We all know mobile is growing at an unprecedented rate, but most news organizations are struggling to measure it. For many newsrooms, that data is buried in desktop-centric analytics services, not tagged appropriately (if at all) or owned by third-party providers. The end result is a mobile blind spot, making it difficult react to new demands and opportunities in a critical time in the business.
Even worse, however, is when the data is misleading. For example, Buzzfeed
recently reported that its network has experienced a precipitous drop in search referrals. However, as both SearchEngineLand and Digiday explain, the effect is largely due to something called “Dark Google” — an increasing number of searches are private, which appear as direct traffic. The two biggest sources of private searches: iOS 6 devices and some versions of Firefox.
“This misappropriation of traffic is already an issue, and it’s only going to get worse as people upgrade browsers and switch away from desktop to mobile search on iOS devices,” said Stephen Pitts, SEO director at Rosetta in the
Digiday story. “Already a lot of search traffic is being misappropriated as direct.”
So it’s not that search is in decline, but it’s shifting to mobile.
Apps are another source of dark data. Most analytics services do not measure app referrals, counting them as direct or unknown. There are a couple key exceptions: both Facebook and Twitter use their own intermediate URLs — m.facebook.com and t.co — to ensure their app referrals appear. But many other apps do not, further inflating the direct number.
There’s also confusion around the difference between apps and the mobile web. The Guardian recently
posted a story quoting a Nielsen report that Facebook was suffering a decline in visits. But the Nielsen report measured the web only — desktop and mobile — but not mobile apps. When you fold the mobile apps number into the mobile web, the overall mobile growth more than outpaces the desktop decline. In fact, Facebook just reported it has 189 million users who only log in via mobile devices.
Again, not a decline, but a shift to mobile.
For the news industry, these misconceptions are dangerous. Journalists are already underestimating the wholesale shift to mobile — especially apps, which make up
80% of time spent on mobile. By not knowing the true data — or ignoring the data that matters — newsrooms are out of position to capitalize on one of the greatest consumer shifts in modern history.
What to do? First, ensure you’re measuring how users consume content on both the mobile web and mobile apps. Look at the numbers that matter: monthly and daily active users (MAUs and DAUs), for example, are much better success metrics than downloads. Also, examine how consumption patterns differ by device, dayparts and web vs. apps. Then hold newsroom-wide training sessions that show journalists how to access this data, explaining the difference between metrics. Finally, emphasize the importance of mobile metrics over the desktop, drawing a link between mobile success and your digital future.