For the first time, it optimizes not just for the click but for the behavior after the click. For a headline to win it must be both enticing enough to attract traffic, and also truthful enough to keep an audience. Not only does this optimize for audience engagement rather than pageloads, it also enables editorial teams to directly affect the overall ad viewability performance of their site.

In fact, we’ve found that by optimizing for clicks that result in more engaged time on a page — or Quality Clicks, as we call them in the new Heads Up Display — it means more ads are seen for longer.

A recent study shows when visitors are engaged for 15 seconds or more, viewability is 60% versus 28% for visitors engaged for fewer than 15 seconds.

Finally, Engaged Headline Testing works at the speed you need it to. It uses a propensity-modeling algorithm that assigns more traffic to the likely winner as the test is running, delivering better total performance than standard A/B testing.

For the first time, media companies get multivariate testing built for the goals they care about, at the pace they need — all designed to fit into their workflow in the completely-rebuilt-from-the-bottom-up Heads Up Display.

Introducing Engaged Ad Refresh

And automated line-item optimization

Chartbeat_2015 Line Item Tracker_Viewability Optimization

With Engaged Headline Testing, publishers are driving more people to more engaging, high-quality content. With our new Engaged Ad Refresh tool, they’re turning that engagement directly into revenue.

With Engaged Ad Refresh, publishers borrow an idea from TV and make money from the amount of engagement they can capture vs. the amount of pages that load. Chartbeat tracks the attention of each user as they interact with ads and content, and after an ad has received a set amount of Active Exposure Time, it identifies and serves the next best ad for that user. It’s making the web less like magazines and more like TV, where four 30-second commercials will run in a two minute break.

For the advertiser looking beyond viewability, an ad refreshed after 30 seconds of active exposure has received 30 times the attention required by the viewability standard.

For the publisher with engaging content, it significantly increases the amount of viewable inventory and makes the quality of the content directly affect the revenue opportunity of the page.

PGA TOUR has seen a greater than 10% increase in viewable impressions, meaning an overall increase in new viewable inventory by more than 10%.

For the visitor, it means sites will be built to hold attention rather than maximize the number of times visitors have to click on something.

In essence, we’re seeing the rise of the digital 30-second spot.

Making Engaged Ad Refresh tools work in a way that solved for both advertiser goals and publisher needs was one thing, but we wanted to build even more intelligence into how we made our ad choices.

Our line-item optimizer automatically serves under-performing line items to refreshed ad slots after a fixed amount of actively in-view time. This ad refresh technology is — in real time, in flight — optimizing for the campaign’s goal of hitting either viewability or Active Exposure Time targets.

It goes without saying this automation dramatically increases delivery efficiency for campaigns and reduces the need for padding upfront inventory or makegoods at the end of the campaign.

That means brands get the attention they pay for, not just what they’re promised.

That means publishers get paid for the attention the capture, not just the traffic they drive.

That means — most importantly — we all get a web that rewards and sees a whole lot more of the content that we actually want to read.

We’re rolling this stuff out in the coming weeks, so if you’re already using our editorial and advertising tools, just reach out to your account team and we’ll make sure you’re first in line. If you’re not using our Chartbeat Publishing editorial or ads tools yet, let’s change that.

Over the last couple of days, there has been a lot of talk about data privacy and specifically passing personal information (e.g., age, zip code, income) to third-party data sites. Chartbeat is paid by clients like to help content teams understand how people visiting the site engage with the content, so the folks behind these sites can create the best possible visitor experience.

With that in mind, I want to take a second to talk about what Chartbeat does and doesn’t do (since there are a lot of data providers out there and we all collect and measure different things), what happens when we inadvertently receive personal information in our data, and generally how anyone using data tools for their website can do so effectively while simultaneously taking care to protect their users’ information.

Chartbeat and the data we collect

First, there is a lot of legal stuff. I know, I know. But it’s actually all really important to know about us, what we care about as a company, and how we compare to other data providers out there.

  1. Chartbeat ONLY shares data about a specific client site or the visitors of that site with the owner of that specific client site. Under no circumstances do we share or sell that data to third parties, advertisers or otherwise. Specifically our Privacy Policy states: “Except as expressly provided otherwise herein, we will not sell, lease or exchange the personal information of our Customers or any end user (to the extent that we obtain such information) to third parties without first obtaining their express consent, unless required by law or to protect their status as a Customer.”
  2. Our JavaScript pings, which report information, only do so via HTTPS when client sites are HTTPS, to help prevent third parties from intercepting that data in transit.
  3. We do not ever intentionally collect personal information. As our Privacy Policy states: “Chartbeat does not collect any personally identifiable information from users of Customer Websites, provided that (i) Chartbeat does collect IP addresses from visitors to Customer Websites in order to show geolocation information, and (ii) the Customer configures the Chartbeat code on the Customer Website in accordance with the instructions and documentation provided by Chartbeat, so that URLs containing personally identifiable information of end users are not captured by the Service.”
  4. In our client contracts and Terms of Use, we specifically state that our clients need to scrub any personal information before passing it through to Chartbeat.

When personal information is passed through to Chartbeat

But the last point (point 4 above) doesn’t always happen. So then what?

If there is a time when we learn that personal information may have been passed to us from a website, we do the following:

  • Immediately get in touch with the client / owner of the site
  • Identify the location of the personal data (e.g., what’s the URL)
  • Advise the client on how to fix their code implementation issues in order to immediately stop the sending of personal data through to Chartbeat.
  • Determine the best way to purge our system database of this data and purge that data accordingly

It’s a quick, efficient, and effective reaction. But being reactive isn’t good enough. We’ve also got to be proactive.

In light of the concerns raised this week, we’re also performing ongoing audits of our entire network of thousands of client sites to see if we can identify instances of personal data to alert clients and ensure they update the data they pass to us immediately.

How we can all get better at taking care of our users’ data

The above is all specific to Chartbeat and we take the data we receive incredibly seriously. If I’ve gotten nothing else across at this point, I hope it’s that.

However, it’s important that we all, as website owners and data users, do our part to be better shepherds of data of all kinds—personal or not. A few ways to do so (and I’m positive you all have more suggestions, so please email me with them and I’ll update this post accordingly):

  • Never pass data in the URL itself. Because most analytics providers report at the URL level, the contents of the URL are likely to be stored by any analytics firm you work with.
  • If your web pages are served via HTTP then consider moving them to HTTPS. HTTP is insecure and data sent over HTTP could be read by a third party on the network.
  • Get to know your data partners. They are the experts in the data they collect, the way they collect it, how they store it, where they store it, and how it’s used. Ask them about it. Make sure you completely understand the terms of use, privacy policy, and any contractual language before putting their code on your site. And when you’re at the point of implementation, make sure you’ve checked with them to ensure you’ve done so properly. If you have any questions about Chartbeat implementation, our Chartcorps team is your go-to.

Chartbeat is in the business of building a better internet. As much as that means making sure the best content gets the most attention, it also means making sure we all, as users, fully understand the data that’s powering the web. We’ll do our very best to continue to be transparent about what we measure, how we measure it, and what that means for you.

Facebook announced today that is is making some changes to its News Feed algorithm to combat clickbait. Primarily, the social network will be looking at how much time people spend reading away from Facebook.

“If they click through to a link and then come straight back to Facebook, it suggests that they didn’t find something that they wanted. With this update we will start taking into account whether people tend to spend time away from Facebook after clicking a link, or whether they tend to come straight back to News Feed when we rank stories with links in them.”

Focusing on attention and time is nothing new for Facebook. On its last earnings call, Facebook specifically spoke about the size of their market opportunity in terms of the available time and attention they were able to accrue. On a more practical note, Facebook has been factoring how much time people spend away from Facebook after clicking on an ad into its pricing algorithm for some time now. In some ways, the news today is simply a wider application of that action.

Second, the decision to enable greater previewing of links, effectively giving the visitor more information to decide whether the content is interesting to them, potentially confirms a theory that Chartbeat’s data science team has held. On average, traffic from Facebook spends about 60% more time reading than traffic from Twitter. While there are likely a number of factors in this, the more sophisticated previewing in Facebook is a clear differentiator that we think affects this.

Take together these two actions confirm that Facebook is taking its users’ experience incredibly seriously and are leaning more and more on the fundamental concepts of the Attention Web to do so. That’s good news for quality publishers everywhere.

But what does this mean for great short-form content? The one potential challenge to this was raised by Matt Galligan of the excellent news service Circa:

It’s utterly logical to be concerned that content designed for brevity would suffer under this algorithm. However, I think this underestimates the comparative wealth of attention that even content designed to be brief gets. The depressing truth of the Internet is that short-form content hangs out on the same end of the distribution curve of the Internet as long form when it comes to attention.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the majority of pageviews on the internet get fewer than 15 seconds of engagement. Facebook is looking for those incidences when people come ‘straight back’ to the feed, suggesting that the threshold they’ve set for clickbait may be rather low. If your content matches the intent of your headline (ie. you’re selling what you’re promising), then you’re highly likely to beat Facebook’s threshold even with short form.

Bottom line: Focus on creating quality content, match it with an accurate headline, and you’ll be fine.

I’m excited to announce that Chartbeat has accepted $3.1m in additional funding led by existing investors Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Index Ventures with participation from Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Freestyle Capital, LAUNCH Fund, SoftTech VC and Lowercase Capital. From two guys around one desk to today, Chartbeat is now a company serving 80% of the top publishers in the U.S. with clients in 35 countries around the world. Our ability to do this is because of the consistent incredible support we’ve had from a stellar group of investors.

What will you be using the money for?

HIRING! We’ve now got multiple product lines that touch content creation, promotion and monetization, including Chartbeat’s new paid content service, which we launched today! That’s a lot of moving pieces that require multiple engineers, designers, and product people to lead us forward. If you’re interested in building a web where quality content and good design can make money; if you want to work with one of the most interesting data sets and some of the weirdest people in the world, we want to hear from you.

Why only $3.1m?

To be honest, that’s all our finance guy told me we needed. We intend to raise a larger Series C towards the end of 2014 to fuel our expansion in the longer term.

Why not do the Series C now?

Because if you’ve ever raised a financing round you know it’s a pain in the arse and distraction from the job of building a company. Right now, we’re heads down on developing new products and working with our partners on some stuff I’m utterly in love with and I didn’t want the distraction of a second full-time job taking me away from the maelstrom.

DFJ and Index told us almost nine months ago that if we ever wanted to build more of a war chest without having to go around the houses raising money they were keen to put money in at a healthy valuation. Given the product line expansion that’s been happening at Chartbeat, it made sense to make that call now. I’d like to thank DFJ, Index and our other investors for making this the easiest fund raise in history. You guys rock.

What should we expect from Chartbeat in future?

I made our position pretty clear in an article I recently wrote for TIME. We believe that for quality content to thrive on the web we need to value people’s attention as much as their clicks. We’re going to make that happen. We’re building an ecosystem of SAAS tools that enable people through the media/advertising world to do more with less and value content more effectively. If we succeed, then content creators can charge more for quality and advertisers can buy media based on their actual goals not proxies. It’s going to be a long road, but we’ve got the right partners with us and that’s half the battle.

This week, Chartbeat was subject to a phishing attack as part of an ongoing campaign from the Syrian Electronic Army that recently affected OutbrainSocialFlow, and a number of other sites.

Let me say first that no client’s site was affected. No action was taken on or from a client site. However, four Chartbeat Publishing clients’ dashboards were viewed by unauthorized parties and a handful of  passwords were reset by these wankers. I’ve been on the phone with every one of the partners whose dashboards were viewed as we continue to investigate this. If I have not contacted you directly, we don’t feel there’s a need for concern at this point, but if you’d like and it would make your more comfortable, feel free to reset your password.

Though it appears this incident only involved a few clients, we’re sharing this information publicly because we believe in transparency above all else and have our clients’ data and security as our absolute top priority. In the next day, our development and web ops team will be writing a complete post on all of the security measures and updates we’ve had in place, put in place and will put in place.

That’s the gist, for those who want to know more, here’s what we know:

So what happened?

We’ve been investigating this intensively since the phishing attack and, as of now, we’ve found that there was unauthorized access of a Chartbeat employee account. No client sites were accessed. Chartbeat Publishing dashboards for four of our clients were viewed and attempts were made to set and reset passwords for a handful of their Chartbeat accounts. As soon as we found out, we disabled access. In addition, the Chartbeat Twitter account was hacked for less than five minutes on Thursday early morning. This is what we know and we will continue to share more with you here and in future posts as we learn more.

Was your dashboard accessed?
Our investigation shows that only four dashboards have been accessed, and we have directly contacted those four clients. If I haven’t directly contacted you (phoned and emailed), our investigation indicates that your dashboard was not accessed. If you see anything unusual however small, please email (which goes to all of us) or via Twitter at @Chartcorps. We are continuing to monitor and investigate around the clock.

Is there anything else for you to do?
Nope, but if you feel more comfortable, you can reset the passwords to your Chartbeat accounts — as a precautionary protective measure.

How will we keep you informed?
We’re continuing to investigate, and if we learn anything new that directly relates to you, your account, or your site we will contact you immediately. If we learn anything new that’s worth sharing more broadly, we’ll update this post.

One more thing from the whole Chartbeat team…
We feel terrible about this. That’s an understatement, really. We are taking this incident incredibly seriously, and we’re here to answer any questions you have, whenever you have them. Please do not hesitate to email us with any question or concern you have. You and your security is our absolute number one priority.