As Social Grows, Mobile-Optimized Content is Critical To Publishers

Now Serving Mobile“Now Serving Mobile” is a column focused on the audience-buying opportunity in mobile advertising. asked Michael Nevins, Senior Partner at Breakpoint Digital, a digital consultancy, to break down the mobile display advertising channel. This is the third in a series of columns devoted to mobile display and its parts.

“Search is, in my mind, yesterday’s story,” said Lewis Dvorkin, chief product officer at Forbes, which recently redesigned its Web site to make it more social. “You’re finding that today’s audience is much more interested in the filter of their colleagues and friends who they trust than an algorithm produced by someone else.” (NYTimes, 2/11/11)

My previous article, Why Mobile Web Sites Are Critical Tools for Advertisers, makes the case that mobile web sites are critical for brands.  While most major publishers have embraced mobile in some fashion, many are not paying attention to mobile web.  Growth in social media use on mobile makes mobile web sites critical to publishers.

Why critical?

Social media was the fastest growing category in mobile in 2010, both in the U.S. and EU5 (ComScore, Mobile Year in Review 2010).  Today, Facebook has more than 200 Million active mobile users, and these mobile users are more than twice as active as desktop only users (KPBC Top 10 Mobile Trends – Feb. 2011). Without referencing specific data on Twitter, it is fair to assume that my comments also extend to this audience. Clearly this audience is growing, active and can’t be ignored.

Sure, most large publishers do have Facebook and Twitter presences, they post links to web content regularly, and they have social sharing tools to encourage users to share their content via social media services.

So how is the mobile audience being ignored?

Many publishers are ignoring the fact that, increasingly, mobile visitors are visiting specific content pages by clicking on social media links (or links in emails) and NOT entering through their mobile homepages.

This is happening because many publishers – and their fans – are sharing deep links from the publisher’s full HTML site, not the mobile version of the article they wish to share.  This is not surprising because the publisher or fan that posts the article’s URL has no advance knowledge if the link will be viewed and clicked via mobile app, mobile web or wired web.

Best practice is for the publisher to serve the mobile user with a mobile-optimized version of the expected content item.  Mobile web is the solution.  Remember, they can’t launch your snazzy iPhone app by clicking on a link to your content.

Far too often, the mobile user is “left hanging” and gets either:

A) The full HTML page for the article, not formatted for mobile – This is typically a terrible user experience on a mobile device.

B) Redirected to the home page of the publisher’s mobile-optimized site (if they have one). – This is not great either.  It sends a message to the mobile user: “Ok, we know you are on a mobile handset, but we either don’t have this article on our mobile site or we don’t know how to find it for you.”

C) The mobile-optimized version of the desired content item. – This is best practice.

I’d certainly like to see letter “C” more often.  When a user clicks on a link in a post and is served a non-mobile experience (big, heavy, slow web page), the publisher is essentially training the user to NOT click on their links via mobile in the future.  The same holds true for email consumed via mobile.  Many of us have newsletter or news digest subscriptions that we read on mobile.  For several newsletters I receive, there is no mobile-optimized site when I click on a link.  This trains me to avoid these links and costs the publisher some page views.

Strive to be Platform Independent:  Serve them something appropriate

The ideal user experience is to provide a mobile-optimized version of all content items that a mobile user might click to.  Seems simple enough, right?  Well, not always.

There are a variety of issues that make this difficult for some publishers:

  • For business reasons publishers may prefer not to automatically redirect their mobile traffic to a mobile optimized site.  There are a few possible reasons related to inventory management, CPM rates, page view stats, lack of mobile media sales team, etc. that might be driving these decisions for some.   This is possibly good for the publisher, but also shortsighted if we truly consider user experience.
  • A publisher may not publish the exact same content on their mobile-optimized site.  We’ll save the debate on this product decision for another day, but given the now-apparent use cases for social on mobile, I believe publishers have to accommodate their users by providing a mobile-optimized version for all of their content.
  • Many publishers that do actually have mobile-optimized pages for all of their content may still find it difficult to serve up the right mobile-optimized article. This is due to how many mobile web platforms operate.  Typically, the mobile pages use unique mobile URLs, not the URLs the publisher posted to Facebook or Twitter.  This requires not only re-direction to the mobile site, but some sort of translation in the back-end that serves up “the mobile version” of the URL.  It also requires being able to translate back from mobile to wired web, as many users will share mobile URLS from their devices that may be viewed by others on wired web.  This is not a trivial effort for most publishers.

Publishers need to fully understand their traffic sources.  As social media becomes a big driver of clicks, can they afford to alienate their users on mobile?  What is the bounce rate for mobile devices hitting your wired web site from mobile social media sites and apps?

Many publishers should be considering these issues when planning their technology investments over the next 12 months.  While some of the more innovative providers of mobile web platform technologies have found clever ways to solve these issues, many major publishers still have much work to do.

Follow Breakpoint Digital (@bpdigital) and (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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