3 ways to serve the “mobile-only-al” generation

With a 73% increase in mobile-only content consumption — and changes coming next month to Google’s mobile search — news media companies must be mindful of providing seamless experiences, as well as segmenting and optimising mobile content appropriately.

The newspaper mobile-only audience had a 73% growth spurt this year. Almost 40% of online news consumers‎ get content exclusively on mobile devices.

Compare this to people who use desktops or laptops to access newspaper content, which dropped to 32%, according to the latest ComScore data reported by the Newspaper Association of America.

So, how can news media companies continue to cultivate this coveted “mobile-only-al” audience? Here are three things you need to know.

  1. Create content with little screens and large interruptions in mind.

    Mobile-only audiences are easily distracted and don’t stick around for very long. Consider that newspaper Web sites represent less than 0.2% of browsing time spent on smartphones and only 0.4% percent on tablets.

    Mobile-only visitors want a simple, seamless path to the information they’ve come for. They generally don’t want too many choices, and they certainly won’t tolerate performance delays. They expect to land on an uncluttered article page that loads quickly and makes the content easy to read.

    Interestingly, mobile-only-als will respond favourably if you give them something to read next. They will stick around longer if you show them other most popular content, rather than content that’s closely related to what they’ve just read. Why? Because they’re looking for things to share with others.

    At the recent INMA Mobile Summit in Austin, Dr. Mario Garcia touched on this when he referenced the mobile editor as the next critical newsroom job. The mobile editor’s responsibility, according to Dr. Garcia, is “curating in a hurry for an audience that thrives on frequent interruptions.”

    Mobile-only-als prefer facts more than analysis and short over long content. Still, as Dr. Garcia notes, because of the continual distractions and everywhereness of the mobile experience, “good headline writing has never been more important.”

  2. Segment your mobile content, not your audience.

    Mobile-only audiences don’t want to be put in a box. They don’t want to be targeted with news and advertising content based on some assumed audience segmentation data.

    Instead, they want content that automatically adapts to their behaviours, preferences, context, location, and time of day. They also enjoy the serendipity of discovering content that stimulates new interests and gives them something to talk about with others.

    Look at it this way: The mobile-only-al generation is growing up in a K-12 and college education environment that is increasingly based on adaptive learning technologies. Adaptive learning combines cognitive psychology and computer science. It automatically modifies and personalises the presentation of educational material based on user interaction, device, and learning capabilities.

    This is the kind of targeting experience – rather than one that relies simply on first- and third-party cookies – that will resonate most effectively with the mobile-only generation.

    To create segmented content that appeals to mobile-only-als, think particle not article. Traditionally, the article has been viewed as the smallest editorial element or component that can stand on its own. The article is often called the newsroom’s “atomic unit.”

    With mobile, however, the smallest news chunks can be sentences, paragraphs, facts, lists, infographics, or images. These elements can be combined in different ways, daisy-chained together, or consumed on their own.

    An effective mobile news experience uses these particles, or story segments, as part of a complete storytelling process. The segments can be re-ordered and expanded as new information is added or breaking news updates become available.

    Once again, the focus should be on preparing mobile content designed for consumption on small screens by on-the-go audiences who are busy, bored, or both.

  3. Make mobile search a priority.

    More than half of all mobile-only-als find news media content as the result of a search. Companies like Microsoft and Google understand the critical role that search plays in the mobile experience.

    Consider this recent announcement from Google: “Starting April 21 [2015], we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.”

    “Significant impact.” These are not words that Google uses lightly.

    Starting with its Hummingbird technology a few years ago, Google continues to develop search algorithms that are optimised for mobile. Bing Mobile, Yahoo! Search, and others are following suit. They know that mobile users want search results faster and expect these results to be immediately relevant.

    The newest mobile search algorithms shift the focus away from keywords and toward intent and semantics. News editors need to understand that stuffing mobile pages and headlines with SEO-friendly keywords is no longer going to improve search rankings. Today, key phrases are far more important than keywords.

    A simple rule-of-thumb is to write in the same manner as you would search, because this is how mobile audiences are going to find your content. A conversational style is key here. Write as if you were answering a question. According to Google’s search guru, Matt Cutts, “It’s about things, not strings.”

    With April 21 fast approaching, every newspaper company should pay attention to the changes coming in mobile search. Revisit your mobile SEO (search engine optimisation) strategy to make sure your mobile-only audiences are continuing to find you and continuing to stay engaged.

    If the recent ComScore findings are any indication, the mobile-only-al generation is due for yet another growth spurt.