If you're like me, you probably use your mobile device primarily for email, light web browsing, and a few of your favorite apps. But mobile devices have become increasingly more sophisticated, and developers and designers are rapidly formulating novel ways to enhance the mobile experience. In the last year, I've found these improvements impressive enough to warrant switching from my laptop for certain tasks purely because they're actually easier and more efficient on my mobile. One area I found this particularly true is reading and sharing news content from publishers online.
There was a time when I didn't dare click on a news article link from my phone. I didn't have the patience to endure the long load times, adjust the zoom and scroll bars, and filter through various unnecessary and largely unusable page elements, among other annoyances. Publishers are finally starting to realize the enormous power optimizing content for social holds in its distribution. They're now optimizing for social much in the same way they've been optimizing for search for more than a decade. As a result, I find myself reading news articles more and more through my mobile email, popular social apps like those from Facebook and Twitter, and publishers' mobile web sites. Numerous studies documenting the growth of mobile in these areas confirm that what used to be a secondary and comprising means of reading this content is making strides toward becoming a preferred method. But, where are publishers exceling in these efforts and where are they lagging? In other words, what do we now read specifically on our mobile devices, and what do we continue to read on our laptops?
Knowing the difference between the two can give marketers high-value insights into effective mobile campaign strategies. Marketers' ability to understand the trends around consumption of publisher content with mobile devices allows them to focus mobile campaign efforts toward reaching the right users in the right place, with the right content, and at the right time.
New BuzzFeed data examined user behavior from more than 20 million monthly visitors and the general consumption patterns of publisher content from BuzzFeed's partner network of more than 250 million monthly uniques. Looking at mobile traffic through this lens, one thing is clear -- social sources are dominating. Mobile referrals from social media sites make up 9.8 percent of all referrals to publisher content and more than one-third of all mobile referrals. This is still slightly behind search engines but more than double the amount from other publishers, and more than four times the average from other referrers. The dominance of social sites in mobile exists across almost all types of publisher content, with the major exceptions being politics, home, and lifestyle (although there's been an uptick recently, likely due to the upcoming election coverage).
So, how exactly is social dominating mobile? Here are some factors that put social sites ahead of the curve.
With the number of mobile apps increasing dramatically, one would expect their share of referrals to publisher content to show a similar rise, but this is not the case. The one exception, of course, is social. Specifically, Facebook and Twitter apps account for more than half of all mobile referrals from those domains. Recent studies show that movement from mobile web to apps is a trend overall, suggesting huge growth potential. It's likely that social apps, which people are clearly most comfortable with, will benefit from this growth significantly.
Overall, mobile device usage is most prevalent for culture-related content, which accounts for 22 percent of all page views to mobile news. This is even more significant for social sources at 45 percent. While this data alone is valuable, deeper insights can be gained by analyzing the frequency of mobile visitors from social sites/apps to specific content categories.
On average, culture and celebrity content are viewed on mobile devices from social sites every one to two days, whereas politics and science content are viewed once every five to seven days. Further analysis shows that specific, particularly popular articles popping up on a less frequent basis account for most of these views. Conversely, content in the politics and science categories, which don't receive a large percentage of traffic from mobile social sources, get consistent mobile traffic across most articles. This suggests that releasing certain types of content daily and other types of content weekly is an optimal alignment with mobile user media-consumption patterns.
Although iPad and iPhone users show the most views to publisher content in social, they are not leading everywhere. While they are ahead on content categories like culture and politics, Android users are on par in areas like business and tech, which suggests a close alignment between social site usage on mobile and device type.
Why this all matters
Great, we now know that social media is dominating mobile news content and we have some ideas as to why. This alone is valuable information. But is there a larger lesson to be learned from all this? I think there is, and it isn't in the trends themselves, but in the ability to use basic data to gain powerful insights into mobile news content. Even within the narrow category of social referrers, these types of statistics concerning mobile are far more useful than they currently are for computers, mostly due to the huge influence of factors like apps and device type. For example, not knowing the kinds of devices people are most likely to access your content on puts you at a huge disadvantage -- using broad approaches to all devices doesn't account for variations in device capabilities, software, and other characteristics. Bucketing users becomes much easier and provides more statistically significant data with more distinct categories than is the case for computers, where differences like device type are more minimal. For mobile campaigns, exploring data by segmenting across these basic categories is pivotal in making data-driven decisions.
Ky Harlin is data scientist for BuzzFeed, Inc.
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