Feeling overwhelmed with the latest technology, trends and tactics that relate to the growth of mobile?
Most companies do, even ones with large teams dedicated to focusing on the company’s mobile strategy.
As if you didn’t have enough on your plate, one thing you need to be making ample time for is the optimization of your website and its content for your mobile users.
In an effort to provide some support, this article will update you on the latest mobile trends (specifically related to publishing), explain how these affect your online marketing strategies and what steps you should take next. Conforming to these trends is quickly becoming a matter of survival, much as having a mobile-friendly site is no longer optional. I hope to leave you armed with the tools to prepare yourself for a publishing renaissance that could lead to a boom in traffic and engagement — or leave you out in the cold.
Mobile Content Consumption and How it Affects Your Business
While the rise of mobile has been on the minds of publishers for the past few years, consumer behavior around the device is still changing, affecting even the devices themselves.
The average user spends 177 minutes per day on his or her smartphone, picking it up 150 to 200 times to check texts, scroll through tweets, or make purchases.
However, this doesn’t mean that you have 150 opportunities each day for people to visit your site. The time users spend in apps makes up 90 percent of their smartphone experience, up from 80 percent just two years ago. This means that smartphone users might still go to your site, but they’re more likely get there through an app.
Despite the sheer amount of time consumers spend on mobile, most businesses are still treating mobile like a pesky inconvenience instead of a priority.
Forrester found that…
75 percent of companies still aren’t approaching their online business with a mobile-first mentality, even though 60 to 70 percent of their customers will check email or visit social networks via smartphone.
If brands aren’t thinking about mobile from a business perspective, they’re definitely not considering it from the publishing side. This is a huge mistake, since it’s been the main focus for tech pioneers Apple, Google, and Facebook in 2015 and 2016. The odds are that if these three are making changes, you’ll need to change your strategy to match theirs.
All of Facebook’s plans for 2016 revolve around mobile, from its Instant Articles to Facebook Work to growing the user base and engagement of WhatsApp and Instagram. Mobile is how Facebook achieved a $300 billion valuation status in 2015 along with Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple.
While WordPress isn’t a small company (its parent company Automattic is valued around $1 to 2 billion), it still needs to bend to the will of the giants and adjust its mobile publishing capabilities in 2016.
In the past year, WordPress has moved from just a content management system to a tool for communities and individuals to put themselves on par with major publishers. Even users who aren’t tech-savvy can download plugins that assist with SEO, mobile optimization, and app creation. Suddenly you don’t have to be a corporation with a million-dollar development budget to create and monitor your app.
Publishing has become easier than ever, and there are countless channels to create and promote whatever you want to share with the world.
This raises a few questions.
Should you be publishing on all these platforms, or just a few?
How much effort will it take?
Will you be left behind if you don’t?
Let’s look at how Facebook, Apple and Google approach publishing so that you can stay competitive and possibly even jump out ahead of your competition.
Facebook Instant Articles
Facebook spent 2015 as a mobile-first company.
Back in 2013, the company actually faced what many small and medium-sized businesses struggle with today: it built its plans around a really fantastic website and tried to make it as mobile-friendly as possible. Eventually Facebook realized that this wasn’t going to work, and in the past two years, the company has restructured its very core to make every project mobile-focused.
Within the first year of launching Facebook Mobile Ads in 2013, mobile made up 41 percent of Facebook’s advertising revenue. In 2015, Mobile Ads made up 78 percent of total ad revenue. Because Facebook became mobile-focused, the user experience improved and increased the number of mobile-only users.
The increase in mobile use has pressured WordPress publishers to optimize or become irrelevant. Facebook is a crucial source of referral traffic as well as one of the main marketing channels that most WordPress publishers use to drive traffic to their pages.
In 2015, a third of all referral traffic came from social media. Facebook in particular makes up 25 percent of total social referral traffic share, which increased nearly 60 percent from 2013 to 2014 (the year Facebook focused entirely on mobile).
The scariest part of this data is what happens when it goes away. Many WordPress sites rely on Facebook for traffic and engagement, and a few companies are scrambling to figure out why their unique clicks and visits are dropping. It’s this reliance on Facebook that will make Facebook Instant Articles a success. If the options are losing Facebook traffic or joining Facebook Instant Articles, then more publishers will go with the new platform.
The Launch of Facebook Instant Articles
Like Apple, Facebook partnered with ten of the top publishers in May 2015. When a user clicked into the NewsFeed and selected an article from Buzzfeed, National Geographic, or the New York Times from his or her mobile device, that user would be able to read the article within the interface instead of clicking through to the publisher’s site.
Mark Zuckerberg has said that…
One in every five minutes spent on a mobile device was on Facebook, and by keeping users on the page reading articles, he was hoping to get that down to one in four (or better).
This raised several concerns with publishers, primarily around site traffic and data.
Why would publishers want to keep their readers on Facebook when so much referral traffic was at stake?
To address those concerns, Facebook planned to make their data compatible with tools such as Google Analytics and Omniture to help publishers truly gauge the response from Facebook users. While Facebook Instant Articles partners aren’t given special treatment in the algorithm, the Instant Article layout makes it more appealing for clicks, shares, and comments.
So far, the results have been positive.
BuzzFeed and Vox share almost 100 percent of their articles through Facebook Instant Articles and believe it’s a better experience for their readers. Their goal is branding and staying top-of-mind, which leads to direct traffic down the road. Bustle puts about 5 percent of its articles on Facebook Instant Articles because it has agreements with advertisers and wants to encourage site traffic. Unsurprisingly, the results haven’t been impressive.
While Facebook Instant Articles offers ad revenue options, some publishers might have a better deal with advertisers on their sites that make skipping Facebook Instant Articles worth it.
Onboarding WordPress Publishers to Facebook Instant Articles
Facebook Instant Articles became available to all publishers in April 2016, and many sites are actively preparing to sync their WordPress blogs with the service. Facebook’s vision for the service is to cut down on loading times that increase bounce rates—especially for impatient mobile users.
So in the meantime, WordPress publishers should focus on updating their Facebook Page and gathering their articles to share.
Social Media Examiner created a checklist for what every publisher will need for a launch, including the following:
- A Facebook page and the Facebook Pages app
- A working RSS feed and at least 50 articles to share through it
- The Facebook Instant Articles plugin for WordPress
- Facebook Business Manager for customer support
Before you start signing up for Facebook Instant Articles, it’s a good idea to test the plugin on your WordPress site. Not all plugins work with each other, so making sure it won’t crash your site is the best way to create a smooth transition.
Most publishers are at an advantage with Facebook Instant Articles because they already have a strong following, and Facebook has a huge audience. If Apple is building its value proposition on “build it and they will come,” then Facebook is basing it on “build it because they are already there.”
Apple announced the arrival of its News app in June 2015 and opened it up to exclusive publishers in the fall. For the first six months, only major media names like CNN, ESPN, and Bloomberg had publishing access to the app, allowing Apple to work out the kinks while building a strong following.
The idea behind Apple News is that your content will look better on Apple’s site than on yours. The company created a platform for publishers to optimize their content for iOS mobile devices and present it in a cleaner, more attractive way. Apple wanted the platform to be highly visual and have interests curated to only show the most relevant content.
For highly visual publishers like ESPN or National Geographic, this is a dream come true. Someone else was able to create an amazing mobile experience if theirs was lacking. For other publishers, however, this raised questions and worries about exposure.
Apple News Publisher Reception
The first thing Mike Ash noticed when Apple invited him to publish on News was the convoluted legal jargon. The next thing he noticed was the opt-out policy:
- Advertising: Apple is able to place advertising around your content without compensation. You have no say about the type of advertising that is shown or how often it appears. However, the company does promise that no advertising will be placed within your content without permission.
- Indemnity: If Apple becomes the subject of a legal complaint against a publisher’s content (most likely for copyright infringement), then the publisher will compensate Apple for the damage caused.
- Opt-In: The publishers who received this email notification were told that they were already opted into the RSS aggregator and would have to opt out by replying with the word NO.
Ash was torn: Most WordPress publishers would kill for the exposure that Apple was offering and in fact need that exposure to survive, but at what cost?
For other publishers, the Apple News app was underwhelming.
Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp told Digiday in November that he was frustrated with the app’s size and analytics. Other publishers reported low traffic numbers and questioned whether the effort was worth it for such a small return.
Despite these woes, many are sticking with Apple News and are optimistic for the future. Every new app needs time to work out its kinks and build a large following.
By Apple’s reports, Apple News is doing just that…
Within the first two months of launch, 66 percent of iOS mobile users had upgraded to it, and it boasted more than 40 million users.
While major publications might lament only getting 1 million visits per month from Apple News, that would be a huge number for many niche WordPress publishers.
Setting Up Your WordPress Site on Apple News
While it’s possible to manually upload content through Apple News, the easiest way to get on this publishing platform is through the RSS feed. Tech Grapple has step-by-step instructions (complete with screenshots for visual learners) for applying to become an Apple News publisher, setting up the Apple News plugin within WordPress, and checking to make sure that your articles are aggregated in the service.
The biggest challenge WordPress publishers will face with Apple News is exposure, and there are two ways to combat that: content and SEO.
First, take advantage of Apple’s highly visual platform by testing new forms of rich media. Apple offers analytics and has partnered with ComScore for its News platform, so get to know what the audience likes (and dislikes) about your different photos, videos, and interactives.
You might even want to use Apple News to A/B test content that you’ve wanted to experiment with but that you’re worried might alienate your readers—after all, the people using it now are early adopters.
Next, you can’t afford to skip mobile SEO. Because Apple News is a search aggregator, you’re going to want to focus carefully on your tagging and keywords. You need to make your content as searchable as possible, as traffic will have a significant impact on what sites reach the front pages. If you’re not even showing up, then your beautiful images don’t stand a chance of getting seen.
If you want to succeed on Apple News, now is the time to get started. It opened up for all publishers in March 2016, and if you’re able to get in on the ground floor, then you have a chance to build your following before everyone else can catch up.
Google Accelerated Mobile Pages
Not to be outdone, Google also launched its own major publishing changes in 2016.
Google might have the lofty, big-picture goal of “reinventing how we use the Web,” but the overall premise is the same as Facebook. Mobile site loading times tend to be slower than on a desktop, depending on the site’s servers or your phone’s power. Scraping out any fluff on the sites you visit greatly reduces the probability of your having a bad mobile experience.
Google is also able to increase the loading speed by waiting to load images until they’re in the user’s view, and it caches the sites in the cloud instead of pulling from your site every time an article needs to be called.
What Google AMP Means for WordPress Publishers
You can’t talk about Google without talking about rankings, and Search Engine Watch has claimed that AMP will have higher rankings than traditional mobile-optimized content.
The idea is that Google is looking for the absolute best options to show in the SERPs, and it knows that AMP will load quickly and have a reasonable mobile design. After that, it’s really up to the publisher to create high-quality content that will send it to the top.
Automattic has already created a plugin with which to start creating AMP, and SEO plugin Yoast is working to make sure the two work well together. Essentially, all of the post URLs on your site will have an /amp/ version that strips away anything extra.
Your AMP version is a minimalist content-focused site page. While the current AMP plugin is barebones, some developers are already trying to find ways to jazz up AMP to make it a little more appealing.
After all, you spend so much time designing your perfect WordPress blog, why would you want to see it all go to waste?
The Start of an Ad Revolution
If Apple News places its own third-party ads without compensation, and if Facebook’s Instant Articles has an ad-sharing agreement, then what about Google?
Unsurprisingly, the company that is trying to “revolutionize the Internet” also wants to change how ads are viewed on mobile devices.
From the reader side, a reduction in ads is fantastic news and eliminates an annoying aspect of browsing. For publishers, this could mean a loss to their livelihood if Google continues to make the rollout a priority. Especially when some publishers anticipate seeing 50 percent of their traffic from AMP by next year.
There are currently five ad networks that are approved for AMP, most from Google, Amazon, and AOL. Google plans to serve something that it calls amp-ads, which are mobile-approved and optimized to reduce disruption to the user experience. These ad platforms may be something to consider for WordPress publishers that are heavily reliant on ad revenue but want to jump on the AMP trend early.
Once you have your plugin installed and your ad platforms set up for the AMP change, the only thing left is analytics.
The AMP Project claims that Google has built reporting abilities in a “measure once, report to many” situation, and it says that not all analytics software is prepared to measure the effect of AMP just yet. Google Analytics is your best bet for tracking, so if you’re not using that platform (even if only the free version) to monitor traffic, it would be worth setting up before AMP takes off.
All three of these platforms have launched quickly and have plans to make publishers jump on board or be left behind. This can be incredibly overwhelming for WordPress publishers who suddenly have to choose what tech giant to prioritize while deciding where they can risk taking a hit.
With that, let’s consider the questions I asked at the beginning of this article:
Which ones should I be publishing on? Where do I start?
I recommend starting with the most important aspects of your site. Review your analytics to see what your current traffic sources are, then drill into those numbers to see the breakdown by device (i.e. desktop, tablet, mobile). If you see that your Facebook is a large source of traffic, but the traffic from mobile users has a high bounce rate, then that might tell you that Facebook Instant Articles is a priority for your business over a smaller source.
Do you need ad revenue to pay the rent?
Then you will want to start working with ad publishers that are friendly with AMP so that you don’t lose your income by trying to be mobile-compliant. As mentioned above, if a significant portion of your revenue comes from a particular ad partner whose ads won’t work on Google AMP, then that option might be out of the question for you.
Are you extremely optimistic about Apple’s ability to scale it’s new software / app projects and want to be a first-mover?
Then get your content into the Apple News app. Personally, this would be my lowest priority as there are already some fantastic news apps (e.g. Flipboard) that control a large share of the market and might be a better use of your time and attention.
While Apple News is definitely an important platform to be on, it doesn’t pose any immediate threat if you aren’t on it yet. If you have the resources to do all three, then go for it. You will benefit from being an early adopter and can build your history with the site well before others can.
Even if you decide against joining any of these projects, you can’t deny the importance of mobile for your WordPress site. The entire industry is moving toward a fully mobile lifestyle and isn’t afraid to punish or ignore sites that don’t comply with their goals. Google Developers has a tool to determine whether your site is mobile-friendly, and WordPress has become one of the best frameworks to utilize for getting your business online in a mobile-friendly way. I highly recommend that you take advantage of all of these tools or hire someone to take care of these things for you.
Need some help deciding where to focus or how to implement these tips? Let’s talk!