Content Delivery on Mobile Apps

Content Delivery On Mobile Apps

Until recently content delivery and publishing were only optimized for desktop users. We’ve now passed the mobile tipping point, because more than half of traffic on websites is from mobile users. As of April 2015 google started rewarding mobile friendly websites with higher ranking in search results. If your organization website is responsive and mobile friendly, then good job! If you are publishing content on a regular basis however, there are still two problems:

  1. People have to type your website url in the browser on their mobile devices. That’s not as convenient as touching an app icon and launching it.
  2. Your website visitors are unanimous guests unless they login as members. That may not always be an option. It would be nice if you could learn more about your guest visitors without disturbing their experience of reading your content.

To address those issues publishing platforms are offering mobile apps to their readers. A well known example is Medium which is available for both iOS and Android platforms. A mobile app’s user experience is superior to accessing a mobile friendly website. Content loads much quicker. Users can bookmark and save their favourite articles and sometimes even continue reading the material in airplane mode.

If your website is using a content management system, you don’t need a budget as big as Medium’s to have your own content delivery mobile app. Many websites today are using one of the three known content management systems: WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal.They all provide APIs which means we can develop custom apps that connect to your website, pull content, and render them within an app. A mobile app allows you to send out push notifications to your readers and inform them about your future events, promotions, and offerings. It provides more relevant analytics about your readers and topics that they are interested in.

What’s a Content API?

API stands for Application Programming Interface. It is fancy term for how a piece of software can communicate with another piece of software. In case of content APIs, it is the mobile app requesting content from your content management system (CMS) that you are using for your website. Most modern CMS offer APIs either natively or using plugins, modules, or extensions.

Supporting Multiple Content Types

A CMS offers different types of content types. For example WordPress provides Pages, Posts, and Media. WordPress plugins can extend its media types. They offer custom types such as Portfolio Items, Products, or Testimonies. In Drupal you can create different media types by configuration or by installing custom modules. You can access different content types via the API and design custom mobile views for rendering them.

Managing Content Metadata

Every content type has metadata such as publish date, list of authors, and custom fields such as number of views, likes, comments, etc.

Managing metadata can sometimes pose technical challenges. For example if you have hundreds of authors on your website, ideally you’d want the API to return their list as text rather than ids, otherwise you’ll end up matching authors and content within your app. In one of our projects we ended up doing that, because we had little control over customizing the CMS or API data structure. Making sure the authors are displayed in the right order is important, otherwise an author who has contributed more to a piece may not get the recognition they deserve. The only way to know the correct order is from the API response coming from your CMS.

Handling Embedded Content

We can embed different media objects such as photos, videos, youtube, vimeo, flash, slideshows, and so on … within html pages. Embedding media objects on a web page is perfectly ok, but poses technical challenges within a mobile view. Potentially it could compromise the security of your mobile users, too.

Mobile apps prefer that we give them pure and sanitized media objects separately. For example when content is obtained from the API response, it better contain text, image paths, and video urls all as a separate fields. The mobile app reassembles the media objects and recreates the content within the mobile view. This way if somebody attacks your website and place a malicious link or javascript code within your html page, it won’t get carried over to the app and put your readers at risk.

It is possible to make smarter content delivery apps that parse html content, extract all the media type, sanitize them, and then recreate the content by putting them back together. This approach could introduce performance overhead and bugs to your mobile app and we don’t recommend it. It is better if all content preparation happen on the CMS and API end.

Keeping all media objects separate and sanitized, requires making changes to your content entry guidelines. For example you need to create custom fields for your content types for different media objects. Then you need to update all your content types either manually or by custom scripts that automate the process.

Avoid using iFrames and Flash in your content. iOS devices don’t play Adobe Flash content. Many content publishing organizations have stopped using flash content and it is time that you did too.

Analytics

You can collect analytics data on mobile apps just like you do on websites. The most common and recognized analytics tools are – you guessed it – Google Analytics for mobile and Apple app store analytics for iOS apps. If you are new to collecting and analyzing user data, then these services are free and already offer a lot of features. For more sophisticated analytics tools there are services such as Countly and Flurry (from Yahoo) available to you. It is important to consider what metrics are relevant and important to your business model rather than simply picking a service that offers the most features.

Push Notifications

We can integrate push notification (PN) services with content delivery apps.  With PNs, you can send out short messages to people who have installed your app. A PN may offer a Call-To-Action button to redirect your readers to a specific article within the app or web page on the device browser.

PN services provide both the infrastructure and integration libraries for native and hybrid mobile apps. OneSignal is one that is getting a lot of attention lately. Another service is UrbanAirship which has been around since 2009.

Push notifications work seamlessly with native features of mobile devices. A PN is a short and efficient message delivery system, but its usefulness doesn’t stop here. A mobile app can collect tags associated with articles that users read and then pass them to your account with the PN service provider. After some time, you’ll have tags associated with mobile users on your PN account. You can use them to send targeted PNs to your readers based on their topics of interest. Please make sure that your app states this practice in your privacy policy and you are obtaining users’ consent before collecting data from them.

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