Knowledge Bridge

Global Intelligence for the Digital Transition

Sustainable, staged strategies to serve your mobile audiences

In 2010, Steve Jobs said that we were entering the post-PC era, a time when smartphones, tablets and other smart devices would start to overshadow the personal computer.

While tablets and flagship smartphones might seem developed-world luxuries, mobile broadband and increasingly inexpensive internet-enabled mobile handsets are bringing digital media and communications to all markets. Desktop computer and laptop sales are set to decline in emerging markets, while smartphone and tablet sales expand dramatically, according to figures from research organisation International Data Corporation. As we have noted, for many transitioning countries, mobile is the only way that audiences access the internet.

If you do not deliver a mobile-optimised experience to your mobile audience, you are missing an opportunity to grow audience and grow revenue, as Terence Eden demonstrates in his look at mobile ad networks.

Serving mobile audiences need not be complicated or expensive, and independent news organisations are finding ways to launch mobile strategies despite the press of other priorities and lack of dedicated mobile resources.

Assess the opportunity

The first step in your mobile, or in fact, any strategy is to understand the opportunity, both editorial and commercial.

As Premesh Chandran, the CEO and co-founder of, says, he views everything in terms of return-on-investment and opportunity costs. He outlined some of the thinking that went into assessing their mobile options:

Really, are we going to make money (advertising, subscription) with a mobile app versus a mobile site? What kind of resources will I have to put in? How do we sustain the development?

Malaysiakini, Malaysia’s largest independent news website, had plenty of other challenges and opportunities in the past few years, including defending itself against cyber-attacks that attempted to make the site inaccessible to its millions of monthly visitors.

Chandran had to determine whether the mobile opportunity was valuable enough to dedicate time and resources to when weighed against other demands.

Mobile market statistics for your country are one place to look. For Malaysia, the opportunity is clear. Mobile subscribers have expanded from 6 m in 2000 to 37 m in 2012, according to market research firm BuddeComm. “After starting off slowly, broadband internet has been expanding strongly in recent years and coming into 2012 had reached a remarkable 63% household penetration,” the group added.

Beyond relying on market statistics, you also have a rich source of information already in your own site data. By looking at your site analytics, you’ll be able to see who is coming to your site via mobile devices and also some basic information about the type of devices. This can help you develop a profile of your mobile audience. You can see if they are using smartphones, such as Android, Blackberry or Apple smartphones, or whether many are using more basic internet-enabled handsets, including Nokia’s Asha line of handsets, which target developing markets.

With more sophisticated analysis, you can determine whether mobile visitors are coming to your site and leaving quickly by analysing your bounce rate and seeing whether mobile visitors are a higher proportion of those leaving quickly. The article linked here highlights the three mobile statistics to focus on in Google Analytics and how to find them. The article says the three figures are:

  • How many people are visiting your website on mobile.
  • How your mobile bounce rate compares to your desktop bounce rate.
  • Which devices your mobile visitors are using.

If mobile visitors are contributing more to your bounce rate than desktop visitors, it might indicate that they are leaving in frustration as your site fails to load quickly and eats into their data use. For many emerging market mobile data users, they are price sensitive and will not want to download large pages. It is not uncommon for modern pages with non-mobile optimised images to be a megabyte or more. On more basic internet-enabled mobile phones, these large pages will be almost unusable.

Mobile site, app or both?

Delivering a good mobile experience for your audience need not be difficult or expensive. After assessing the opportunity, Chandran was able to deliver a range of mobile options for Malaysiakini readers. He said:

We ended up with a mobile site ( an Android app (because one of our developers was keen to do it) and a iOS mobile app (because an external developer was willing to do it for free). The iOS mobile app, also had a tablet version (one app, two layouts).

Regardless of the project, this shows the value of hiring not just good, but passionate, developers, whether on staff or via contract. Good developers want to take on new projects and develop new skills.

Most publishers will want to start small, which means delivering a mobile site. Chandran said:

We think that for news sites, mobile browsing is easier and more cost effective to manage than apps. Apps need to be consistently updated with every OS version, which is costly.

Many content-management systems can automatically detect whether a visitorVisitorIndividual or browser which accesses a Web site within a specific time period.

Achieving these goals are much easier than they were a few years ago. With growing mobile audiences, content-management systems have added mobile features, and for popular open-source CMSs such as WordPress and Drupal, mobile templates are common.

With the proliferation of devices and screen sizes, some news groups have turned to responsive design. Kayla Knight has a concise but comprehensive overview of responsive design in Smashing Magazine. In it, she writes:

Responsive Web design is the approach that suggests that design and development should respond to the user’s behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation.

Malaysiakini does not use responsive design, and it is still very rare amongst news websites. As your mobile strategy and the revenue from it develops, you might want to consider it in the future. For those publishers who use WordPress, fortunately there are several very good free and premium themes that are responsively designed.

Revenue options

Of course, part of assessing the opportunity includes trying to estimate the commercial opportunity. As with your standard website, you can easily start to generate some revenue using mobile ad networksAd networksAd networks provide an outsourced sales capability for publishers and a means…

Ad networks can allow you to start earning revenue, but you will also want to make sure that selling your own mobile advertising is part of your revenue strategy. Malaysiakini does not have any advertising staff dedicated to mobile, but they are using both ad networks and in-house sales to support their mobile strategy, Chandran said.

However, one of the key things that many sites are finding is that advertising is only one revenue option in terms of mobile. As we saw in our recent article looking at paid content strategies in Latin America, mobile and tablet apps can be an important part of a paid content strategy. Smartphone and tablet owners are often more affluent than the general population, even in developed markets, and have shown a greater willingness to pay for content.

Mobile must be a part of your digital strategy or you risk artificially limiting your audience and missing the opportunity to establish yourself early in the mobile advertising market. Fortunately, delivering your content to mobile audiences is getting easier, and you shouldn’t wait to start taking a few simple steps to inexpensively serve mobile users in your audience.

Article by Kevin Anderson

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