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Behind the NY Times' new mobile interface

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The New York Times in May debuted an updated mobile site, turning its attention to a platform that captures a growing stream of traffic from the open Web, particularly social media sites. “Given the sharing nature—and how that continues to proliferate—we see a lot of our traffic coming through different [social] channels,” said Michael Behr, mobile product manager at the Times. Those users end up accessing the Times' content via its mobile site rather than its mobile apps, he said. The move indicates a strategic shift for the company. The Times had focused its mobile strategy on apps for iOS and Android products, he said. “We see higher engagement in the apps. It's a more dedicated, engaged audience. But given that the traffic keeps rising in the browser, we're trying to look at the audience and the scale, and increase engagement among those users.” The mobile site averages more than 52 million mobile visitors a month, a Times spokeswoman said. In April, the number was 62 million. The relaunch marks the first major update of a mobile site introduced in 2006, when RIM's BlackBerry brand and a click-enabled interface ruled the market. The new site, built for today's touch devices, employs responsive design to deliver form-fitting content across the mobile market. “Given [the mobile Web's] accessibility from a wider array of devices, it should be an integral part of mobile strategy,” said Rebecca McPheters, CEO of research and consulting company McPheters & Co. The question is how to provide access without undermining a paid model. “Mobile should be dependent on a paid content model, given the limitation of ad exposures.” The Times continues to offer nonsubscribers 10 free article views per month. The publisher improved the subscription function on the site, making it easier for visitors to convert, Behr said. The Times also added new ad formats and geo-targeting capabilities. Full-page interstitial advertisements are embedded in articles, and the pages of the mobile site feature two banner placements, one positioned at the top of the content and one at the bottom. “Advertisers are seeing the scale that you can get through the browser, so [the platform is] becoming more important,” Behr said. “We're increasing the real estate. .... we're seeing demand for these full-screen interstitials.” Advertisers are opting for digital placements that run across the Times' Web and mobile sites, as well as its apps, he said. The Times has overhauled the design of the site and added a commenting function, as well as swipe navigation, improved article recommendation and the ability to save articles for access from all Times products. An improved search feature uses the same engine as the website, offering more comprehensive results. Developers emphasized performance, optimizing content to load quickly for assets such as slideshows as well as breaking news. Behr said the Times will continue to roll out adaptations of the mobile site. “We're hoping to add more bells and whistles as we continue to grow this audience and make them more engaged.”
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