Brian Hamilton: Going mobile-first to meet digital demand | SierraSun.com

Brian Hamilton: Going mobile-first to meet digital demand

Brian Hamilton
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GOING MOBILE

Percentage of mobile users among SierraSun.com’s audience:

March 2019: 55%

March 2018: 51%

March 2017: 50%

March 2016: 41%

March 2015: 38%

March 2014: 25%

March 2013: 15%

As you’ve scrolled to the bottom of stories published at SierraSun.com recently, you’ve likely noticed the ability to comment has been temporarily disabled as we migrate to a new website this week.

For those of us so moved to make our opinions known in the interim, we’ve had to take the time to write out a letter to the editor or an op-ed to be published on these print pages. Call it a temporary throwback. So very 2007 of us.

Fact is, fewer of us find the time to pound out a letter or op-ed, but are quick to comment with a sentence or two — whether on social media sites or at the bottom of our web content. When done well, the feedback furthers the community conversation. Sharing our thoughts or experiences in such a way quickly offers another perspective or interesting insight into the topic at hand.

And, of course, it’s a whole lot easier than pecking out paragraph after paragraph on our smartphones.

We apologize for the interim inconvenience, but we believe it will be worth the hassle when we go live with SierraSun.com’s relaunch this week. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the reader, so we’re sure to hear varying views on what you think. And we do appreciate that feedback, particularly if you come across any bugs that need to be worked out. The design not only offers a clean look, but also a great deal more flexibility in how we present stories, photos, videos, audio, graphs and various other forms of online storytelling.

But the driving force behind the redesign is a mobile first approach, ensuring a more user-friendly experience for the majority of our online audience that now visits SierraSun.com through a mobile device. That’s right. Mobile now makes up the largest share of digital traffic.

In March, 55% of SierraSun.com users were on a mobile device, that continues a five-year trend that saw a jump from 15% in March 2013 to 51% in 2018. That’s definitely a digital direction we can’t afford to ignore if we’re going to continue our online audience growth. Over the past three years, we’ve seen steady growth with 41% more users and 5% more page views, which reached a high of 3.2 million in 2017.

More mobile means more scrolling through social media, and for many websites fewer page views — or at least slower growth than number of users — as users click on a story that interests them, consumes the information and most often then return to the social site where they started. Much of SierraSun.com’s growth is due to our social media effort, championed by our digital editors — a role we added three years ago, as we share stories through The Sun NOW, Facebook, Twitter, push notifications, daily newsletters and breaking news text alerts (Text SierraSun to 86677 to join).

The growth we’ve seen in total online audience has led us to now look and growing our “loyal” reader base, those users who regularly return to SierraSun.com for news and information. Our goals there are largely based hyper-local coverage, which what we’ve done well and how we’ve remained relevant to the community we’ve served now for the past 150 years.

It’s through our digital metrics that we actually now have data on which to base decisions for our enterprise reporting. Certainly, it’s clear that breaking news events like fires, storms, crime and car crashes are going to be well read. But we also know that the community is deeply interested in issues surrounding housing, the environment, economic development, cannabis, outdoors and entertainment. Those are among the topics we plan for “big reads,” or more in-depth coverage of ongoing issues.

It’s also that level of coverage that has earned the Sierra Sun recognition from our journalistic peers across the state.

It’s not easy pulling off such deeper dives while juggling ongoing work in the grind of this “daily miracle” online. But we know that not only are these in-depth pieces read, but they also help to further discussion and bring about potential solutions.

And for those who have been patiently waiting rejoin the community conversation with our comments feature, the good news is we should be back up and running at full power with the new design early next week — if all goes well and according to plan.

We hope you enjoy the fresh look, as well as the ease of use (particularly for our mobile users). Let us know what you think, as well as any bugs you encounter and any suggestions you have for SierraSun.com.

Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at bhamilton@sierrasun.com or 530-477-4249