Register-Guard’s smartphone strategy starts with responsive design platform

By Tyler Mack

The Register-Guard’s decision to redesign its mobile-unfriendly site arose when its mobile traffic doubled in six months and smartphones began to quickly replace feature phones.

We had a mobile-unfriendly site for years. And we knew smartphone adoption was outpacing basic, cell phone adoption. The local mobile audience in this college town, home to the University of Oregon, is generally a very liberal, well-educated audience, but not an especially affluent city, despite a relatively high cost of living.

This is a “lifestyle area” where most people live because of proximity to the coast, the mountains, and the much larger city of Portland, Oregon.

Following a redesign that was four to five years in the planning, our mobile traffic has doubled in the months since its February, 2013, launch accounting for 30% of the Web site’s traffic.

The new site is built on a responsive-design platform and was done in-house for all screens. Despite anticipating resistance to the change, response has been 90% positive. We’ve gotten a very good reaction, especially to the cleanliness of the look.

Along with the redesign came a change in the grid, which also changed display ad placement.

The Register-Guard continues to educate local advertisers and some agencies about how mobile advertising works since its redesign. Those efforts may have pre-empted screen-size bias. We haven’t gotten a lot of that. Size hasn’t been an issue so far.

While 30% of Register-Guard site traffic is mobile, 10% of advertisers that have mobile-specific ads also have ads for the desktop. My team is talking about providing mobile ad-creation technical services for advertisers. The staff stays up to date on the best ways to use the technology, including HTML 5 for better, more comprehensive document markup and use with mobile devices.

We are still trying to educate local advertisers and some agencies about how mobile advertising works. But more and more ask about mobile opportunities. Every new programme starts with mobile, and I think advertisers will come around to that line of thinking as well.

Although I would like to think newspapers have the jump on other media in mobile, the skeptic and realist in me thinks it unlikely that newspapers can do more than online-only giants and specialists.

I don’t expect U.S. newspapers will receive the lion’s share of mobile advertising, but we can probably do better than others in helping local businesses.

And we’ve already come up with a creative strategy for a local mall: The Register-Guard created a package that puts the mall’s ads on the Register-Guard site. Anyone within two miles of the mall sees only the mall’s ads, except for a few placements that run throughout the site. This may be our most aggressive use of targeting and technology so far.

The Register-Guard is monetising mobile traffic, already selling most ads in packages that include mobile.

For example, in 2011, the Register-Guard launched an app for the University of Oregon Ducks football team that has proven very successful. Among our advertisers is one that signed at a very high rate for an entire year and recently rebooked.

In its early life, it was a US$4 app. But when a sponsor complained about low acceptance, we removed the charge and downloads increased by a factor of 100. That app has been joined by a Ducks basketball app and a happy-hour app launched in partnership with a vendor.

Success with the mall venture will encourage other advertisers, and, I believe, we will see interest among others in the Ducks apps.

Where newspapers can do better than others in the mobile sector is in our own markets. We just have to be clever about what share we can get and help local businesses maximise marketplace opportunities.

About Tyler Mack

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