Loading Times Handicap News Sites on Mobile

Posted: Jan 09, 2015
By Caitlynn Bohannon

Editorial Assistant, Mobile Marketer

January 9, 2015

None of the top 50 print news and media sites recently reviewed by The Search Agency were able to meet Google’s recommended five-second load time threshold. 
The 50 news and media sites studied were chosen by The Search Agency’s team of mobile experts, who analyzed which sites were aligned with mobile marketing best practices. Since mobile-inclined audiences are on the rise, it is best that news corporations optimize their content for mobile and make it as accessible as possible.
“Mobile audiences will continue to grow, especially as some people recognize that they might not need a home computer or tablet, some may only need a phone for their basic Internet use,” said Brandon Schakola, group director of earned media at The Search Agency, Los Angeles. “With this in mind, we will continue to see mobile adoption increase, and different types of digital consumption of media. 
“To that end the most important thing to focus on is page speed,” he said. “Regardless if your content is visible in search engines or social, the actual page the content resides in must load fast enough for people not to bounce from that content. 
“Any bounce away from that content back to the search engine results pages can have negative effects on future visibility in those results, causing a vicious cycle of declining organic traffic. To combat this, focusing on optimizing the most page-heavy items, such as using image and video compression, lazy-loading advertisements, even reducing the number of ads served on mobile devices, are all strategies of coping with the continual growth of mobile news.”
A few setbacks 
As if the media has not taken enough hits over the past decade, mobile is an additional factor that is changing the rules. Newsroom cuts has caused a whirlwind of confusion and worry, and attempting a mobile strategy can cause a similar headache.
However, it is imperative that the media embark down the road of mobile.
For this particular study, The Search Agency included two components: user experience scorecard and an SEO-ranking scorecard.
Those judged could score a total of five possible points.
Mobile user experience best practices evaluated include those set by Google as well as other current functionality and features such as page load time, Web site format, social markup, social media buttons, search bar functionality, app advertisement, and sign-in capability. Similarly, the SEO-ranking scorecard also awarded a possible five points, where Web sites were evaluated on architecture best practices such as large page size, missing meta descriptions, missing title tag information and click depth.
The Guardian received the highest score at 2.5 in the mobile experience scorecard. Time (2.3), New York Post (2.3), Rolling Stone (2.3) and Tell Me Now (2.25) made up the remaining top five. The Christian Post (.7), Mental Floss (.7) and Sports Illustrated (.6) ranked as the lowest three.
Of the 50 news and media sites scored, 40 percent serve as dictated mobile sites, 30 percent served as sites with responsive design, 22 percent served dynamic mobile sites and the remaining 8 percent serve the desktop versions of their Web site on mobile devices.
Key focus points
The report also found some interesting trends regarding social.
While 100 percent of the print news and media sites evaluated exhibited some level of social markup optimization for popular sharing sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and Twitter, only 56 percent of reviewed sites featured social sharing icons directly on their homepages.
Vibe.com, The Atlantic, Philly.com and Motor Trend tied with the highest scores on the SEO-ranking scorecard.
Of the sites scored, 89 percent were missing meta descriptions, 51 percent signaled large page size error warnings, 24 percent suffered from missing title tags, and 4 percent showed some form of click depth greater than three pages.
The Search Agency believes there are several factors that can help news corporations better their mobile offerings.
“Focus heavily on readability, optimizing images for mobile experience, and ensuring that basic social markup is set up for all articles,” Mr. Schakola said. “In the new world of digital-print media, it is imperative that news organizations shift their thinking from an article being complete when it is published towards the article beginning its life when it is published, shared, discussed, and interacted with. 
“There are other strategies in terms of tagging articles for future consumption that should be implemented concerning ‘timeliness,’ only timely once, timely for a month, timely forever, in order to be able to resurface larger narratives, discussions, and tap into larger trends in the social text,” he said.