Adopting the “Mobile First” Mindset at the New York Times

In Commentary by Dan Engel

For the last decade, working for the New York Times has been a roller coaster. First, the revered, “old school” print newspaper struggled to define itself in the digital space. But this week, it’s making a bold leap forward, and the world is watching.

Executive heads at the “Old Gray Lady” are taking their mobile presence seriously by internally blocking access to the news organization’s homepage. Why the drastic move? Executives are catching on to where traffic to the site is coming from:

“More than half of our traffic to The Times is on mobile. We’re hopeful that this temporary change will help spur us to make mobile an even more central part of everything that we do.”

Longtime publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. issued the order to ensure all staff members – whether they are content contributors or not – are viewing their jobs with a “mobile first” mindset.

Why Mobile?

In fact, over two-thirds of the Times’ subscribers currently access it online, and an ever-increasing share (now 60%) connects to the Times on the phone or tablet, reports executive editor Dean Baquet. Since last year, the Times has seen a 13.1% jump in its online circulation for its Monday-Friday editions, while print has sharply declined 5.4%.

To serve the needs of these mobs of mobile readers, the Times is seeking to understand and embrace the mobile-first experience. How can the paper succeed in a world where readers are demanding the latest information on trending topics no matter where they are or what they are doing and demanding it on a remarkably miniature, albeit easily portable screen?

Indeed, since the 1990s, the Internet and now the mobile world have shaken journalism to its core – severely curtailing its advertising revenues while offering easier, faster, distinctly more hip news outlets that are entwined with a reverberating echo chamber of tweets, shared content and blog commentators.

Adopting the “Mobile First” Mindset

Forcing staff to test drive their content exclusively through their phones or tablets is sure to get the paper well-deserved recognition for standing at the leading edge of what “mobile first” thinking really means. It’s a clever strategy to submerge the Times staff in the mobile experience and educate them to all its glories and its miseries. Now an additional two-thousand eyes will be scanning the mobile site, looking for defects, and pondering ways to enhance how a mobile user receives, digests, and even interprets content.

But is shutting down access to the site’s homepage really required?

Not necessarily. True, every website in the mobile-first era needs to be vetted for performance across an ever-expanding array of platforms, and yes, web content contributors need to shift how they think about content to optimize it on mobile. But there is a better way to test your website’s mobile friendliness than forcing your entire workforce to become “mobile web testers.” It’s called Mobilizer.

A Better Way

Mobilizer enables digital marketing teams to visually inspect their site’s mobile web performance on 14 actual devices within seconds. Teams can spot-check each device in side-by-side visual display to ensure content is being perfectly delivered to that device’s user.

Mobilizer even takes this a step further with per-device analytics that allow marketers to see how many people are accessing their site from which device and what are each device’s customer conversion rates. This not only enables marketers to create a better mobile experience, it allows marketing teams to shift gears and change tactics to increase online conversion. This level of analytics is not available through any other mobile web testing service.

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