If you’re an American news organization transitioning toward a digital future, you would do well to take a close look at your mobile presence.
Given that 88 percent of US adults now own cell phones, this means that 49 percent of the country’s adult population browses the web on a mobile phone, at least from time to time.
Now consider that 74 percent of cell phone web users go online on a typical day; so each “typical day,” 41 percent of all US cell phone users are entering a hand-held, online universe at least once.
This is only the beginning. The survey also shows that a large and increasing proportion of these “cell Internet users” are doing most of their browsing on cell phones, rather than on computers or tablets. These are called “cell-mostly Internet users,” and they represent 31 percent of cell Internet users— a proportion that grows to 45 percent in the 18-29 age bracket.
Some 64 percent of “cell-mostly” respondents cited convenience and availability as the main reasons for preferring hand-held mobile devices to desktops or laptops. Meanwhile, consistent with results from similar studies in the past, the Pew survey shows that cell phones often fill an online “access gap:” 43 percent of “cell-mostly” users are earning less than $30,000 per year, and 30 percent do not have a broadband connection at home.
“Within the space of five years we’ve gone from basically zero to half the country [using Internet on mobile phones], with a sizable percentage using cell phones as their main source [to go online],” Pew Senior Research Specialist Aaron Smith told Nieman Lab.
For news organizations, mobile is increasing in importance. As recently as January 2011, only 3 percent of web traffic originated from mobile devices; fast forward one year, and 16 percent of the traffic to 15,000 publishers’ websites was mobile, according to Ammiel Kammon from MediaPost. Projecting to 2013, there is reason to believe that this figure will increase to one quarter of traffic.
Having a great app is important, of course, but many users will first find you with their browsers, so now is a good time to make sure your mobile website is up to scratch.
The Boston Globe’s Senior Product Manager Damon Kiesow conducted a quick comparison of the desktop and mobile sites (not mobile apps) for the 50 highest-circulation US newspapers, as well as 53 other randomly selected websites in February. He published a spreadsheet with his findings, reported by the Knight Foundation’s News for Digital Journalists blog. While the review was admittedly cursory, four useful observations emerged:
1. Automatic redirect: 85 percent of sites examined redirected traffic automatically to a mobile-optimized site, to allow users to avoid undue pinching and flipping, Kiesow noted. However, there is room for improvement in user experience: Kiesow tweeted that the overall quality was “not great,” and that many were “missing content,” or suffered from “poor design, broken features, etc.”
2. Geolocation: 36 percent of sites asked permission to access geolocation, often for the purpose of offering localized weather information.
3. Bookmark prompt: Only four sites prompted users to bookmark the site, despite this being an easy method of increasing the odds of repeat visits, Kiesow noted.
4. “App upsell”: Kiesow found that only one of the mobile news websites he visited prompted him to download the mobile app. “A fair number of sites had links to their apps, but only one did an overlay or interstitial on site load,” he said. The Knight blogger added, “linking from the mobile website to the mobile apps is a good start, but the lack of app upsell still is rather staggering, given how heavily many news organizations have invested in building their mobile apps."
To conclude on a note of inspiration, the nominees and winner in the category "News (handheld devices)" at the 16th annual Webby Awards are...
|Webby Award Winner||Agency/Credited Organization|
| Flipboard for iPhone
|People's Voice Winner|
| Flipboard for iPhone
| NYTimes for iPhone
|The New York Times|
| The FT Web App
| Wired Reader on the iPad
Photo Credit: Csaila via Flickr Creative Commons