Publishers, Stop treating your mobile audiences so poorly!

Over the past decades, mobile devices (especially phones) have evolved to be more than communication-only tools—they birthed full-on entertainment hubs. But we’ve gone too far.

We’ve all ridden the mobile wave, and publishers have capitalized on the $221 billion app monetization market. Publishers used to be able to reap these rewards, but many shifts in the marketplace has made it harder and harder to do so. And worse, when they do prioritize “mobile” it’s with outdated language, for devices that don’t match their actual analytics, and it’s with strategies that are too short-term and without heuristics that would show growth.

Most publishers have wonky strategies—typically they fail to segment audiences correctly, place heavy preferences toward desktop. But it’s (most of the time) a poor choice. *

* There is a time and place to prioritize desktop audiences—some publishers focused on B2B niches might be aware that their traffic fits this.

For example, I’ve seen clear correlations in sites with defense/aerospace, transit/logistics, Food and Beverage, etc. where their actual target user significantly prefers traditional computers. But… why don’t these publishers actually have decent desktop sites, either?

And the vast, vast majority of these sites still have mobile traffic, and providing a terrible experience for those users alienate the customer.

Why do you make it so difficult to load an article on a phone?

The ethical challenge here I see—intentionally preventing your well-written information (perhaps it’s on local election results, public safety, or something else relevant) from loading is a business choice, but a poor one.

Worse, the paywall notice on some sites make no sense, and pushing a fractured pricing model based on papers is just another step down a spiral… That’s assuming the spiral still goes, which consists of me somehow managing to close your cookie consent notice which happens to be covering some hideous irrelevant banner ad for a foot cream. I, and most users, will move onto the next thing and you’ll lose this opportunity to save your brand.

I get it: Dwindling revenue drives us to feel like “I gotta squeeze juice from this rock.” The thing is, there are ways forward—most media and e-commerce sites I’ve reviewed have heavily been skewed toward mobile traffic, and there are better patterns to gently nudge to pay or donate.

So what’s your friendly publisher to do?

Perhaps you belong to one of these organization who chooses to stuff ads aggressively into a single webpage. (I still remember the sounds my laptop fan would make when I ran basic performance diagnostics with a publisher going through each website…)

Well, first, recognize you’re not alone.

Most publishers I’ve met agree that the adtech space is murky at best, so the best advice is to dig into what’s going on, and prioritize your users. A user-centric approach is one where monetization and user experience is balanced, with transparency about what you do.

Users appreciate knowing what data is being collected and how it’s being used. Instead of being on the naughty list, you could start treating your “privacy policy” as more than a legal requirement because it’s your public cornerstone of user trust. Plus, the industry’s long-term messy approach toward bad cookie practices (as part of its often unethical data privacy practices) are rapidly coming to a reckoning. You have a responsibility to be ready, and it starts with strategy.

Remember, your goal isn’t just to attract clicks; it’s instead to foster a community and to support the brand. That might be to get engaged readers who value your content enough to support it. Or it’s to get users to build trust enough to make the desired action you want.

Whatever it is, actually design a cohesive strategy that aligns your user experience with the interests and preferences of your audience. There’s a win-win situation where both your revenue and your readership can grow sustainably.

Start finding ways to be easier and gentler to our users.

The ones who want to throw their money at you will, and the ones you’re annoying will consider you to be drivel, and may never return.

But there’s a payoff if you stop treating your users like generic assets: They’re people, and better mobile experience leads to numbers. Your users stay longer (and come back!) Wouldn’t it be great to see your Pages per Session and Time on Site metrics grow? My favorite is watching average sessions per user shoot up, that’s what true brand loyalty looks like in your analytics.

Consider using the phrase “progressive enhancement” more regularly.

Sometimes city users are traveling underground or through tunnels, and there’s no offline or low-bandwidth experience for them to join in. Consider if a user would benefit from all this extra stuff on a page.

Moreover, embracing a tasteful shift toward minimalism in ad design to help us with a shift toward user engagement. Instead of overwhelming users with flashy banners and pop-ups, consider subtle yet effective placements that complement your content rather than compete with it. This not only improves the aesthetic of your site but also respects the user’s attention and choice.

Mobile optimization (with less-obtrusive advertising) isn’t particularly difficult if you choose the ethical path forward.