When it comes to news sites, blogs, and other digital content publishers, making sure your posts are accessible on mobile devices is key.
While responsive web design is the first choice and a must-have, a web experience doesn’t always provide the easiest or most engaging reading experience for your most loyal readers.
This is why mobile apps often play a key role in how digital publishers distribute their content.
By improving User Experience (UX) and speeding up loading times, a native mobile app could have a significant impact on engagement, retention, and traffic for your content, while providing an additional opportunity to distribute your content, one you control and own, as opposed to relying on a third-party platform.
In this post, we’ll dig into some of the reasons mobile apps can be useful for digital content publishers.
Then we’ll discuss how you can easily create your own WordPress mobile app. Let’s jump right in!
Why Mobile Apps Are Making a Comeback for WordPress Publishers (6 Key Reasons)
There are several ways publishers can improve the experience they offer their readers using mobile apps. Let’s look at some of the reasons this has become such a popular solution.
1. Mobile Apps Offer a Better User Experience
A responsive website can accomplish quite a lot when it comes to making it easier for readers to view your site on their smartphones or tablets. However, generally speaking, apps tend to provide a better experience than websites.
A few factors account for this difference. The first (and possibly most important) is performance.
53% of users will abandon mobile sites that take more than three seconds to load – the average news site takes around 10.5 seconds. On the other hand, native mobile apps can load in as fast as a fraction of a second.
NYTimes, Wall Street Journal, HuffPost and Buzzfeed all offer fast mobile apps and an intuitive reading experience.
Your readers are used to the fast, intuitive mobile app experience major platforms like Apple News, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter give them: tap on an icon, scroll through a fast newsfeed, and tap on a story to read it. Plus, push notifications keep them up to date with the latest stories.
How does this compare to your responsive site?
Without an app, you’re left to rely on social media, email newsletters, and people simply remembering to open Safari or Chrome and type your URL to get them back to your content. Is that enough?
Arguably, that’s not the best user experience, and something that can’t promote the kind of loyalty and return traffic you’re trying to get.
2. Your Own Apps Are the Ideal Platform for Loyal Readers
App users tend to be far more loyal than desktop readers.
“People who download our app visit much more frequently and consume 10 times more articles than people coming from the mobile Web”, said Jimmy Maymann, CEO of The Huffington Post back in 2014. Today their apps have millions of users.
The New York Times found that its mobile app users are 60% more likely to become subscribers than those on desktop.
By downloading your app, readers are subscribing to your content and choosing to have your brand on their home screen, to remind them of checking it whenever they have a moment, along the many other apps they use daily.
After all, when’s the last time you saved a bookmark on your mobile browser? People expect to find an app for anything they use frequently.
Of course, not everyone will download your app. Getting people to install an app remains hard – you need a brand and an audience. This is similar to how difficult it is to get people to give their emails for a newsletter.
However, a mobile app will have a great appeal for your most loyal readers: it gives them a fast, intuitive experience to continue consuming more and more of your content.
It’s not surprising that publishers see their apps performing better than their websites in terms of pages per session, time spent, and return visits.
Providing the best possible UX is key to retaining your readers, and we all know it’s easier and cheaper to retain the audience you have than it is to acquire a new one.
“The retention rate for annual app subscribers is the highest of any of our subscription offerings,” said Bryan Davis, senior manager of audience marketing at The Times.
What’s more, apps are becoming increasingly popular among crucial young demographics. 18- to 24-year-olds now spend over 65% of their media time in mobile apps, which adds up to an average of three hours per day. The Times has seen 14% of app subscribers come from this hard-to-reach demographic group.
3. Mobile Apps Make Subscriptions and Membership Revenue Models Easier
Features such as in-app purchases make it easy for readers to buy subscriptions and register for membership programs.
The New York Times app, like many others, makes payments easy using in-app purchases:
For publishers that haven’t yet started using memberships or subscriptions, an app can be the ideal place to start testing whether their most loyal readers will be willing to purchase and support their journalism.
No complicated paywall integrations are required. Payments with in-app purchase are very low friction, and app users are already some of your most loyal readers. That means they’re more likely to convert to being subscribers, as the experience of The Times confirms.
4. An App is a Channel You Own
It may seem as though you have a strong handle on your online presence. Between your website and various social media platforms, it’s easy to feel you have everything you need to create and share your content.
However, relying on social media to reach your audience makes your brand dependent on third parties. Platforms regularly change their algorithms. With these changes, traffic may suddenly dry up, as it happened when Facebook deprioritized news in the newsfeed last year.
There’s a real risk when ‘building your house on rented land’. A better strategy is to build assets you control and a direct relationship with your readers, your website, a newsletter, and your mobile apps.
Publishers that build direct relationships with their readers are those that more easily thrive with a membership model.
5. You Can Avoid Ad Blockers and Use Native Mobile Ad Networks
US ad-blocking usage is at 40% on laptops, and 15% on mobile devices. Mobile apps, on the other hand, are not affected.
Plus, this is getting worse on mobile devices. Safari introduced ad-blocking back in 2016, with iOS 9. The latest Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP), introduced with iOS 11, has already caused significant losses to publishers and the entire ad industry.
Publishers are seeing the impact on their mobile web ad revenue, including traffic from third-party apps such as Facebook. Native mobile apps, however, are not impacted.
With your own app, you can also take advantage of mobile ad networks that wouldn’t be available for your desktop or mobile site.
6. You’ll Be Able to Keep Readers Engaged With Mobile Push Notifications
Push notifications are an invaluable channel for driving traffic and user engagement. Alerts for your latest posts can reach your readers anywhere, bringing them back to your app.
This doesn’t have to be intrusive or annoying; it’s key for your app to provide options for users to select what they want to be notified for. Get it wrong, and you risk people disabling notifications, or worse, uninstalling your app.
For example, The Huffington Post asks readers on its mobile app to select the categories for which they would like to receive notifications the first time they open the app:
This increases the likelihood that users will find your push notifications relevant, and will actually open your app to continue reading.
Building a Mobile App
If you think a mobile app could be for you, there are several ways you can go about creating one to complement your WordPress site.
For publishers looking to build an app from scratch, you can expect it to cost $50-150k and take months to build. Building an app internally is also something only the largest publishers should consider. You can expect to involve iOS and Android developers, a designer, and a project manager (at a minimum).
What’s more, don’t forget that you’ll need to constantly keep your app updated to run smoothly on the latest iOS and Android versions. Work doesn’t stop with your app’s launch.
Responsive design will be enough for some, but not for publishers that want to offer the best experience for their most loyal readers.
If cost is what has held you back from building an app, in 2019 you can reconsider given the many WordPress-specific mobile app solutions on the market. These include:
- Mobile apps offer a better user experience.
- Your own apps are the ideal platform for loyal readers.
- Mobile apps make subscriptions and membership revenue models easier.
- An app is a channel you own.
- You can avoid ad blockers and use native mobile ad networks.
- You’ll be able to keep readers engaged with mobile push notifications.
Do you have any questions about creating a native mobile app for your content site? Ask away in the comments section below!