Chicago Tribune’s “device-agnostic” Web site brings pageviews, advertisers

By Bill Adee

You’re on your iPhone and reading a tweet from your favourite news site.

You want to read more and click on the link. When that page finally loads . . . waiting, waiting . . . you end up on a full Web site with a tiny story and tinier display ads (or an underdeveloped WAP site).

That scene still plays out too often across the Web despite plenty of good “mobile first” advice.

That was just one of the problems we aimed to solve with the Tribune’s development of a new mobile “device-agnostic” site for the Chicago Tribune.

We knew an optimised, consistent Web experience for users across all operating systems, browsers, and devices would help us in many ways:

  • Go where the users are as quickly as possible. Our monthly mobile traffic likely will surpass our desktop pageviews sometime in 2013. We also saw in the numbers what others have seen: Users seem to prefer the Web browser to consumer news apps.

  • Save time and money in the development and support of native apps. New iPad Mini released? No problem. New “phablets” released? No problem. 

  • Provide advertisers with new ways to connect with mobile users. No more pinch and zoom to access tiny ads meant for a desktop experience. Our readers will receive only those ads that are optimised for their device. 

  • Support our registration drive and new digital subscription programme. We wanted to own the relationship with readers, not let someone else in between us. (Read: Apple.)

  • Force us to simplify our desktop site. We wanted to provide a consistent experience across all devices, including the desktop. Envisioning how it would work on mobile first and working our way back to the desktop accomplished that. 

  • Set the right example for the businesses to which we’re trying to sell digital services. You can’t tell a restaurant that its mobile unfriendly site needs an upgrade if you need one, too.

So, how’s it going, you ask?

So far, so good.

We have learned a lot since the Chicago Tribune’s mobile site launched in August with other Tribune Publishing markets following quickly.

In December, we had our best month of traffic in 2012. Roughly 30% of the pageviews came from our new mobile site. And that’s coming just a few months after launching our digital subscription programme and tightening access to our best stories and columns to non-subscribers.

Advertisers have appreciated the effort as well. This month we’ll start launching sponsors for individual sections as well as native advertising opportunities.

We’ve also developed a tremendous rhythm with our Tribune developers to make sure we turn user and advertiser feedback into quick action on the site’s development.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll be using some of HTML5 advantages with more app-like navigation, off-line reading, and location-based news, events, and deals. 

The knowledge we gain will be used to develop what we will release sooner than later: a fully responsive and adaptive site for all devices, not just mobile ones.

About Bill Adee

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