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Help! My Baby is Sick and Someone is Stealing My Money!

This is a guest contribution from Andrew Grant, owner and author of The Freedom Blog.

Two weeks ago I made a shocking discovery.

I found out that my youngest child, barely out of nappies, has been infected by a terrible virus with the sinister name of SASS.

SASS spreads at an alarming rate and is highly contagious. Prevalence has doubled in the last year alone and the most frightening thing is that SASS is propagated by one of our favourite modern technologies; the smartphone!

OK, don’t worry; I’m not talking about real children. You don’t have to hygienically dispose of your iPhone, just yet.  SASS stands for Short Attention Span Surfing and I just made it up. But this fictional disease does represent a very real threat to something very precious to me; my young, fresh-faced blog.

If you are a fellow blogger, you’ll know exactly how I feel. Just like a real baby the birth of a blog is often protracted and painful, yet at the same time, strangely moving. Once mine entered the world, I was anxious to show it off, but also curiously shy in case people thought it was ugly.  I dressed it in a pretty theme, fed it with the freshest content and showered it with unnecessary plugins on the slightest pretence.

At the same time, I anxiously monitored its vital signs, reacting to every burp and hiccup; even getting up in the middle of the night just to make sure it was still breathing.

Heart beat vital signs

Image courtesy of jscreationzs FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Danger Signs

It was during one of my nocturnal check-ups that I noticed something was wrong.

At first everything appeared normal. I noted, as usual that mobile visitors represented about twenty percent of my overall traffic, split roughly 50/50 between tablets and smart-phones, which is exactly what I would expect from reading the latest tech news headlines. Mobile is growing like crazy.

The latest report from Monetate for example, shows that mobile share of web traffic has doubled in the last year alone from 10 to 20% (in line with my stats) and businesses with retail sites now get a better conversion from their tablet users than they do from desktops. It seems we’re happier to buy on our iPads than our Dells, these days. Smart-phone users aren’t quite so keen to buy stuff, yet.  But that will change as web designers catch up with the opportunity.

Therefore, it seems perfectly feasible, as Morgan Stanley have predicted, that in less than two years, more than half the people who visit my site, or yours, will be on some sort of mobile device. So, what’s the problem? Mobile users are as good as any others, aren’t they?

Well, yes, but also a big, No.

Like most blog-parents I had been careful to choose a nice warm, mobile-responsive theme, so that my baby would look his best on any browser, but I was beginning to suspect that it wasn’t enough. When I started looking at my analytics for visitor engagement, I found a disturbing dark shadow on the X-Ray.

Although my desktop stats were holding steady, mobile user-engagement was significantly lower. In fact, the figures were remarkably symmetrical.  Twenty percent of my visitors were reading twenty percent fewer pages and leaving twenty percent sooner than everybody else.

Except for one visitor, who spent 25 minutes browsing my blog on a Motorola phone. But I don’t think he counts. I think he was asleep!

Why don’t they like my baby?

I wanted to figure out why my content wasn’t working for mobile users, so I took a critical look using my own smartphone. I could see the problem straight away. Even though my nice, responsive theme was doing its best to optimise the presentation, there were bigger issues.

The site took too long to load, the font was difficult to read indoors and impossible in daylight, the graphics were too big and the layout looked uninviting.  Clearly, my mobile readers were receiving a second rate experience. It was no surprise they were bouncing off to go and play Angry Birds.

I could see it was time for a change, but the real tipping point came when I read this piece by Amy Mischler at mobithinking.com

“Building a dotMobi site means that your URL will automatically feature on the ‘zone files’ that we maintain for ICANN, which are regularly requested by mobile search engines, directories and other sites as ‘seed lists’ for the indexing of mobile-centric web sites.

 In other words, the use of a dotMobi domain will automate the beginnings of your search engine and directory submission process – in fact each month these log files are requested by around 5,000 interested parties.”

Does that smell like free traffic to you?  Bear in mind that was written in 2008, so imagine how much opportunity there is now!

Note: Dot mobi is a top level domain (TLD), just like dot com or dot org, which was introduced in 2006. It is intended to allow sites to differentiate themselves from their desktop counterparts and indicate that they are focused on a mobile audience.  You can register a dot mobi domain with any of the usual domain name providers.

Can Anybody Help Me?

So I began looking around for advice on how to ‘go mobile’. Surely, I thought, there must be plenty of other bloggers who are way ahead of me on this one. Mustn’t there? Well, as it turned out, there weren’t. What I found was lots of advice in two areas. Neither of which was much help.

Firstly, there were dozens of articles advising the use of responsive themes and secondly, I found plenty of suggestions for apps allowing me to post on the move. Since I already had a responsive theme and no desire to write my articles from the inside of a whale’s belly, I was disappointed.

Nowhere could I find anybody talking about things like user engagement, mobile content optimisation or multi-media repurposing, except as a means of building backlinks. It seemed I was on my own.

But then I discovered something even more shocking.

Someone is stealing my money!

Image courtesy of chanpipat FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Let’s see if you can spot it too. Here’s a little challenge for you. If you have a responsive theme on your blog, take look at it on your smartphone. Looks nice doesn’t it?

All your posts neatly lined up, one on top of the other.  Lovely, slidey, scrolly action.   See those front-page extracts whizzing past your fingers.  Wheee!

Now look a little closer. Notice anything missing?  No? Are you sure?

OK, I’ll give you a clue. Think of the word ‘sidebar’. Are you getting it now? Where is your sidebar? Not there is it? I don’t know which responsive theme you’re using, but every single one I’ve tried has dumped my sidebars like a cheap date, as soon as it spots a hot, new smart-phone.

And what are the three most important things that most bloggers keep in their sidebars?

  • Recent posts widgets
  • Opt-in forms
  • AdSense ads and banners

Those clever boffins who designed your, oh-so-elegant, responsive theme have completely forgotten to include the three most important elements of your blog; the elements responsible for reader engagement, visitor retention and monetization.

Programmers are pilfering our pocket money! Of course, it’s not deliberate. I hope. But it is bad design. It solves one problem but creates a bigger one.

Really! Can Anyone Help Me?

Once again, I turned to the heavy hitters to find some answers. Surely, the big bloggers are not so dumb as to let 20% of their readers go by without showing them a single ad? They must be doing something really creative to get round this problem. Mustn’t they?

Well, once again, not exactly. Out of five big names chosen at random and viewed on my smartphone, three showed less than ten percent of their normal number of ads and two of them had no ads at all!  Sorry, Problogger, I’m afraid you are one of the latter. The ones who did manage to squeeze some in, were usually settling for a single banner at the top of the front page and maybe a box ad at the bottom of each post.

The most effective solution I came across was to make the advert into a post. That way it would appear as part of the front page scroll and carry the same visual weight as a post I’ve since discovered this is called ‘native advertising’, though I’m not sure why.

Despite these small pockets of advancement, it was clear that the mobile interface is a problem that we’re all wrestling with. What we need is an action plan to inoculate our babies against SASS.  Since no one else seems to have got round to it yet, here’s mine.

Mobile Action Plan – Mark 1

Speed

Optimise everything; mobile users may have slow, 3G connections

  • Cut down the number of images
  • Compress the ones you keep
  • Install a caching plugin and learn how to configure it
  • Compress your CSS and JS code by installing Minify and Gzip .  Don’t worry.  I know that sounds like a technical nightmare, but it is really easily achieved with a couple of plugins

Content

You probably don’t want to write two sets of content, so use the same posts as on your main site, but mobile-ise them, like this:

  • Write a three bullet summary at the top of each post in a larger font.  This will appear in the post extract, so mobile users can see immediately what they’re getting
  • Offer them different ways to consume the post
  • How about a recorded version so they can listen while they drive?
  • Give them the option to email the post to themselves and read it later – that way they can sign up to your email list at the same time
  • Or turn the post into slides or a video, upload it to Slideshare or YouTube and embed the player on your blog – that way you get a couple of backlinks into the bargain

Monetization

Get clever with your adverts

  • Find out if you can configure your theme to display sidebar content to mobile users
  • If not work out ways to embed ads into the body of your posts
  • Turn the ads into posts ; advertorial style is great for product reviews or A vs B, type content. That way they will have the same visual weight as any other post and show up in the middle of the front-page scroll
  • Find smart ways to integrate your money links into the body of your content – it’s more compelling that way anyway and you may well find that click-through rates increase.

Visitor retention and list building

  • Buy some low-cost PLR ebooks and offer a new one every week or month, as an opt-in gift.  Then you can write a review post of each book, with your opt-in box in the middle of the text.  (PLR stands for Private Label Rights and basically means you buy a licence to do what you want with the book – sell it, give it away or even pretend you wrote it.)
  • Try embedding your opt-in form into other posts as well, so that it shows up a couple of times a week

Access

Ultimately, mobile users should really have their own gateway

  • At the very least you should install a responsive theme and test it on a smart-phone
  • Think seriously about building a satellite blog on a dot mobi domain, with an auto-switching plugin that detects the visitor’s device and serves up the most appropriate version.
  • Consider building an app as well as, or even instead of, your blog.  This has cost implications, but also advantages.  An app is a walled garden that engenders loyalty and push notification blows email out of the water, when it comes to open rates (up to 60% for push vs around 20% for email).

Once you put your mind to it, the mobile challenge starts to throw up all sorts of new opportunities and new ways to deliver good content.  In fact some of those ideas might work well on your main site too.

Cured?

The real question is; will doing all this cure our babies and let them grow big and strong again? The simple answer is, I don’t know. But we have to try something, or blogging as we know it, is in danger of disappearing.

Maybe the future blogging model is virtual and distributed, rather than site-centric. Imagine that your content is everywhere and readers simply access it via an app which draws in articles, slides, videos and audio files from all the different places you uploaded them.

Rather than getting hung up on the framework of our site, we should be focused on creating multi-purpose content, ready to be delivered, via whatever medium comes along. Right now we’re thinking about mobile. Next year it might be a wristwatch, or Google’s Glasses or a flexible screen sewn into your jacket.

Ultimately, the biggest lesson for content providers is that we need to separate the intellectual property from the real estate. Whatever it looks like, people will still want content and we need to be ready to give it to them.  Or someone else will. For a list of useful test sites, plugins and tools to help you go mobile, you’ll find a page called ‘Mobile Resources’ on my blog.

Let us know what you think.  What steps have you taken to mobile-ise?  What solutions have you come up with to monetise on smartphones?

Andrew Grant is the owner and author of The Freedom Blog a site where aspiring bloggers and internet marketer can find inspiration, practical advice and food for thought.

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Comments

  1. Remember that mobile is the wave of now and future. I have work to do to get up to snuff in this department; I remember a recent incident where after uploading a plug in I broke my blog and received the white screen of blogging death.

    If you make it easy to digest your content you will get more page views, through mobile apps and traditional devices too.

    Thanks Andrew!

    • Andrew Grant says:

      Hi Ryan
      Thanks for the comment – I too broke my blog a couple of months ago by clicking the wrong in my hosting control panel, button and wiping everything!
      But it allowed me to start from scratch and build a better blog in the end – oh and I got a good post out of it!
      Andrew

  2. Matt @ YLB says:

    My steps that I’ve taken to get up to par with the mobile side are a disgrace. Time to take on a new project…

    • Andrew Grant says:

      HI Matt
      Don’t worry, it’s true of most of us. Blogging is tough enough without worrying about which platform to create for, so I’m sorry if I have added to your burden
      Andrew

  3. I use Genesis/Prose, which is a responsive theme. I made the switch a little over a year ago when (a) I got a smartphone and saw how bad my site looked on it and (b) I saw how many of my readers were accessing content on smartphones and tablets.

    When Prose detects a mobile browser — or even a narrow window in a desktop browser (if you’re on a desktop, make your bookmarks sidebar as wide as possible and Prose will react as if it’s a mobile device) — it moves the sidebar below the post instead of just discarding it. While I probably don’t get as much ad revenue, I do see people on site for approximately the same time (within just a few seconds of each other). And my readership is about 40% mobile and tablet.

    And I’ve been working to speed up the site in general (which has cut the load time in half on pretty much all browsers, including mobile) and the next step will be to work on the speed-up with mobile-specific issues.

    While most of your discussion is about smartphones, don’t forget about tablets. They’re not really desktops, but people expect more than what they see on a smartphone . . . so you have to make the site a good experience for them, too!

    • Andrew Grant says:

      Hi Carolyn, yes you’re right about tablets. I’m working on the basis that if it works on a smartphone, then it should work on a tablet and generally that seems to be the case. But I only have access to a handful of different devices (mine, family, friends etc) so I don’t know what the rest of the world is seeing on their’s so you just have to hope for the best.
      Thanks for commenting
      Andrew

  4. Great post Andrew! I’ve been hesitant to switch to a mobile responsive them/design simply because of the reasons you’ve stated here, the sidebar disappears and visitor conversion/flow drop dramatically. I wonder if there is a plugin out there or product of some kind that could pull your sidebar widget ads and hook them into the mobile design in between posts. Whatever options there are, I agree that we bloggers have to stay up to date with technology or our little babies will suffer. Resistance is futile.

    • Andrew Grant says:

      Hi Brett
      Ha ha, you are right, resistance is indeed futile. And it’s only going to get tougher.
      Thanks for commenting

      Andrew

  5. Shana Norris says:

    I just viewed my site on my iPhone and the sidebars are there.

    This article makes a lot of sense, though. I plant to check out the Minify and Gzip plug-ins.

    Thanks for the info!

    • Andrew Grant says:

      Hi Shana
      Thanks for the comment. I have found that Gzip works fine, but only this weekend I had some trouble with minify, which kept turning my pages into text only.
      I assume it’s a conflict with some other plugin, but I haven’t figured out which one yet.
      Andrew

  6. Hi Andrew,

    My blog is still new and I am still getting the hang off all these things. But I will try my best to protect my brainchild from SASS :)

    • Andrew Grant says:

      Hi Rahul
      Thanks for the comment. I’m still pretty new as well and it seems like every day there’s something new to think about.
      Andrew

  7. Hi Andrew,

    Congratulations on landing this guest post! You nailed a headline that lured me to your post and delivered loads of insight and so much fresh information that I had to read it four times. Then I saved it.

    I immediately checked out my main blog and discovered, as you said, that my sidebars were at the bottom. And that’s where the ads are! Yikes!

    My blog children are older than yours, but with the changing internet landscape you’ve made it clear I have much to learn about reader engagement, visitor retention, and monetization. Until your post I wasn’t fully aware my kids were in danger of SASS. Thank you for alerting me to the problem and posing a plan with many easy-to-do ways to inoculate them.

    I especially like the tips about putting a bullet list at the beginning of each post, providing an audio version, offering new giveaways each week for list-building and embedding ads in the body of posts.

    Imagining the cost and process of creating my own app made me light-headed, but now that you’ve planted the idea I’m sure it will become doable in the future.

    Thank you.

    • Andrew Grant says:

      Hi Flora
      Thanks for the great comment. Like all of these things it’s a question of tackling one job at a time. I’ve suggested these things but I haven’t implemented them all yet.
      I have started with the audio versions, which I now do for each post (well, the longer ones) and I’m working on a satellite version on a dot mobi domain.
      I’m pleased that the article gave you food for thought.
      Andrew

  8. Bryan says:

    Sounds like a good place to start Andrew. Native ads are an interesting solution, but I worry that making it difficult for readers to tell the difference between a real post and an ad will turn them off.

    • Andrew Grant says:

      Hi Bryan, thanks for the comment. You are right, it is a concern.
      But I guess there are two ways to do native ads – one is to present them as a normal post, but with the word ‘advertorial’ in the title – like they do in print newspapers. Or secondly make the extract appear exactly like an advert. For example – imagine Darren’s ‘Scorecard for Bloggers’ advert that you can see in the sidebar on the right here, appearing in place of an extract on the front page.
      At the moment users know that the content blocks in the sidebars are adverts and they either choose to click on them or not. I’m assuming that the friendliest approach will be for us to make our native ads just as obvious.
      Andrew

  9. Who knew that mobile viewing was still lagging behind, despite the huge popularity!

    This post has been a real eye opener Andrew, poor interaction from my mobile viewers definitely needs to be looked into and solved.

    Great tips too, I like the monetization ones in particular, creating ad posts is definitely an option.

    I’m just worried that it will appear spammy and stick out like a sore thumb from the rest of my content though.

    • Andrew Grant says:

      Hi Sanam
      Thanks for your kind words.
      I understand your concerns about appearing spammy, but like I said in my reply to Bryan above, I think if we are upfront about our advertorial content and don’t try to disguise it as a normal post, then readers will understand and respect that.
      Andrew

  10. Laura says:

    My site’s has a responsive theme same design for desktop and mobile. But, as you start narrowing the browser things move around. My side-bar does not disappear, but it is moved to the bottom of the main body of the page.

    I shelled out for a premium theme specifically designed with spaces for ads. It was worth it to make a good impression and monetize my content!

    Ciao,

    L

  11. marty says:

    I love this article frankly I think you should write a post about how to write eye grabbing title because the between the title and the first paragraph you had me hooked

    • Andrew Grant says:

      Hi Marty

      Thanks a lot for that. Actually I agonised over the title for a while. We are always being advised to write eye-catching titles, but at the same time include our keywords or something that explains what the article is about, so that the reader is not mislead. And I came up with some pretty boring alternative versions!

      But in the end, I thought, hey, how often am I going to get on Problogger? – let’s go all out with something wacky.

      I’m really glad it worked for you.

      Andrew

  12. Ferb says:

    Very interesting article, opt-in forms, ads and recent post widget are what bloggers keep in there sidebar and designer should definitely think about it.

    • Andrew Grant says:

      Thanks Ferb, I’m glad you found it interesting.

      Someone also pointed out to me that my social follow buttons aren’t appearing in my mobile responsive theme, either, so that’s four things missing.

      Andrew

  13. India News says:

    great post. interesting insights on future of blogging. surely there is a change information will be delivered on the internet.

  14. “Wow! what an idea sirji” Clever! I really like the idea of writing this posts very differently….. just it is Amazing

  15. Hey , THats some better way to attract visitors using attractive Titles .
    Its just amazing . Even i fell for the topic .

    WEll WRITTEN POST

  16. I agree that this is now something that is only going to continue to grow and especially when your business begins to pick up it’s pace and gain more momentum.

    Traffic will begin to come from all kinds of places and devices so it’s important to be ready for this.

    All the tools are available to be able to get our blogs mobile ready and easy to navigate.

    This is a massive opportunity if we think about this and this article has outlined many of those opportunities many of us could be missing.

    Thanks again.

  17. Andrew Grant says:

    Thanks Gavin, you’re right we need to think in a different way and not be tied to one channel for delivering content.
    Andrew

  18. Jeannette says:

    I am newbie on blogging arena..this article really help me, although i am not really clear about it..huhu.. yeah..there is much things to do..and i have to face it…thanks for this article once more!

    • Andrew Grant says:

      Thanks Jeanette – Good luck with your blog and If I can help in any way, come on over to my blog and ask me any question you like.
      Andrew

  19. Sharon faili says:

    Hi Andrew,
    Great article and will be following your advice and checking out your suggestions, had a look at your site and you have some interesting articles so have decided to subscribe. Thanks :) Sharon

  20. Haha a very creative headline. Really pull me in to read your post. The content is great too, especially when you talk about mobile reading. I’m sure reading from website will be a thing of the past. Another 2 years’ time, no one will ever read from their laptop again. Mobile is the future.

    • Andrew Grant says:

      Hi, thanks for the comment – glad you liked the headline. We are definitely going to have to get smarter about what we do and work out how blog content is going to be consumed in future and how we can monetise it.
      Andrew

  21. Steve Eason says:

    I was a little confused by the title, but the article itself was spot on! I totally didn’t catch the part about the sidebar being gone from most of the mobile themes. You are so right! I had not even thought about that other than realizing that I didn’t really like it for some reason. But knowing that many bloggers place the ads in the sidebar, whoa! There goes the income!

    Thanks for covering this and I’m going to go check my sites out now on mobile. I might have some work to do! Ack!