If you’ve already tried your hand at a mobile news site, you know one fundamental truth: mobile isn’t just smaller, it’s different. And you haven’t, it’s a good idea to commit it to memory now. A mobile site or app that functions poorly frustrates you and your readers. At least while they stick around. But when it’s easy to use, it meets the public’s current appetite.
Mobile use is up; way up. For some, a device is never farther away than a pocket. And for others, it’s always in plain sight. That gives you, the publisher, the perfect platform for engagement. You know where your audience is. All you have to do is reach them in a way that they appreciate.
Here are 6 tips that can help you adapt your newspaper for the mobile audience and position it for success.
DESIGN YOUR MOBILE STRATEGY AND STICK WITH IT
It’s easy to put the cart before the horse, but you won’t get very far. You might be itching to get started. But if the experience of other mobile publishers (and perhaps your own experiments) have shown anything, it’s that trial and error makes for a headache-inducting method.
Research couldn’t be more important. And neither could solidifying your mobile strategy before it’s put into action.
You’ll certainly have trial and error along the way. But if you know where you’re headed and the steps you want to take to get there, you’ll be a lot more likely to make it. Simply building a mobile site isn’t enough.
BUILD READERSHIP BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE
The only way to attract readership is to engage the audience. And you can’t do that through advertising. Naturally, ad revenue is important. But it should be secondary at first. Build your readership before anything else. Then implement your monetization strategy.
That’s how USA Today approached their successful mobile site. There are much worse models that you could follow. Instead of positioning ads straight out of the gate, they worked to get their digital reading experience just right.
The publisher’s Editor in Chief, David Calloway, explained to the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers that user feedback, even if it’s terrible, gives the publisher guide points for improving the experience.
WRITE FOR THE MOBILE AUDIENCE
People who use a mobile device consume news differently from those who use a desktop. So the traditional news story might not work as well on mobile as it does elsewhere, even if a story is a total hit on a desktop platform. Writing for the mobile audience is a bit different.
That said, there’s a small myth surrounding mobile content. It doesn’t always have to be short. Even long-form pieces work well for US Today. What makes them successful isn’t the word count, but the way the stories are presented.
For example, breaking up lengthy copy with bullet points makes a more digestible experience for the mobile user. Otherwise, it can easily become a veritable wall of words that’s too visually daunting to climb.
FINE TUNE AD CONTENT TO MINIMIZE DATA USAGE
Mobile needs ad revenue, but success might depend more on the type of ads and less on the existence of them or even the volume. Ad blockers are working their way into mobile. And for good reason. Data isn’t cheap, and an ad-heavy mobile site can consume a prohibitive amount of it.
The New York Times explored the effect of ad-heavy content on the user experience. The results were a little surprising, too. They found that the boston.com mobile site required 30 seconds to load ad content and a comparatively small 8.1 to load editorial. The Guardian was at the opposite end of the scale, with 0.2 seconds for ads and 6.8 for editorial. USA Today was also near the lower end with 0.8 for ads and 2.0 for editorial.
Not just data usage is at stake, either. Mobile equals convenience, and lengthy page loads are inconvenient. When pages take an inordinately long amount of time to load, it’s easy for a mobile user to click out and go elsewhere. The more successful mobile sites fine tune ads so they won’t interrupt the user experience.
REDUCE IMAGES THAT SLOW PAGE LOAD
Another drag on data page load time is the images. And it’s a quandary. USA Today asserts that visuals are vital for mobile user engagement. Calloway explained, “When we designed the app we wanted to give it a very visual feel so that everything has photos or videos tied to it. There was a scrolling news feed, as people migrated to reading the news on their mobile devices.”
Videos and images work on mobile, and they’re part of the all-important engagement. Calloway says video, in particular, “dramatically increases engagement.” But multimedia must be appropriate for the mobile device. What works on a desktop might not load at all on mobile. Even if it eventually loads, the user will probably navigate away before that happens.
Because nothing can be that simple, there’s another issue. What works on one mobile device might not work on another. The Android/iPhone compatibility issue is real. Take a mobile first approach, and then address the multimedia.
Publishers have a wide-open landscape of possibilities with mobile. The audience is already there. And they love mobile so much that many people use it for an alarm clock at night and check email before they’re out of bed in the morning. The work now revolves around tailoring the mobile news experience to the user’s expectations.
There’s a lot of competition. But there are also a lot of mobile news sites that haven’t found their engagement and profitability niche yet. So there’s room for you. When mobile news is easy and convenient, the reader base is already there waiting. Does that sound like where you want to be?