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A return to destination journalism

“How a reader chooses to spend her time on her phone is our only true competitor.”

Next year will be a bit of a throwback to 2009 in that Google will be a focus for lots of news publishers. It will also remind us of 2007 as we spend time on homepages, have a touch of 2008 as we reassess app offerings, and be a rerun of 2010 and 2011 in the attention we give to aggregators.

Why all the flashbacks?

Google’s importance has grown as publishers have dialed down their focus on Facebook following the algorithm change announcement of January 2018 (though Facebook still drives 24 percent of traffic to publishers, according to data collected by analytics platform Parsely). But while 10 years ago it was a pure desktop search story, heading into 2019 we now pay attention to Google AMP, Google Content Suggestions, and Google Discover.

Homepages, apps, and the kind of destination journalism and product experiences that drive readers to go directly to a site on mobile are crucial in 2019. While the past couple of years have been trying for Facebook-oriented publishers (think Mic, Mashable, Vice, UniLad), the following three facts demonstrate the need for us to focus on driving direct relationships with readers on mobile homepages and apps.

Mobile homepages are more important than some thought

Mobile homepage visitors spend 40 percent more time actively engaging than their desktop counterparts (22 engaged seconds vs. 16 on desktop), Chartbeat reported in June.

When readers can’t access social, they go directly to news sites and apps

How a reader chooses to spend her time on her phone is our only true competitor.

What happened during a 45-minute Facebook outage in August? Direct traffic to publishers’ websites increased 11 percent, while traffic to publishers’ mobile apps soared 22 percent.

What happened when there was an hourlong YouTube outage in October? Publishers had a 20 percent net increase in traffic. Just over half of this increase went to general articles on publisher sites, while articles about the outage comprised a 9 percent lift.

So when a reader can’t access a social network, or when she has satiated her appetite for Instagram, checked her Facebook groups, and cleared her other notifications, she’ll spend time going directly to a trusted news source.

People in the U.S. will spend more time on their phones than watching TV next year

Next year is when mobile will surpass TV as the medium attracting the most minutes in the U.S., according to eMarketer. U.S. adults spent an average of 3 hours and 35 minutes per day on mobile devices this year, a one-year increase of more than 11 minutes. Here in the U.K., Britons spend more than 24 hours a week on their phones.

So as time spent on mobile continues to rise, the battle is not just for the lock screen, but for readers to have our site or app front of mind when they’re thinking of how to spend the next five minutes of phone fiddling.

Sarah Marshall is head of audience growth at Vogue International.

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