While the creation of quality content remains at the fore of premium publishers’ priorities, these days, they also need to double down improving the user experience, streamlining how audiences access and engage with content wherever they opt to consume it. This puts companies under pressure experiment with new formats and technologies in search of new ways to meet consumer demand for snackable and relatable content delivered how, when and where they want it.
According to, Lewis D’Vorkin the company’s Chief Product Officer, Forbes is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to accomplish both. Peggy Anne Salz—mobile analyst and Content Marketing Strategist at MobileGroove—catches up with D’Vorkin to discuss how the company is reinventing the mobile app user experience with the help of new technology that removes friction, increases engagement and opens up additional opportunities for monetization.
You have overseen a wave of change that includes the introduction of a new content-creation engine, the launch of an innovative digital publishing platform, and—most recently—a complete rethink of the mobile app experience. Why choose Progressive Web Apps over ordinary native mobile apps?
The Progressive Web App is a lot like a traditional native app experience, but without the hassle and the friction. The reader basically bookmarks it on their home screen, and they have it just like that (!) No going to the Apple App Store. No going to Google Play. No downloading it. No searching it. No installing it. And, once the user gives us their permission, we can send alerts, push notifications and re-engage in all the ways you can on native apps do. It’s just faster and simpler to do all this on Progressive Web Apps.Lewis D’Vorkin: I don’t believe traditional apps will be successful in the news space. Moreover, I think most of them are likely to end up as revenue failures—for several reasons. One, you don’t get the scale required to be able to monetize mobile apps, unless, of course, they’re paid apps. Two, there’s a lot of friction tied to the traditional mobile app experience. People have to go to the app store. They have to find your app and they have to download it.
I don’t believe in native apps. In fact, I didn’t believe in news apps from the start. Now, there are countries like the U.K. where news apps have been successful. But, for the most part, when you look at the apps you have on your phone you’ll see you have utility apps—banking, maps, productivity apps. The appeal of the news apps was a dream.
Your web app is in beta and slated to launch by the end of Q1/early Q2. What is the user journey and experience as they explore the content you offer?
On top of the Progressive Web App comes a new experience based on cards. We began launching Forbes’ new mobile card-like experience in June, starting off with Forbes’ Self-Made Women list. Forbes has been testing two elements of our new mobile card-based experience— lists and articles—allowing readers to engage with bursts of information. And I say engagement because the consumption or usage of card-based lists is extraordinary. In the case of the Forbes 400 [list] average session duration was 45% longer on the new mobile list compared to the current mobile list and engagement, specifically pageviews per session, almost tripled.
The card-like experience is obviously engaging. What will the impact be on how you create the content to match?
There is much more engagement and much more opportunity to create a different kind of navigational construct. For the user, it’s more mobile-centric, allowing them to swipe and tap, and that also creates opportunities for new advertising revenue formats. We are starting to educate our newsroom around how to create new kinds of mobile content that is shorter and much more visual.
It’s why we’re also embarking on creating a new content management system. Today you go into a system like WordPress where the default position is write a headline and write a story. Well, what if the default position had several defaults, allowing you to choose a story format, a photo format, a graphic format, or pick some other format? We’re building a content management system to allow this freedom and choice so that the default of writing a story is no longer the instant thing to do. Of course, it also means reorienting the staff reporters and contributors and getting them to understand and accept that the 800-word story is not the be all and end all of everything. But, after 40 years in this business, that’s what I find the most exciting.
What about advertising? How you going to align this with your chosen format, Progressive Web Apps, and with your audience?
This format is as exciting as it is engaging because we will be able to develop and deploy new kinds of ad formats and ad strategies around time-based advertising versus just pushing impressions. The user experience will also be very beneficial to our BrandVoice platform, which is our native ad platform. Overall, it gives us new and unique ways to integrate native advertising. Imagine our card-like experience, and then imagine if we flipped some of the cards every 5 or 10 seconds, for example. It would also be a very smooth way to time-based advertising. The point is the card format layered on top of the Progressive Web App technology allows us to experiment with new formats, including advertising that is time-based, learn what works. We really don’t know what works yet. But we do know there are many different ways in which different kinds of ad formats will play in here.
How might that help in the delivery of contextually relevant advertising?
It’s simple and it fits with our model that makes us the only brand that enables native advertisers and brands to publish content in the same CMS as our contributors and journalists. In the new content management system that we’re building it will be much easier for us to make connections between what the user is reading and serve up related content, as well as a BrandVoice piece of content in a card perhaps, that complements the user experience, without interrupting it.
Today we get our content from many sources, and social networks top the list of referral sites for some audiences, such as Millennials. What are you going to do to ensure your Progressive Web Apps and card-like content don’t lose steam?
Within the content management system, it’s not just about presenting our contributors and journalists with different options on how to create content, such as a graphic or a photo. It’s about understanding that a particular format may be far more suitable not just to publish on Forbes, but to publish on Instagram or somewhere else. In other words, it’s about creating content once for publication across Forbes.com and whatever social network is appropriate. We’re finding ways to be part of those ecosystems. I believe that what wins at the end of the day are new models, new content creation models, new ad models and new distribution models.