Google has advised publishers to "start thinking more like online businesses" when approaching mobile, believing there’s still a number of news brands that are relying too heavily on quality of content without regard for user experience.
Mobile has rapidly become the go-to format for news, video and social consumption. It will account for 70% of internet traffic in 2017 and 80% of traffic in 2018, according to Zenith’s Mobile Advertising Forecasts.
Yet despite its rise, Assaf Grabinsky, head of mobile solutions consultants EMEA at Google, believes more publishers need to consider the look, feel and functionality of their product, combining their skills in content with technical expertise.
"Successful publishers are building good solid strong product teams that are very data-driven, experimental, pour over data all the time and try to push the limits of their product. The really successful among them are those organisations where that is understood at the very top levels of the company," Grabinsky said.
Grabinsky cited examples of when publishers add partner code to their pages in order to unearth extra ad revenue, without reflecting on how this will affect the latency of a page and subsequently result in lost eyeballs, calling this "half a job".
"To be successful is to start thinking like an online business which has the content part and the technical excellence side to it as well. I can imagine a day where a general manager of a publication must have a dashboard on their desktop showing load time, what is drop-off from the landing page to the next page, what is the average user session. They need to have that to understand what is going on a technical level, which also ties into quality of content," he said.
Mobile-first publishers like Quartz argue that it's time to stop talking about mobile as its own entity; instead desktop should be viewed as the “exception”, according to Simon Davies, managing director EMEA at Quartz. But there is still debate among publishers as to what constitutes a viable mobile publishing strategy, and whether it’s enough to rely on third party distribution versus developing a news app.
The chief problem is each publisher has their own definition of what mobile means for them, argued Grabinsky, meaning there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution when approaching publishing on mobile.
Forbes, for example, is more centred on the mobile web experience, where it has been testing a new mobile site called a Progressive Web App that reduces its load time by two-thirds. Meanwhile, at the heart of Quartz’s mobile strategy is an app, launched in early 2016, that looks to give a ‘conversational’ experience between the newsroom and the reader.
There is also little consensus on whether developing a news app is beneficial to publishers when they have increasingly limited resource to experiment, and when the average smartphone user accesses nine apps per day, according to App Annie. When that number includes messaging apps, social apps, and essentials like transport and banking, there’s little room left for news.
“Publishers can be fairly arrogant,” said Davies. “You have to decide with these limited resources - are you going to be adding to people’s day, do you deserve any of their time? Are you going to tell a story better than what you already have does? If you are able to do that and you can spare the resource, then it is worth a go.”
Davies’ belief is that publishers should think carefully about how an app can deliver value to a reader rather than just acting as a distribution pipe. But for Forbes, this strategy is meaningless if it can’t boost the bottom line.
“Forbes has purposefully never developed an app strategy. I think it is more suited to consumer marketing initiatives, but also in the news and business space, I don’t think there have been many folks that have managed to build a huge revenue out of a business app. Most of our competitors haven’t,” said Charles Yardley, general manager of strategic partnerships EMEA at Forbes.
Verve, the adtech platform which sells location-specific mobile ads, said the opportunity that apps provide to build first-party data sets provide an opportunity for revenue driving that publishers would be “remiss” not to access.
“There is an opportunity there that if you can do something that is good and strong, for me it would seem remiss not to do that,” said Rhys Denny, international director of business development at Verve.
Crucially though, where publishers and Google were in agreement is that simply concentrating on quality of content as your main attraction rather than altering your distribution strategy platform-by-platform, and considering how long your mobile page takes to load, is “not going to cut it anymore”, believes Grabinsky.
“That is not going to be enough when people are on the move - they have very limited attention span, they are not going to wait more than two seconds for something to appear on screen,” he said.
Grabinsky, Omar, Davies, Yardley and Denny were all speaking on a panel entitled 'Adopting a mobile-first strategy' at The Drum's Media Slap.