The new version of the iOS and Android “live” smartphone and tablet is formatted to better reflect the news agenda by weighting story cards in order of their editorial importance, rather than just listing articles in a stream like many other news apps.
Other new features include greater personalisation – allowing users to select sections, sports teams or journalists to feature on their homepage – offline reading, improved visuals and the integration of The Guardian’s Witness citizen journalism platform.
On the advertising front, marketers will now be able to direct-buy units across the Guardian’s smartphone, tablet and desktop offering for the first time. New formats for the app include a “superbanner” that spans the full width of the screen, bigger in-stream mid-page units (MPUs) and full-screen interstitial ads.
Ads on the app are treated with the “same respect as content”, according to Tom Grinsted, group product manager of mobile and devices.
He adds: “Ads on devices to date have been extraordinarily poor. We didn’t want to be actively facilitating a carbuncle bolted on experience, or even worse something interruptive to the flow. We have created ad formats that add to the experience, it’s a holistic part of the experience, not an afterthought.”
Lee Fels, the Guardian’s head of mobile and video, says the publisher opted against creating a native ad format as it wanted to instead simplify the buying process in the hope of increasing mobile revenues by offering brands “audiences rather than platforms”.
He also added that the company is exploring further functionality such as the ability to buy programmatically across the apps, sequential ad targeting across devices and targeting based on how users personalise the app.
Digital revenue ambitions
The app update is an “important and exciting moment for the business”, according to the Guardian’s commercial director Nick Hewat. By simplifying the ad buying process and running MPUs across all platforms, he predicts mobile revenues will grow “substantially” and begin to close the gap between consumer time spent on mobile and advertiser budget devoted to the platform.
The Guardian’s digital revenues are forecast to increase 25 per cent year on year to almost £70m in the year to the end of March 2014 when it releases its annual report this summer – growth the outstrips the overall rise in online ad revenue from UK publishers, up 18 per cent in the year to December 2013, according to Deloitte and the Association of Online Publisher’s digital publishers revenue index.
The Guardian does not strip out specific mobile revenue figures, but Hewat says it would be irrelevant to look at them in isolation. Instead a better user experience across mobile and the ability to sell across its digital stable will give the publisher the platform to do “big deals with agency groups”, boosting digital revenue growth further over the coming months, he added.
Hewat would not reveal specific download targets for the updated version of the app, but did say it is hoped it will equal the total amount of downloads its apps have achieved so far. The latest public total downloads figure from the Guardian was 1 million.
It is hoped a worldwide release will also increase the Guardian’s standing amongst overseas readers. April’s digital ABC revealed 66 per cent of The Guardian’s website users are international, but as many of these readers may have landed on the site via search or social and the ABC report does not make clear the amount of app users, it is hoped the new user experience will increase international readers’ affinity towards the brand.
Research ahead of the update found that Guardian readers who also downloaded the app increased their total engagement by up to as much as 50 per cent. As much as a fifth of all Guardian page views come via the app, the publisher claims.
Hewat said: “We have the brand, the quality journalism but now the quality of the product will enable us to really grow. The Scott Trust [the Guardian’s sole shareholder] gives us a competitive advantage because it enables us to play a longer-term game that other publishers find difficult due to their PLC status or financial constraints, that leads to them making shorter term objectives [when it comes to new digital products].”
The app update is being supported with a marketing campaign carrying the strapline “The whole picture. The Whole Time” that will primarily feature on the Guardian’s own channels. The Guardian is also buying direct response media to extend the reach of the app to new users, across Facebook, Twitter, search and mobile display.