Why audience retention with mobile video is more important than ever

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When it comes to the complicated world of mobile video, the most important customer you can reach is the one you already have.

The good news is that digital advertising revenues were up 18 percent last year, according to the Pew Research Center’s annual report on the state of news media. And 78 percent of the top 50 sites got more of their traffic last year from mobile than from desktop users, a reflection of the central role mobile is taking in our lives in so many ways.

The bad news? Most of that mobile growth was concentrated among five big publishers. For everyone else, grabbing a growing share of the growing pie proved much more challenging.

Even more problematic: mobile users expect much faster page-load times than desktop (thus, the creation of Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages and Facebook’s Instant Articles), and mobile users tend to stick around for shorter periods than do their desktop-based compadres.

So what to do in the face of these complicated market signals if you’re a publisher, or an advertiser on that site, as you try to reach users? Try focusing on keeping the audience that you already have. In an era of endless choices, it will cost less and you can build the kind of dedicated, focused audience that advertisers crave.

That means emphasizing retention over growth strategies. Retention usually means loyal audiences that can trigger valuable organic growth in referrals.

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But it also means a very different mindset to building and running your site. Part of it entails creating content, especially mobile video and accompanying advertising experiences, that add to a site in ways that keep a user around for a little longer and a little more regularly, instead of trying to entice new ones with empty click-bait strategies. More broadly, it entails thinking about how to improve the customer experience at every link in the chain, to squeeze out the delays and distractions that keep fans from coming back for more.

That’s the gist of a recent publishing and ad-tech panel in New York where an executive with Sailthru pointed out that it’s far more cost-effective, especially now, to focus on audience retention.

Compared to the endless treadmill of trying to drive growth, a long-term focus on retention that is driven by high-quality mobile video can both drive more ad revenue and convert more visitors into regulars. Both, obviously, are good for the bottom line.

So how do we work on retention? One key is being smarter about the data we’re already piling up about the users we have. What content do they like? How long are they reading/watching it? When are they reading/watching? What kinds of media and stories are “stickier?”

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Using that data allows us to serve up the most relevant, current and engaging video content on our site, tuned for each visitor and based on the platform they’re using. It helps ensure we provide the best possible experience for a visitor, and in a fast and fluid fashion. It means having a library of original and syndicated video content that can catch and keep your audience on your site.

And sites need to be even smarter about the advertising experiences they create for their users. Again, data can drive decisions in so many smart ways when we’re focused more on retention at the right cost. What kinds of ad units get seen? What kinds of experiences pull users in?

More generally, on both the ad and the content side, publishers and their brand partners need to squeeze out every possible bump and hiccup in the delivery process.

The technologies that undergird your ad-side delivery need to be as fast and flexible as possible, able to mediate ad calls from all sides of the transaction, and overcome the potential bottlenecks inherent in many delivery systems. Your ads need to arrive as quickly as possible because impatient mobile users, in particular, won’t be waiting for ads to show up.

As as we’re learning more and more about who our users really are, we can work harder to ensure that the ads we serve them are as targeted and useful and enjoyable as any of the editorial content, maybe even more so. Better ad experiences mean happier users who stick around longer.

When you’re building your site for sustainable success, you’re going to need tools that create experiences audiences will come back for. An integrated, cross-platform strategy needs integrated, cross-platform technologies that can drive video usage, and give your users reason to stick around.

And if all that wasn’t enough, here’s another reason to focus on building an ardent and loyal audience. Studies show that users who like your site are far more likely to support the brands that advertise on your site. The halo effect of a strong audience can be powerful for publishers and brands alike. Now go build the strong, sustainable site that keeps ’em coming back for more. Keep what you already have.

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