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Should Publishers Optimize for Mobile?

  |  February 22, 2013   |  Comments

Yes! And here are four considerations of how and when.

As a network focused on the independent web we get to talk with lots of publishers and see lots of traffic across those publishers' websites. By comScore reports we currently have in our platform roughly 160,000 individual websites attracting nearly 200 million monthly uniques in the U.S. Across this network we've been doing research into the amount and trends of mobile traffic. What we're finding is a cocktail of near-term systemic challenges and (we hope) major corresponding opportunities.

Across the network we see a range of between 10 percent and 30 percent of traffic coming from mobile devices, depending on the site category. Of that, roughly two-thirds is from smartphones. The smartphone traffic is split roughly 50/50 between iOS and Android, with the latter growing faster. On the tablet traffic we see 90+ percent from iOS.

It's difficult to gauge how much of this traffic is coming from mobile-optimized layouts and how much is just a normal full page, shrunk down to fit. Our more qualitative research suggests that traffic is coming from sites that are not optimized for mobile. For publishers who have optimized for mobile our research shows that they are making roughly a fifth (or less) the rate of their normal web traffic.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the already compressed economics of web publishing can't endure this growth of mobile as the revenue solutions sit today. Publishers need to first accept this new mobile reality and then put in place revenue and reader engagement solutions that bring things back to, or make them better than, run-of-the-mill web traffic. Mobile optimization is a must-do for publishers. Here are four considerations publishers need to take into account to determine how and when to optimize their sites for mobile consumption:

  1. Reader experience is king. As a mobile user, the last thing anyone wants is to have a bad consumption experience. Even if the publisher saves a little money or makes a couple extra bucks, the reader will ultimately expect an optimized experience based on her device of choice. Content for mobile readers is likely different in its order of importance compared to normal web traffic, so a CMS for mobile optimization is critical.
  2. Don't push an app on me. No, I don't want to download your damn app. I just want to consume the information I came here for! And I want it to be fast and readable. If I want your app, it's good to know you have one and I'll get it when, or if I want it. People who have smartphones are mostly hip to the app economy already. Pushing your app needs to take a backseat to my immediate (i.e., mobile) wants as a consumer.
  3. Informative ads trump intrusive ads. It has been well documented that most mobile clicks on ads are by mistake. Moreover, the ads I see in my personal experience (I'm a heavy mobile user) are repetitive and reminiscent of the "punch the monkey" or "teeth whitening" ads last seen in bottom feeder remnant ad networks circa 2009. There's an industry time-delay in quality mobile ads that will arrive when the content templates and data targeting are better exposed to marketers. Good creative needs a good palate and it's coming.
  4. Don't build it and they will come. Partner first. There is so much innovation occurring quickly now that it would be a major mistake to build something in-house. Plenty of new VC-backed companies are coming to market with different mobile content, commerce, data, and advertising solutions. It's best to talk with as many of them as you can, or better yet, get your current ad tech or yield optimization partners on the web side to help vet them for you. Whatever you do, assume there's a lot you don't know and learn on someone else's dime.

Recent analyst predictions suggest that upwards of 50 percent of reader traffic will come from mobile devices of one shape or another - and soon. The wealth of information we have about these readers is even further refined by the situational signals of location and movement from mobile. The short-term challenge is how we think about a compressed screen size. The long-term opportunity is how publishers capture the increased engagement and convert it to economics that work.

Mobile Publishing image on home page via Shutterstock.


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Walter Knapp

Walter Knapp is the chief executive of sovrn Holdings. Most recently he was the chief operating officer at Federated Media Publishing and Lijit Networks. With more than 20 years of business and operations management, Walter has been an investor as a partner and principal for two very successful venture capital funds. He has also built and led large field organizations for two public companies, Novell and Cambridge Technology partners. Walter regularly speaks about monetization and data strategies at industry events covering both online publishing and advertising. Walter holds a Master's in Engineering from the University of Colorado in Boulder and a B.A. in History from Boston College.

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