By Ruffin Prevost
The mobile ad market appears to be poised for explosive growth in the years ahead, and local news publishers need to be prepared to take advantage of that opportunity.
While it may seem important to have a mobile-friendly web site to earn money from mobile ads, it’s even more important to make your site a mobile news site to hang on to your readers, said Amy Gahran during her 2012 Block By Block Community News Summit presentation, “The Money in Mobile.”
“Yes, you can make money off it,” Gahran said of creating a mobile-friendly site. “But more importantly, do you want to keep having an audience? If you don’t become more mobile friendly with what you’re doing, you’re not going to have an audience, or much of one.”
Mobile is big and growing
People, especially younger readers, are using smartphones to access more and more news and content online, with between 12-25 percent of online content traffic being viewed on mobile devices, Gahran said. And those numbers are growing.
Equally important, people are twice as likely to originate a local search from a smartphone as they are from the desktop, she said. People use phones, for instance, to search for dining and shopping opportunities as they are doing those activities.
You and your advertisers need to go mobile, and you can provide value by selling services to them to navigate the transition, she said.
As you are developing a mobile strategy, you might want to use network ads like Google AdSense to fill your unused ad slots. It can deliver $50-$150 per month in extra revenue until you have a fully developed mobile site.
Sell mobile services, not just mobile ads
Gahran recommends becoming a white-label reseller of mobile landing pages for early-adopting advertisers. You charge the advertiser for the page and the hosting, even if they advertise with your competitors.
Setting up a click-to-call page for advertisers is also a lucrative opportunity, Gahran said. Advertisers typically pay 8-10 times more for click-to-call performance than for desktop ads with strong click-through rates.
“Sell service and guidance for a mobile presence, not just ad space,” she said.
Gahran recommends that community news publishers do not create custom apps, but instead work on building responsive-design websites, especially when redesigning their sites.
WordPress users can install themes and plug-ins to make a site ready for mobile readers.
“It is dead easy to make a WordPress site mobile friendly,” Gahran said.
Use device detection to route mobile traffic to the appropriate site, sending mobile users to a mobile-friendly site, she said.
Gahran recommends including two mobile ad slots on every page. Standard mobile sizes, in pixels, include 300×50, 320×50 and 300×200.
Adopt a mobile mentality
Mobile publishers can also use low-cost web-based services to send out text message alerts for readers who want them. Offering opt-in text news alerts is a great way to drive traffic to mobile-friendly pages where mobile ads are viewed and clicked. But avoid including ads in the alerts themselves, Gahran cautions, as it’s a turn-off for most readers.
Most importantly, publishers should visit their sites using smartphones and other mobile devices to see how mobile readers experience pages. Publishers should think from a mobile viewpoint and avoid trying to apply desktop banner ad paradigms to the developing mobile ad world, Gahran said.
“If we keep thinking about mobile advertising the way we think about web advertising — which borrows too much from print advertising to begin with — we’re in trouble,” she said.
For more information, download Gahran’s slide presentation at bit.ly/bxbmobile and view additional links and resources at communitymobile.tumblr.com.
Ruffin Prevost is editor of Yellowstone Gate, a community news and information site about Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and their gateway towns. He has created a lame, stop-gap, quasi-mobile version of his site while working to redesign it using responsive HTML.