Five ways the mobile revolution impacts your blog

mobile blog readership

Every single day your blog is becoming less useful and relevant … and there is nothing you can do about it.

Today, about 28% of Americans use their smartphone as their first point of access for the Internet and we are behind many other regions of the world like Scandinavia and the Middle East where more than 50% of the adult population uses a mobile device as the “first screen” for the Internet.

As you can see in the graphic above, this trend is also reflected in my own blog where global mobile readership has grown from 13% to 24% in less than two years (and it stands at 26% since June!).

So day, by day, more people are reading your blog on a “mobile-optimized” screen that fits in the palm of your hand instead of on a nice big high definition desk-top screen.  The difference is pretty dramatic:

desktop versus mobile blog

Here are five implications of this shift:

1) Less blog engagement

It is more difficult to create content, including blog comments, on a phone instead of a keyboard. The level of commenting on my blog is down about 7% compared to last year although blog subscriptions have more than doubled and page views are up 500%.  I can’t prove that  the mobile factor is impacting this, but it’s a logical assumption.  It’s also a lot more difficult even viewing comments in a mobile format!

2) The end of calls to action

A blog is a perfect place to create awareness of other products and services. Your blog is high value real estate because people are coming to your site presumably because they have some interest in you and your content.

On my site, I give readers a lot of options to connect with me. They can navigate to see my books, social media training videos, upcoming social media workshops, and cities where I am speaking next.  In the mobile environment, these calls to action disappear.

And beyond calls to action, ALL the information in the sidebars goes away. As the mobile format stands, it’s impossible to even tell who is writing the blog!

3) Less traffic

linked withinAt the bottom of every blog post I have a useful little widget called Linked Within. This app recommends other blog posts for the reader to enjoy based on the topic of that current post.  This widget increases my page views by about 7 percent and also increases the amount of time people spend on the site. In the mobile environment, this utility goes away.

4) A crunch on creativity

Even in the constricted box of a big-screen blog it’s challenging to be creative. But I do my best to spice things up with funny graphics and every Friday I feature a social-media-themed cartoon.  So graphical communication makes up about 25% of my total content on {grow}. In the mobile environment, it’s almost impossible to read these things.  My hunch right now is that about 24% of my readers are having difficulty reading at least 25% of my content. And that will get even worse as the mobile revolution grows.

5) Less utility

Here are some of the popular features on my blog that disappear in the mobile environment:

  • Subscribe to the blog
  • Search the blog
  • Archive by topic
  • Archive by date
  • Top navigation bar leading to other parts of my site

Another important feature that is disappearing is the sidebar ads that help offset the cost of having paid guest bloggers and cartoonists.

No matter how much time I devote to creating great content, the utility and capabilities of my blog are inexorably fading away. And it’s happening to you, too.

The mobile environment and ubiquity of wi-fi may actually provide an advantage to other forms of communication like video and audio programs like podcasts. But even with these platforms, many of the benefits of blogs listed above are unavailable. When was the last time you engaged with a podcast?

What do you think? Does any of this make sense to you? And more important, is there anything that can be done about it?

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  • I definitely agree with you that mobile is disrupting the status quo of blogging but using a responsive-designed theme instead of a plugin like WPTouch allows the elements you talked about to stay intact no matter what device it’s viewed on. My suggestion is to ditch the plugin and make your site “responsive”. By doing so, engagement should improve among mobile consumers.

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  • I know I need to move in that area for sure. Thanks Patrick.

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  • samuel

    You bring up a good point. But, I don’t see why traffic is affected. My traffiic is down, but I think it’s because I’m putting up less overt Rule 5 content than I used to.

  • While using responsive web design will definitely help, I honestly don’t think it is a silver bullet.

    Consider for a moment that this blog was using a responsive design & all of the ancillary content gets stacked on top of one another after the primary content.

    For no other reason than that the screen real estate is so much smaller than a desktop, you’ll end up finding the engagement metrics with those elements are much lower than their desktop counterparts.

    I think I’d start tracking as many elements of your site design as you can and find out what works best for what audience. For instance I’d make sure that you’ve got Google Analytics social tracking implemented for all of your social components from pure social networks, RSS, subscribe via email an so on. I’d then use the advanced segments in Google Analytics to find out what elements your mobile/tablet device users use most often, then start testing making those items more prominent in your site design.

    Speaking from a personal standpoint, I know I consume content on my mobile very differently to how I do on my tablet or desktop. If I were you, I’d be interested in building a relationship with your mobile users, so they can easily keep consuming your content when they move back to their tablet or desktop device.

    For instance, you’re heavy heavily pushing ‘share’ but you’re not pushing ‘follow’ at all. If I find great content online, not only will I share it via my mobile but if the author makes it easy – I’ll follow them on Twitter as well. Below your blog content, you have not one, not two but three different sets of sharing buttons that overlap with one another and just take up screen space. By all means continue to have sharing buttons but I’d want to have ‘if you enjoyed this article, follow me on Twitter’ style calls to action down there as well to build that ongoing relationship so it makes the device they are on _now_ irrelevant for the future.

    Cheers,
    Al.

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  • This is really true I find that many major websites now are really earing towards mobile web and has definite goal of having a separate mobile website rather than a responsive website. Responsive website I can say are just for Tablets with the size of an iPad. but on smartphones you get to really have a different mobile website for this since responsive website will just be an inconvinient for smartphones. Mobile websites now a days are really easy to make since there are Mobile CMS availables such as http://www.brickandmobile.com and the likes.

  • Traffic would be down only because a traffic-driving widget I have on the site is inoperable on the mobile site.

  • Yeah, that sharing problem seems like it would be easy to solve but it is some quirk in the system. I’ll get my tech people on that.

    I think the idea of pushing relationships instead of sharing is an interesting one. After all, the “follow” buttons will go away in the mobile environment. Thought-provoking. Thanks!

  • So here’s the big question – and I’ll comment both here and on the blog itself. If you aggregate your site traffic plus all of your social engagement data, are you net down or net up? Meaning, if you combine comments, shares, likes, email forwards, etc., is overall activity net down or net up?

  • This post is absolutely spot-on (and well-timed). I’m in the process of a site redesign right now, and that begin with using a fully responsive design to preserve branding across devices and to address the growing amount of traffic I was seeing from mobile devices. I was using WPTouch in a previous iteration but I’m already seeing a bump in traffic after the changes.

  • How do you seem to read my mind? Thanks for verbalizing what I’ve been processing for my Entrepreneurial Web Marketing class, Mark. It’s not just the issue of my aging eyes viewing stuff on a screen far too small to be functional. None of my email platforms will function on my android either – and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

  • Thanks for caring enough to comment Jorovan

  • There are too many confounding factors to make a judgment on that conclusively. Traffic and shares are way up but who’s to say it still is not depressed over what it would be in a non-mobile environment?

  • Good to know!

  • Yeah, it’s getting really complicated. Makes me want to go back to brochures! Maybe I’ll go retro.

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  • Mark I recently updated my company blog to a responsive theme/design and de-cluttered the sidebar significantly. (http://blog.wiredadvisor.com) It’s a far better look and feel than a plugin such as WPTouch, but still not a perfect solution. In my opinion we are going to have to figure out how to get more creative with calls to action away from the blog. Another issue is that everything gets stripped out on content aggregation apps like Zite and Flipboard unless CTA’s are built into the text of your content, which is certainly an option. However, overall we feel like if we’re growing the total community (fans, followers, subscribers, listeners, etc.) it’s a good thing!

  • Mark, two years ago, I liked the fact you used WPtouch, it made it easy to read on my very-slow-and-very-low-res mobile. Now, I kick to the full version of your site and most others. Video is a challenge unless I’m on WiFi (and I’m generally not a big fan of video, but stats say I’m on in the minority on that) but otherwise I get a pretty full experience. Thankfully I have think glasses, so I can see the site just fine on a little screen. 🙂

    My engagement isn’t different because of the design. My engagement is different because I’m in a different usage mode when I’m on my mobile. I generally have more distractions, less time or a different focus. While a biased focus group of one is a poor place to start, I think my own experience illustrates the real root of the problem.

    So what can be done? Bloggers, and all content producers, need to create with mobile usage modes in mind. And because that audience is fundamentally different from a desktop audience, it means you will hurt, at some level, your desktop audience at the same time.

    This is a case of “you can’t please all the people all the time” and now you have more groups to balance between than ever before. As mobile increases, the balance will need to shift, to the point where your content and site may actually be designed to serve your mobile audience first in the next two years.

    Good food for thought Mark, thanks for sharing!

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  • rhonda hurwitz

    I wonder what bloggers do to grow engagement and subscriptions in the countries you mentioned where mobile usage is much higher than the US? Also, in countries where the average age is younger, or the population less literate, are blogs mainly video and audio? Apparently for bloggers, the trend is not your friend:(

  • I wonder what bloggers do to grow engagement and subscriptions in the countries you mentioned where mobile usage is much higher than the US? Also, in countries where the average age is younger, or the population less literate, are blogs mainly video and audio? Apparently for US bloggers, the trend is not your friend:(

  • Agree. We need to evolve but the path is not necessarily clear right now. Simplify, simplify, simplify!

  • I love this point you make Eric about usage mode. That is a HUGE contributor I’m sure. Excellent thinking there my friend!

  • Many people are pointing to podcasts as the big trend for this very reason. You can multi-task and the ubiquity of the web connection plays in your favor. There will always be a place for written content and I think technology will develop to enable this too. Thanks Rhonda!

  • Agreed, WPTouch is a great solution if you’re on the WP platform.

  • Regardless of the finer points, the sooner you deploy a responsive theme, the better your readers can reach your content. Connect overlap and similar issues, as Alistair points out, are secondary to having your content appear in readable form.

    The challenge with responsive design is that you’ll have to consider the priority of your content very carefully. What should the visitor see first? What’s most important? The responsive/mobile world essentially moves left-to-right, top-to-bottom, in that order. Much like you’d read a spreadsheet.

  • Because the sidebar CTA becomes irrelevant, including a full width, footer CTA with large font text is critical. This CTA should also be inline with respect to the blog content so that mobile reading apps such as Readability will display the CTA graphic. Then, of course, the landing page should be optimized for mobile — but that’s the easy part.

  • This was a very interesting post Mark. I have a slightly different take on it – or some potential ideas that act as solutions, that in fact create the need for people to use more than just a simple ” translator” – if you will, between the mobile version and the web version of the theme.
     
    Mobile theme developers have an opportunity here to address many of these issues by designing far more elaborate concepts in the mobile versions. I am sure there are many special designs already available, we just may not be aware, or have seen them yet.
     
    I have been looking at mobile themes, vs. mobile versions of blogs for some time. Mainly out of curiosity as to how different people chose to do this, and of course to make the best choices for my own purposes.
     
    One of the things I did earlier this winter was test out my own mobile app. I didn’t convert my website to mobile, because as you mention above there is value to side bars and all that other stuff. I had too much to try and convert, so I went into a separate app and used RSS feeds to tailor the content. I happen to use Mippin. (disclosure:no affiliation) It was an extremely affordable, and pretty slick option.  By choosing a different option, than just converting my blog to mobile reading – I maintain a visual aspect, can actually choose several specific areas for my mobile users – a different approach than the blog readers.  How you place the advertising for your mobile app, can ensure the right people get it installed.
     
    The concept behind this was that I have two sets of readers:
    1.Those who are actually reading blogs online
    2. Those who do not read blogs, are in fact alienated by them, and are not in the online space in this capacity YET would have a need for my content.
     
    (Understand in this regard I am speaking of my insurance content, and not my social media content – although I integrated all into my app).
     
    Many of us who use the blogs for a business (other than social media and marketing) will see a great need for this. Its a very strong point to consider. How do you capitalize on the mobile population who is NOT going to reach you via social media, or otherwise. The “non blog reading” public – newspapers is one answer 😉 the other more modern approach is the mobile app.

     

  • REALITY: More people are accessing the web via mobile phones. You cannot argue the fact away.
    WHAT MUST BE DONE: We need templates, widgets, etc optimized for mobile web.
    A GOOD START: Bootstrap by Twitter. If you are using WordPress, try WP-Bootsrap

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  • I think we need to see this as an opportunity to refine how we blog. The small screen and the plugins like wptouch, force the content to be front and centre.

    In the same way that twitter has made people aware of saying things in a more direct way, maybe this mobile shift will help us to distil our writing style, getting us to the point faster. Long rambling blogs are not acceptable to the mobile user, they want to read the interesting bits, share it with the world and move on.
    Advertising is an issue and we do need the advertisers to catch up. Pay Per Click is effective (this article claiming that mobile PPC is 40% more effective than desktop http://www.marketingmag.com.au/news/mobile-search-ads-blow-desktop-away-with-40-higher-ctr-18637/#.UEhapYtpOl) , but not the only way to generate revenue.

    When you write your next blog, check it out on your mobile and see how far you have to scroll down the page (below the fold) until you get to your first concrete point.

  • Agree with Alistair, responsive design won’t solve the problem, but perhaps responsive content will… content that modifies itself depending on the media. That can be imagery as already covered (show or not show), but it could be the text as well. Maybe the mobile content is stripped down, almost synopsis length.

    Imagine morse code/old telegraph. When you use morse code you strip sentences down to the bare minimum.

    A tweet is too far cut down but somewhere between a blog post and a tweet… a Mobile Log rather than a Web Log (mlog??)

    Another issue entirely which mobiles feed to as well is disjointed conversation. I’ve already replied to this post to Mark on Twitter, but that response does not form part of this conversation.

    I’ve seen this happening increasingly especially when you throw Enterprise Social Media into the mix (Yammer, SalesForce Chatter etc)

  • So many decisions. May need your input on this!!!

  • Agree. Key point Steve. Thanks for adding to the dialogue!

  • Very, very interesting perspective Mila. Love that new angle of thought. Thank you VERY much. This would make a great post in its own right!

  • Thanks Femi.

  • You have my head spinning! All excellent points. The future of the blog … and the social media conversation wherever it may be … have a long way to go!

  • I see it as an opportunity. A chance to re-evaluate how we write. Get to your point earlier, then the mobile user can see what they need quickly. Then they can explore further should they wish! Mobile users will not read through long rambling posts now! Most only consume the RSS feed now anyway. Distil and perfect!

    As for advertising, I read a report that said that mobile PPC is up to 40% more profitable than desktop, so that may not be as big an issue as feared.

  • Users drive everything. If our content is compelling and we’ve got valued relationships with our readers, they’ll consume and interact in the environment that’s most comfortable to them. Affording them multiple choices for consumption is the best action, until the next improvement comes along…and goes away to be replaced by something else. Don’t we love it?!?!! Yes!

  • you and me both. The more I think about these things the faster things spin 😀

  • Sorry, mate, have to disagree. The two images Mark uses in the post are web browser versus something like WPtouch. That’s not mobile-optimized, that’s mobile friendly (if it was truly optimized, you wouldn’t lose so much functionality).

    My blogs – personal and corporate – use a fully responsive design, and you lose zero functionality, from social sharing to call to action to subscribers and more.

    Content is content – how you display it is key.

  • Switch to a full responsive design, versus a plugin that makes it a little more palatable for the mobile reader. You lose nothing in translation – ads, call to actions, videos, etc. All adapt. Genesis is leading the way in this field – like @jasonkonopinski:disqus I noticed a huge uptake in subscribers when I redesigned my blog, made it far more call-oriented, and used a responsive design to ensure I lost nothing for the mobile user experience.

  • Nice to see my blog R&D Department is still on the job! Cut. Paste. Send to IT guy. Thank you Mr. Brown!

  • Well, that’s not exactly true : ) If users drove everything, Facebook would be available in 12 point type and allow me to customize my news stream. There are a few other gatekeepers besides consumers! But I do agree with you in principle. Many thanks for your comment!

  • Maybe. I like your glass half-full view Andrzej! Distill and perfect indeed. I like that!

  • I’m fairly thrifty with my words and to the point (I hope)!

  • Oh, didn’t realise imposters twice! Sorry.

  • I don’t think it is about losing functionality but rather providing the right functionality for the right channels.

    Same with content. I don’t have the answer I am merely posing the question whether traditional blog content is suitable for mobile.

  • I just found an excellent primer on responsive web design that’ll get you started:

    http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/2012/09/what-content-marketers-need-to-know-about-responsive-web-design/

  • It is a great post. Makes sense. I thnk most content should be not tailored, but created for media gadgets. The right question is what engages you when reading content on mobild device? The answer is the way to follow, may be.

  • Just thinking out loud, but does the increasing use of mobile open up more opportunities for using video, slideshows, or podcasts as a larger part of a blog? I’m not sure I have the answer, but would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject.

  • Yes, absolutely. Just remember that whatever it is, it has to look good in the palm of your hand. : )

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