Insights, tools and research to advance journalism

Mobile apps and mobile websites are for quite different audiences

News publishers need to think about their mobile audience as consisting of two quite distinct groups.

One is made up of possibly longtime readers or subscribers of legacy products, people who know the publication in its other forms. They often like the notion of a complete and finite bundle of news, organized under a brand’s editorial judgment, that they can complete regularly. These people are most likely to install and use apps, and to pay for access.

The other group is people who come to publishers sideways through social media or other referrals. These people may know little about a brand or be infrequent readers. They are most likely to land on a publication’s mobile website, on an article page, and to not see a reason to pay for ongoing access. But they can be loyal readers of the future.

Mobile web goals = easy, simple, sticky

The primary goal of a good mobile news website is to give the mobile visitor a seamless path to the information they have come for, the Wall Street Journal’s Liz Heron told us.

Don’t introduce choices or interruptions or delays. The user should land on an uncluttered article page that loads quickly and makes the content easy to read. Then immediately give the user something to read next.

Many of our participants agreed on the importance of “recirculation” of mobile visitors — getting them to keep browsing more content after landing on a particular article page.

The user should land on an uncluttered article page that loads quickly and makes the content easy to read.

The consensus about how to achieve this may surprise many in news publishing. Most participants agreed that it seems better to show readers completing a story links to a brand’s other most popular content, rather than try to show closely related content.

In fact, we know from a variety of research that the biggest reason most people look at news is to have something to discuss with other people. And if they’re hunting for things to talk about, it’s likely the content that many other people have been reading and sharing. The topic matters less.

Dan Shanoff of USA Today explained that its social-optimized sports vertical For The Win averages about four pages per visit by recommending the overall most popular content from the site to each reader.

Mobile app goals = judgment, familiar, completable

A publisher’s mobile app tends to have a different audience and should have a different purpose than a mobile website.

Simplicity and recirculation are still fine things to achieve in an app, but unlike the mobile website, the app is where you serve a loyal, familiar audience. They know you, and they’ve come here thinking, “Let’s open up the app and see what you have for me today.”

Unlike the mobile website, the app is where you serve a loyal, familiar audience.

Mobile apps users are more interested in your editorial judgement — what do you consider the top story of the moment, what to read first, and so on. These app users are more interested in seeing each session as a journey that can be completed, rather than as an endless stream of content.

The app users, at least in part, may also prefer a digital experience that is visually similar to the publisher’s print or other products, but still with smart improvements that take advantage of what a mobile device can do better than paper.

Need to Know newsletter

The smart way to start your day

Each morning we scour the web for fresh useful insights in our Need to Know newsletter. Sign up below.

Featured topics

Go deeper on…

Dive deep on everything we produce about these key topics.

Strategy Studies

The best practices for innovation within news organizations

This Strategy Study presents examples and insights about journalism innovation, offering actionable advice and methods to move your journalism and business forward.