Director, Digital Products & Strategy, Crain’s City Books
Frank Sennett develops and launches new media products across digital and print platforms. We asked him to talk about mobile strategies at Crain’s Chicago Business.
Mobile devices are being used for accessing B2B media content more than ever before. Are you seeing this growth at Crain’s Chicago Business?
Right now, we’re at a tipping point. Crain’s Chicago Business has one million unique users per month and we’re a little over 50% mobile (tablets and phones) versus desktop. We’ve seen a real increase over just a few years and this is a trend line that I believe will continue. Desktop is still going to be important, but I think we could see a day when that ratio is two thirds mobile and a third desktop.
How are you creating a positive user experience on small mobile devices?
When I started at Crain’s Chicago Business, we had both a stand-alone mobile site and a desktop site. Now, mobile responsive is where it’s at. We’re dynamically sizing pages based on whether someone is looking at them on their iPad or their desktop or their phone. There’s a cohesive feel for the user because it’s the same page, just sized differently.
A clean nav experience is key. Everything goes into that one column scroll on your phone. You want to make sure that the registration and sign-on processes are simple. We have a “hamburger menu” that expands to show things like special features and news categories. It allows people to easily find their way around. Ad sizes, fonts and graphics cannot be overwhelming. Sharing and posting to social media such as LinkedIn must be easy, and there should be more stories recommended on the bottom of each article.
Will your audiences read longer articles on their phones?
Generally, stories should be as tight as possible. No more than a few screens. Readers want to get the key facts and then get on with their busy day. But I think that, as phones have become more ubiquitous for reading, people seem to have an increasing tolerance for scrolling. Our articles are mostly shorter in length, but on a long train ride, people may be willing to read an enterprise story.
And it is important that at the bottom of each article there are updates with the latest stories that we think the reader will also be interested in — three or more on the same industry — compelling content to make the site stickier. Designed properly, it can be a seamless, engaging experience.
Do you see new ideas or capabilities coming down the pike that may change the way we use or think about media on mobile devices?
One thing I’m watching is for Apple to allow web apps to serve alerts onto people’s home screens. You can get native apps, downloaded from the app store, onto people’s notification screens now, but you can’t build a web app that Apple will allow to serve alerts on home screens. This is a big drawback at the moment since Apple is such a popular medium with the iPhone. I think that when Apple decides to allow web apps to serve messages on home screens, that will be a really, really big day for all publishers, but certainly in our industry.
I also think audio is going to be increasingly big, with the rise of podcasts. We have a big marker down in the podcast space with a very popular Monday through Thursday podcast called The Daily Gist with nearly 300,000 downloads at this point. We’re looking at Alexa to do news roundups and that kind of thing. I’m looking at the stats and it is mind blowing — the installed base of these Google and Amazon audio devices – it is stunning. This could be a huge growth area. Obviously, radio has a head start there, but those of us with a print legacy need to figure that out.
Are you trying to encourage users to access your content via mobile devices over other digital and print options?
As I’ve said, I think we’ll see the day when platform percentages will shift to two-thirds mobile and one-third desktop in our industry. But honestly, I don’t really care. At Crain we just want to be where readers want us to be – accessible in whatever form they want. So everywhere readers want us to be, we want to be there. Anyone who wants to pick up a paper and have that tactile experience and save it and show it to others, that’s as fantastic as if they want to read it on their phone.