When it comes to mobile, time really is money.
When Facebook set out to convince publishers of the benefits of Instant Articles, a key part of its sales pitch was about speed.
Consider the dominant messaging on Facebook’s Instant Articles portal, which touts the benefits of speedier pages much higher up than the whole “how you will make money on this” bit:
And when Google set out to convince publishers to invest still more resources in another platform they didn’t control, they too used the “faster better stronger” argument for the Accelerated Mobile Pages project:
Facebook and Google both cite the Washington Post as an example of a publisher that exemplifies how to take advantage of these offerings. The Post was also early to adopt another bit of performance-focussed Google magic, Progressive Web Apps.
Here’s how Shailesh Prakash, chief technology officer for the Post, explained why his team has devoted so many resources to these kinds of frameworks: “Our goal was to create the fastest mobile news site possible… A lot of publishers have spent time making their apps very fast, but the mobile web is where the growth is. It’s where the action is.”
To recap: Facebook and Google know that one of the most important aspects of getting people to stay on a site is pages that load quickly and without interruption. The technology leaders at the Post know that the majority of its mobile audience is coming to stories via the web, and that the tolerance for slow page loads is even lower on mobile than it is on desktop.
The threshold for that tolerance? Somewhere between 6 and 10 seconds — after that, your audience heads back to Facebook for another hit of a food video. And yet, a recent DoubleClick study found the average load time for mobile sites accessed via 3G connections is 19 seconds.
According to that DoubleClick study (emphasis in the original):
publishers whose mobile sites load in under five seconds earn up to twice as much ad revenue as publishers whose sites load in 19 seconds. On top of that, sites that load in five seconds saw 25% higher ad viewability and average sessions lasting 70% longer than sites that load in 19 seconds.
There’s a couple things in there I’d like to highlight.
First, revenue. Mobile monetisation is already in the category of wicked problems facing publishers. While digital advertising revenue is going up, it is also going almost entirely to the likes of Facebook and Google and the split is even starker on mobile. If there is an opportunity for publishers to capture even a slightly larger share of those digital pennies, it is an opportunity worth pursuing.
Second, viewability. This is a measure of how many people (or often bots) actually see an ad on a page, and one that started gaining industry currency in or around 2014. For a long time publishers were paid based on how many people they served ads to, and no one was really checking whether anyone ever saw ads. In a world in which advertisers are pushing harder on this, a 25% increase in average viewability isn’t something to sniff at.
Faster loading pages can mean more ad revenue for publishers. And the reverse is true in another way: one of the reasons people turn to ad-blockers is because they speed up page load times. According to a CatchPoint Systems study of five news organizations’ mobile sites, “performance increased an average of 27 percent to 49 percent with ad-blocking software.”
Performance is also crucial part of my equation for how audiences assess editorial quality (EQ):
Here’s a set of equations I’ve made up:medium.com
EQ = (design + advertising experience + performance) * confirmation bias
Over the next several months, I’ll be researching and writing more about the elements of this equation as part of my time as a 2016–17 JSK Fellow at Stanford University.
If you have opinions, perspectives, or data on these issues, do get in touch.