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BuzzFeed’s Mobile Philosophy

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Mobile advertising is diseased and Buzzfeed believes it has a cure.

The company has famously eschewed slinging banners and it has found that that philosophy works as well across mobile as it does on desktop. Instead of banners, Buzzfeed runs advertising content (aka “sponsored” content) on its mobile Web version of the site and its apps. It says it’s seeing success, with mobile click-through rates to these ads getting, on average, a 42 percent higher CTR in the last month than desktop. For Buzzfeed, content is king, even for mobile ads.

“The irony is, when you’re not selling banners, everything is easier,” said Jon Steinberg, Buzzfeed’s president. “We’ve never suffered because we don’t have standard banners.”

Steinberg said that the company doesn’t think in terms of mobile versus desktop. Buzzfeed execs use some kind of variation on this phrase “We don’t have a mobile-only strategy; that would be like having a laptop strategy 15 years ago.” When a brand buys run-of-site story units, those “sponsored” posts-slash-listicles, mobile and desktop are intermingled.

According to Comscore, Buzzfeed hit 13 million unique U.S. visitors on mobile in May 2013, which is about 40 percent of its overall traffic. With mobile such a large chunk of Buzzfeed’s traffic, it has taken an aggressive approach to helping brands realize the value of Buzzfeed’s mobile thinking.

Most brands now understand they have to do something that’s mobile appropriate. People scroll through content on their phone differently than when they’re at their desk. We read while we wait — in doctor’s offices, on line at the supermarket, in between innings at Little League games — and what we read is typically something short, quick and easy on the eyes. Buzzfeed tries to capitalize on its different method for both its app and mobile browser. Buzzfeed rolled out an updated version of its iOS app last week to make it a better experience for both users and advertisers.

“We wanted it to be simpler, cleaner, and more image focused and improve the navigation (especially on iPad) to make the app easier to use,” said Chris Johanesen, Buzzfees vp of product.

To that end, the app has a new customization feature that gives users a more personal experience. Say all you want is to read Buzzfeed’s animal articles, but not its politics. Before, you’d see them all in the stream. Now, you can essentially build your own feed to choose which types of content you want to see more, or less, of.

Also, the app, which used to be horizontal units, has now thumbnails, making it a more visual experience.

“We show [brands] how it looks in the app and show them half of our audience is on mobile, and immediately they get it,” Steinberg said. “The Buzzfeed product works in this setting. The question becomes on how much they allocate on a buy between mobile and desktop.”

Steinberg said that when differentiating between the mobile browser and the app, the app is a front page for users, which tend to be its most passionate users. And while the open Web generates much more revenue than the app, it doesn’t mean Buzzfeed wants to give up on the app. He said the app does generate revenue, and that there’s a lot of sharing from the app.

Steinberg equated those who use the app to loyal patrons of a restaurant. These are the people that come four nights a week, and while they don’t make up a bulk of the revenue or food consumption, the restaurant has to take good care of them because they are the restaurant’s ambassadors, spreading the gospel to others looking for a good meal.

Mobile advertising has some serious hurdles to overcome — small screens, fewer ads, crappy banners. Content is shaping up to be a big win for mobile advertising. Facebook, Twitter are doing just fine selling mobile products, and Buzzfeed falls in line with the thinking that if you put a compelling ad experience in mobile, not only will brands want to be there, but readers will, too.

Image via Flickr

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.



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