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The growth of mobile has had an impact on many key areas of news publishing, from the way content is produced to a move towards responsively-designed websites.

And in the last two or three years that publishing has reached a "tipping point" in terms of audiences accessing news via mobile or tablet devices, explained Martin Ashplant, director of digital and social media at business news site City AM.

Speaking at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit, Ashplant explained that the outlet is in the "very early stages of its digital expansion".

He joined the outlet in May from his former role as Metro's head of content, where he played a key part in the launch of the outlet's responsive website and app in late 2012.

What we're finding is people are using mobile regardless of ages or demographicsMartin Ashplant, City AM
With the exception of an initial brief but well-publicised dip in traffic, the move saw a big leap in Metro's overall year-on-year visitors, with the majority of those visitors coming from mobile.

This change was most evident in February, when Metro's monthly visitors reached 27.5 million, an increase of nearly 350 per cent on the same month the previous year.

By contrast, internal figures from January show City AM's traffic consisting of more than 66.6 per cent of visits coming from desktop, with mobile accounting for just 33.2 per cent.

"You could argue that the City AM audience, being more business and finance orientated, are perhaps less inclined to be on mobile than your traditional Metro audience," said Ashplant, "maybe they use mobile less".

"But what we're finding is people are using mobile regardless of ages or demographics.

"People interested in business or finance are still as likely to be using their mobile on the commute home, or picking up the tablet in the evening, as anyone using Metro, Vice or BuzzFeed or anything else."

City AM moved to a responsive website and responsive email for its daily newsletter, and worked to reduce the load time for the site's pages, something publishers "should never underestimate from a user's point of view," said Ashplant.

"If the site doesn't load quick enough on mobile, they will lose interest and they will go away."

City AM
Screengrab from CityAm.com

From an editorial point of view, City AM also began "focusing heavily" on data journalism and visualisation and "working out how that works on mobile".

Ashplant pointed to work done by Trinity Mirror's data site Ampp3d as a good example of "really compelling" content around data, graphics and stats, optimised for mobile.

And on the commercial side of the business, the outlet also moved its focus away from "desktop-based ad types" such as page skins and MPUs – which do not render well on mobile – and instead began doing a lot more around native advertising.

Following these changes, mobile traffic is now quickly gaining on desktop, with 44 per cent of unique visits from mobile and tablet devices in September – representing a 190 per cent increase in overall mobile visitors from January.

If it doesn't work on mobile, it doesn't go outMartin Ashplant, City AM
"It will not be long before it is 50/50 and then the growth area will be mobile," said Ashplant, "no doubt about that at all".

Advice for mobile publishing

For news outlets aiming to grow traffic from mobile and tablets, Ashplant also shared a few tips:

1) Get a mobile-friendly CMS (content management system)

"You've got to make your CMS work on mobile, and you've got to show mobile previews," said Ashplant, adding that editorial teams needed to be able to see how content would appear on smaller screens before publishing.

Mobile was central to the redesign process at Metro, he explained, both in terms of design and content.

"If it doesn't work on mobile, it doesn't go out," he said.

"You've got to start getting into that mentality otherwise you're always going to be seeing mobile as the second sibling."

2) Get social media savvy

"Social and mobile are intrinsically linked," said Ashplant.

People tend to share content more via mobile devices, he added, so it was essential to consider your audience and identify the kind of content they are likely to share.

"If you understand who your audience is and what it is that makes them share, then you're going to win half the battle straightaway."

3) Keep it simple

Smaller screens mean publishers have to "get their message across more quickly," said Ashplant.

"Whether it's visual or whether it's text, get that message across as easily and simply as you possibly can."

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