Mobile traffic is booming at Hearst: Overall volume across its magazines’ websites is up nearly 2000% year-over-year, vastly outpacing global mobile traffic growth, according to internal measurements. But like Facebook and other digital publishers, the company is still looking for ways to monetize that traffic.
In April, approximately 19% of all traffic came from mobile devices including tablets, Hearst tell us. (For context, 10% of total global Internet traffic comes from mobile devices, up from 5% last year, according to the chart from KPCB below.) At Cosmopolitan magazine’s website, a full third of pages are viewed on mobile devices. Google is the primary driver of that traffic, accounting for 39% of mobile pageviews. Facebook is a distant second, making up for between 1% and 7% of referrals depending on the site.
A year ago, a mere 5% of traffic came from mobile. That’s largely because Hearst’s online properties weren’t well optimized for viewing on those devices.
“Some smart people — and I was not one of them — saw what was happening with smartphones and tablets and realized we needed… [to enable] access to our core sites on those devices,” says Grant Whitmore, who became VP of digital at Hearst after his previous employer, Hachette Filipacchi Media, was acquired by the company in 2011.
The first site to get a mobile makeover, m.goodhousekeeping.com, was unveiled late last year. On average, mobile pageviews have jumped 74% in the first month following the launch of smartphone-friendly sites, Hearst says.
There’s no evidence that mobile traffic is cannibalizing desktop traffic at Hearst properties, but the fact remains: Hearst earns less money when someone visits one of their sites from a smartphone than from their desktop.
There’s a few reasons for this. One, mobile advertising is a nascent industry — ad spend simply hasn’t kept pace with the amount of time consumers are now spending with media on their cellphones and tablets. Look at the chart below. You can see that Americans spend 43% of their media time with TVs, and advertisers fittingly spend 42% of their advertising budgets on the platform. Yet only 1% of advertising budgets are allocated to mobile on average, even though consumers are spending 10% of their time there. (You’ll also see that advertisers are proportionally overspending on print and, to a lesser degree, radio.)
The other problem is creative. Hearst, like most other online media publishers, primarily serves up the same kind of advertisements it does on its websites — that is, banner ads. There’s simply not as much real estate for those ads on smaller screens. Nor do they command a great number of ad dollars due to relatively high inventory and poor conversion rates.
Publishers are still developing and experimenting with alternatives to mobile display ads. Some advertising networks, such as JiWire, take advantage of mobile devices’ GPS capabilities to serve geographically targeted ads. Others are finding ways to embed advertisements more deeply into content. Twitter, for instance, embeds ads into its core products — i.e., in the newsfeed and in the Trending Topics area — which appear simultaneously on its website and in its apps for mobile and desktop devices.
Hearst is only just beginning to think about monetizing its mobile sites further, says Whitmore, and its sales teams are working with clients to develop ads that offer “a level of mobile-optimized interactivity that moves beyond the simple banner display units that frankly we’re currently running.” He declined to be more specific, but added that he does not believe these ads will leverage geo-targeting. (My sense is that these ads won’t be that sophisticated, but let’s wait and see.)
Meanwhile, individual magazine brands at Hearst and elsewhere are launching paid, one-off apps, like Esquire‘s “Hardest Puzzle Ever” game and InStyle’s excellent hairstyling app for the iPad. Some, including Time Inc.’s Real Simple magazine, are exploring free apps with commerce baked in.
Hearst’s mobile ad products may have some ways to go, but the company is at least generating revenue from one very important area: subscriptions. Fourteen percent of subscriptions purchases on its sites in April occurred on mobile devices, Whitmore tells us.