4 quick tips for attracting — and keeping — mobile readers
So your news organization now gets the majority of its pageviews through mobile devices. Now what? At the Online News Association conference in Chicago, mobile bosses from The New York Times, CNN and BuzzFeed dispensed tips for boosting mobile growth. Here are four of them.
- Become a metric sleuth
One evening earlier this year, CNN saw a confusing uptick in mobile traffic, said Etan Horowitz, senior mobile editor at CNN. The editors were puzzled. Why the sudden spike? Upon further investigation, they realized the pageviews weren't caused by any stories posted to CNN's mobile site. Instead, they came from a video of a scary-looking baby terrorizing New Yorkers that had been shared on CNN's social media accounts.
Sometimes, as in the case of the "Devil Baby," traffic spikes are one-offs, caused by popular pieces of content. But other times, they're attributable to a pattern that can be exploited for more pageviews. For example, editors at CNN noticed a huge increase in mobile traffic during holidays, including the Fourth of July and Christmas, when people ditch their laptops and desktops, Horowitz said.
They've since capitalized on this trend by posting practical how-tos during those days, including grilling guides for July Fourth and tips on which apps to download for Christmas.
“You’re going to find these metrics that may not make sense, but once you find them, there’s a lot of power there,” Horowitz said.
- Make content available at high-traffic periods
There are probably more than a few differences between The New York Times' and BuzzFeed's audience, but here's one of them: BuzzFeed readers, in general, don't wake up early.
Whereas The New York Times sees an early-morning traffic increase as readers check in for a morning briefing, BuzzFeed's readers tend to stop by hours later, said Alice DuBois, director of editorial content at BuzzFeed.
“We do not have that same early-morning bump," DuBois said. "BuzzFeed readers are not waking up at six or seven.”
Similarly, CNN sees its mobile audience surge at night, when people have some downtime after work, Horowitz said. This means editors are inclined to publish content for their mobile audience during these optimal hours rather than saving something for the early morning.
- Reorganize for mobile
When The New York Times reimagined the organization of its project development division in 2012, they decided to assign dedicated teams to tackle separate mobile assignments, said Alex Hardiman, executive director of mobile at The New York Times.
One group handled iOS development. One was in charge of making Android products. In total, there were four separate teams, composed of individuals from various divisions throughout The Times, that each handled a different aspect of mobile development. This has allowed them to tackle projects with more speed and agility.
BuzzFeed has adopted this approach as well, establishing separate product development teams to build a news app and create content on mobile-centric platforms like Vine and Instagram.
- Cultivate a mobile culture
The vaunted page one meeting at The New York Times is no longer print-centric, Hardiman said.
Times editors still weigh which stories merit front-page treatment, but mobile decisions are now featured prominently during the meetings.
Mobile-first thinking has permeated CNN and BuzzFeed as well. CNN now displays the landing page for its mobile site on monitors throughout the newsroom, alongside live feeds of the desktop homepage and the broadcast channel, Horowitz said. Editors project the mobile site at meetings and make sure to let the newsroom know when CNN reaches major mobile milestones. BuzzFeed has added a mobile preview into its editing window so reporters and editors know what each story will look like on mobile before its published.
Another tactic for getting a staff buy-in? Show skeptical journalists the raw pageview numbers that well-formatted mobile posts attract, DuBois said.
“I always say, for this, just like anyone else, if you go to a reporter for mobile, you have to tell them what’s in it for them,” she said.