“Last January 4% of our audience was reading us on mobile, now it’s 33%,” said Krystle Kopacz, general manager, Digital Atlantic Media – Government Executive Media Group. She spoke today in the third webinar of SIIA’s must-hear Mobile Essentials Webinar Series. “When 1/3 of your audience is coming in on a different browser,” changes are in order, especially if it’s a big audience.
“It’s up to us as product innovators to really think of mobile as [this new] medium,” she said. “To understand what about human behavior can be [most effectively] driven through this.” Her favorite quote is one by Steve Jobs: “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
“Like most publishers, we didn’t know what we were doing at first [design-wise for their initial app].” They started testing and getting consistent feedback. Kopacz determined that her audience likes it simple. So they made changes for the app, added more white space, used nicer photos, made usability tweaks to “make it seem more expensive. Utility is the name of the game for us,” she said. “It needs to be easy to use, not crash, and be fast and responsive. People are migrating from flat on phone to an entire new experience.”
Kopacz said that even the design process changed. Where designers used to get the information and sit off by themselves and work, now everyone collaborates, making constant tweaks, and even looking over shoulders. (That used to be heresy in the how-to-work-with-designers handbook!) Editorial got more involved, articles got shorter, more bulleted. “Long-form stories are way too long for mobile. You have to be more pithy,” she said. Headlines should be like tweets. “Ultimately, you really want people to read [your content] and amplify it, share it, so other people have to download your app to read the information.”
Their app numbers soared. “We’re in a new world,” Kopacz said. “The shifts we are seeing in mobile are scary. How are we going to keep up with this different behavior?”
Your first response to this might be denial. My readers are older. My readers just want my investment information; they don’t like bells and whistles and information nudges at 11 p.m. at night. The numbers say our readers don’t have tablets. Our readers…you fill in the blanks.
But listen to Kopacz—who bases everything she says and does on analytics—or just watch attendee behavior at a conference as I did last week, or frequent a coffee shop, ride a bus or train, or wait in line somewhere, and you’ll know that tablets are gaining fast.
Enhancing the Experience
Kopacz and Digital Atlantic Media are not alone. Most likely, a growing percentage of your audience is now reading your business’s content on tablets. By March tablets were already providing for 8% of all page views—1% more than smartphones—so that number is surely much higher now. With more and more readers moving from desktops, you need to think how to enhance their experience.
For Kopacz, that also meant a different timetable. While her desktop numbers still spike around 9 to 10 a.m., her growing mobile numbers peak from 6 to 10 p.m. This was great news. “Stories are being read at night when we publish them and in the morning. We’ve expanded [our audience’s] reading day and still own that space. For the advertisers we doubled the time that people are viewing us.”
Another interesting change is that people might be more settled in at night, more receptive to thoughtful pieces. “At night there’s more mindspace, and we’re really owning that too,” Kopacz said.
“It’s essential for editors to rethink how the audience consumes content,” said Mario Garcia, CEO and founder of Garcia Media, at South by Southwest this year. “You must keep the finger happy,” he said, meaning that a tablet user expects to find a different experience than on a desktop. “Like a children’s pop-up book,” he said.
Garcia equates his designer role to that of a movie director, storyboarding his way through an article. “You should be able to click on an image or photograph for more information, or for a video,” he said. “Pop-ups don’t have to be complicated [as Kopacz said]. But if all you do is turn the pages, your readers are not going to be happy.” Kopacz also mentioned the need for more infographics.
“You have to think about serving your audience in a different way,” she said. “Our first aha moment was when more people started coming to us through our app than from our mobile site. In November we launched Push Notifications. That was such a big moment for us. Our audience is a little crotchety so we thought people will hate it. But it has been one of the most successful and popular products we put out there…
“Now our brand is being strengthened by our mobile app. We’re messaging them around the clock. That is so telling for all of our businesses. We thought the future was in the future but the future is here.” Kopacz said that 58% of their traffic came from mobile during the shutdown. And 70% of that mobile traffic came from apps. “It’s also loyalty traffic not discovery traffic, which is very important to us.” And readers were staying; they averaged 50 page views per unique visit.
Kopacz said that she came across so many biases against these new forms that the only way to “dismantle it [was] with analytics. If you can bring analytics to the table, that’s very important,” she said. “I can see how much traffic is coming from iPads, iPhones, Androids. Someone suggested we do a blackberry app.” She looked at the numbers. “We are not doing a blackberry app, I said.”
This webinar will be posted very soon for access by members. You can check the archive for recordings from the first two Mobile Essentials webinars—Making the Business Case and Monetization and Business Models.
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 as managing editor. Follow Ronn on Twitter at @SIPAOnline