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Having a Mobile Strategy Is Like Having a 'Laptop' Strategy 20 Years Ago

The Reality Is Mobile Is Not Just Another Channel

By Published on .

Having a mobile strategy understates the importance of mobile. It's like having a side dish of steak. It suggests that mobile is one of many important online distribution channels, as opposed to the reality – it is the most important channel, and in fact, making a distinction between the desktop and mobile web is a mistake.

You could imagine a similar debate going on when laptops emerged on the scene in significant numbers in the 1990s. Industry executives were probably saying things like: "They have smaller screens, does software need to be designed differently, should we have a laptop strategy for packaged software, etc." I can remember lugging around my Toshiba with its orange gas-plasma screen.

However, according to Pew, between 2006 and 2011, laptop ownership has gone from 30% to 52%, and desktop ownership has gone from nearly 70% to 59%. Among 18 to 34 year-olds, 70% own a laptop, with only 57% saying they own a desktop. (I think the study lets you answer "yes" to multiple devices.)

What's more, people use these devices interchangeably and expect their files and use cases to work seamless across them. Laptop use became the norm, or at least not the side dish.

Facebook vs Google referrals
Facebook vs Google referrals

For mobile this will be even more pronounced. We've seen BuzzFeed's mobile traffic as a percent of all unique visitor traffic go from 20% to 40% in the past 12 months. I see no reason with LTE networks finally rolling out in a real way, that this couldn't jump to 70% or 80% within a couple years. This is especially true for media sites- content people consume when they have available time.

Further, as social becomes a greater percent of traffic for most sites - Facebook at parity with Google for the referral traffic it sends to many publishers – mobile is even more essential. Social means mobiles, and content needs to flow and format seamless from desktop to mobile, mobile to tablet, mobile to mobile etc. Content now can't spread in any real way without mobile.

Finally, I do not want to download your app. I just want to read the content on the mobile web and possibly share it if I'm engaged. The constant knee-jerk interruption of full-screen app download messages every time I load sites is beyond frustrating. Many site owners seems convinced that this frustration, which no doubt dampens the velocity and volume of content sharing, will translate into loyal downloading app users. I'm thinking, "good luck with that ."

The only answer is one overarching strategy that acknowledges that mobile, a smaller screen, will be the dominant way in which people access and share content.

Jon Steinberg is president of BuzzFeed.
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