How The Shift to Mobile Impacts Online Writers' Bottom Line

by Greekgeek

Google's 2012 Q3 earnings dropped because more people are browsing the web on mobile devices. What's the impact on writers who earn a living with online publishing?

Writers on Wizzley and other publishing platforms such as Squidoo, Hubpages and Zujava have to adjust to a mobile world, just as giants like Google must do.

More and more users are accessing the net with mobile devices, which means more traffic potential! However, the difference in their web use habits and the sizes of their screens may impact our ability to attract readers and make money through advertising and sales.

To some extent, we can adjust our writing approaches to suit the needs and tastes of mobile users. On the other hand, we have to diversify and find new approaches to insulate ourselves against possible earnings losses due to erosion of traditional web traffic.

Image Credit: Steven Goodwin, Stock Xchng

Less Ad Visibility on the Mobile Web

Just like Google, many online writers depend on ads in the sidebar, header, and footer of our pages to generate income. It takes a lot of impressions and/or a lot of ad clicks to add up to much money!

However, mobile device users are viewing the web with much smaller screens which don't have room for as much advertising. Sometimes the ads are pushed off-screen, because the user or device is focusing on the body of the article. At other times, websites actually display different ads. For example, on Wizzley:


Wizzley on a Computer

More Ads in Block A and C
Screencap from my iMac
Screencap from my iMac

Wizzley on a Tablet

Notice Ad Blocks A and C
Screencap from my iPad
Screencap from my iPad

On my desktop computer, I often see multiple text ads in blocks A and C. Whereas on my iPad, those blocks each hold one text ad apiece. I'm sure that's meant to make them readable on smaller mobile devices, where the screen is even tinier. 

On Squidoo, the exact same ad blocks display on desktop and mobile web browsers.

Variations like these depend both on whether the website is designed to serve up a different layout for mobile devices, and on how advertisers detect and respond to mobile users. 

Not only do ads display differently on mobile devices, but also, mobile users' browsing habits differ from those of desktop users.

Fewer Ad Clicks on Mobile Web?

A lot depends on the targeting abilities of the advertising service to detect mobile users and serve ads that suit their tastes.

Mobile users are on the go. They may be browsing from public transportation, a waiting room, a cafe, or any public space. They are often looking up a quick answer to a question or for information about something nearby. Local search is huge on mobile devices!

Luckily, Google knows this and is serving up ads for local businesses related to the search term. 

Unhappily, I suspect that mobile web users may have an additional "trust barrier" to overcome.

Savvy computer users unconsciously look for clues in the look, feel, and content of webpages,  just as we do when talking to people in real life, constantly asking themselves: Can I trust this website? Is this link safe? Will this site put malware on my computer? Will this site steal my personal info, my credit card number?

Savvy mobile users should be even more cautious while browsing via public WiFi networks, plus they're in a hurry, so they may not click ads as often. Or do they?

The only study I've found so far shows that Facebook gets good mobile clickthrough rates on ads, although some of that may be users fumbling with tiny buttons! But Facebook ads are created by and for social users, so they're an excellent match for the mobile community. Other ad networks may not be as successful in converting readers to ad-clickers.

Google Keywords Tip

For your own blogs, Wizzley or Hubpages, don't forget that "Competition" column in Google's keywords tool.

It doesn't show how many webpages are competing with yours for traffic on that search term, so it's not useful for learning how easy it will be to rank for that search term in search results.

However, it shows how many advertisers are competing to BUY ADS using that search term. So if you can get traffic to a page, then using high-competition keywords in your headers, text, categories or tags may give you a better chance of featuring ads that earn a higher Adsense payout!

A Tool to Help with Mobile Advertising Issues

So what can we do? Not much, since we're mostly dependent on advertisers' savvy in creating mobile-friendly ads.

However, there's one thing you can do: change the advanced settings of your keyword research tool to limit results to mobile searchers only. Get a sense what mobile users are looking for.

Take a look at the screencap below to see how to adjust the Google Keywords tool to explore search terms mobile users are looking for (you may want to limit it to mobile web browsers, since that's how our readers view our content): 

Google Keyword Research for Mobile Searches

How to learn what mobile users are searching for
Mobile-Only Searches
Mobile-Only Searches

What About Sales Conversions for Mobile?

Unlike Google, the main sources of income for many Wizzley, Squidoo, Hubpages and Zujava writers are not advertising, but sales commissions.

The same comments I made about satisfying web user's trust concerns are even more important for sales through affiliate links, Amazon widgets, Zazzle, eBay, etc. 

There's also two problems that carry over from desktop browsing: first, shoppers often go straight to the website of a store like Amazon to buy something, and second, Google is putting more and more sponsored "Shopping" results and ads at the top of search results pages, pushing our pages down and out of sight. 

These two problems are compounded on mobile devices. Smaller screen sizes means fewer Google search results are visible per page, so Google Shopping results may be all that web users see for many product searches. More importantly, many people are searching for certain kinds of things — books, music, restaurants, hotels and travel, movie tickets — by using specialized apps, instead of searching the web. I don't use the Amazon Mobile app, because I prefer the traditional website, but I'm sure many shoppers are going straight to the app. We have no chance of selling to these people!

Writing Sales Pages With Mobile in Mind

This means we have to adjust strategies. I think that many articles on single products may suffer: they're targeted at shoppers who already know what they want. 

On the other hand, there's one kind of article that shopping apps, online stores, and Google Shopping cannot replace: articles that compare a group of products or (better) give a "top ten" style list. For example:

  • Top/Best [Product type] of [Year] (e.g.: "Top Tablets of 2012")
  • Top/Best [Product type] for [Purpose] (e.g. "Best Shampoos for Dandruff Control")
  • Five Great [Product type] Reviewed (e.g. "My 5 Favorite Drawing Apps")

In these cases, the shopper is earlier in the buying process and is still trying to figure out what to buy. They may not know what kind of product will satisfy their needs. Or perhaps they've got a general idea what they want, but when they go to Amazon, they find about 20 products match their search, and they're not getting enough information from customer reviews posted there to make up their minds. 

In short, concierge pages that solve a problem, answer a question, or offer a judgment call can do something that automated shopping search tools cannot. 

That's all well and good, but that's the same advice that I give for desktop sales conversions. Is there anything special we can do for mobile buyers? 

First, remember that mobile searchers often look up information on interesting products they see while out and about.  (See this useful Searchengineland article on mobile searchers' habits: it's worth browsing related articles on that site.)

Second, you can use the Google Keyword research tool as I demonstrated above to study what mobile users are looking for.

Third, you can write content suited to the tastes and needs of mobile audiences:

Creating Content for Mobile Users

Think about what mobile users tend to look for:

  • Information about products, landmarks, places, things they see outside
  • Topics that come up in casual conversation that people want to look up
  • Help with transportation, local attractions, restaurants and local business
  • Something to browse while they're stuck waiting somewhere

These can give you some new niches to work on.

More importantly, remember what mobile users tend to buy:

  • Apps (I've started reviewing all the apps I use)
  • Music (although they may go straight to the music store)
  • Things they see on the street (Zazzle hats and t-shirts self-advertise) 
  • iBooks, Kindle books, and other eBooks

Sales potential for electronic books is huge. It may be time to write that eBook you've always put off writing! The eBook market is still limited, and users of mobile devices are desperate for more reading material that isn't priced as high as most of the traditional books converted to e-format on iBooks and Kindle.

The Bottom Line

Our online earnings are going to be impacted by mobile: there's no question of that.

However, the news isn't all bad. Mobile gives people more opportunities to access the web, so there's a potential for more web traffic.

If we consider what mobile users are looking for, if we leverage social media, if we adapt our writing styles to fit the on-the-go and in-the-moment tastes of mobile users, and if we create and promote products that fit the buying patterns of mobile users, then mobile can be a net gain — a new market — instead of simply a competing force pulling away traffic and income souces. 


Marketing to Mobile Readers

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Updated: 10/29/2012, Greekgeek
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Matt on 07/29/2013

Very nice! I know this article is a little dated, but its certainly still relevant today!

kimbesa on 06/01/2013

I'd like this again if I could. Makes more and more sense, all the time, and we swim through choppy waters.

RubyHelenRose on 05/13/2013

Yes, that is the biggest challenge for me too. Changing my global mindset back to the community of mobile searches, very helpful, informative article. My mind is whirling now with new prospects of change. Thank you

poddys on 02/05/2013

Excellent advice, and I think that we will see some major changes in 2013 as there is a big shift towards mobile devices and as websites and Google react to these to try and retain their markey share of earnings.

Exactly how we as writers will manage to adapt I don't know. I suspect that revenue for some topics might well increase, but in other areas we could see a catastrophic fall in earnings as traffic patterns change.

RebeccaE on 01/17/2013

I am glad I came back and re-read this, I was trying to wrap my head around it, yet again, and this has helped a lot.

katiem2 on 11/19/2012

Very good advice. I've been contemplating this myself as everyone I know accesses the web via mobile devices. This is no doubt a trend that's here to stay. Thank you for the helpful insights as to how to adapt. :)K

Mira on 11/04/2012

I really like your suggestion to try and do keyword searches limited to mobile devices. Your comments on "top ten" articles is also something to keep in mind. Your article is very good. Thank you!

whitemoss on 11/02/2012

Thought provoking and helpful, and, as always with your articles, very easy to understand for non geeks like myself.

sheilamarie on 10/29/2012

Really good points, Greekgeek. I also like the descriptions of how people use their smartphones and iPads. These little devices sure have changed the way we do things, and I agree with Brenda and Sheri, we online writers have to change the way we do things continuously if we want to keep up.

Greekgeek on 10/24/2012

Brenda: I was pretty much waiting for the iPad to be invented: a little handheld library computer, like being able to call the USS Enterprise and ask Spock to look up something you need to know when you're stranded on a strange planet. Except that instead of asking Spock to search the ship's library computer, you just call up the web.

I don't want to be interrupted on the go, so I don't have a smartphone, but I treat the iPad like I used to my little blank journal that I carried with me for years: to sketch and draw or to write rough drafts of stories, poems, ideas that I'll forget by the time I get home. It's nearly all the creativity power of a laptop, only it fits in your purse. I also love text-to-speech; while doing chores, I'll have the iPad read back to me things I've written so I can catch typos and awkward phrasings I missed!

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