When 30% to 40% of overall digital activity is coming from mobile apps and smartphone browsers, publishers have to start asking themselves how much cannibalization is about to take place. But according to Shravan Goli, President of Dictionary.com, the massive growth his company has seen among his 50 million monthly users is happening across the board. When it comes to looking up a word, the core competency of Dictionary.com across its mobile site and multiple apps, the mobile platform has simply expanded the scenarios. "We find mobile enables discovery of information in more use cases and filling pockets of time during the day that were not filled by us," Goli says. Most people don't have their desktop browser at hand during a heated Scrabble debate, but they have their cell phone. "That is a use case that didn't exist two years ago," he says. And so for the 18 months that Dictionary.com has had an aggressive mobile presence, all it has seen is the pie grow in all dimensions.
Mobile is about engagement and frequency, when compared to Web usage patterns, Goli says. That third or more of traffic to the dictionary.com properties is coming from only 15 million mobile users vs. 45 million on the Web. "We see two to three times the site engagement in page views and visits," he says.
Because Dictionary.com has presence across the platforms, it is in a unique position to see how the various devices embody a range of usage patterns. There have been over 30 million app installs, with more than 12 million on iPhone, 2 million on iPad, 9 million on Android and 8 million on BlackBerry. On a month to month basis Android is in the obvious ascendancy -- about 20% to 60% higher than iOS installs in a given month. But as we have heard elsewhere, iPhone continues to lead on a page view basis, and this translates to ad engagement as well, Goli says. "We are working on the monetization on Android," he admits. "The eCPMs are sometimes as low as three times and lower." CTRs are lower on Android than other devices as well. He credits the ad networks with working on the issue and says the platform clearly is still evolving, as so much of the ad money and creative attention is still aimed at iPhone.
One reason not to judge Android behaviors and ad engagement too quickly is because use patterns are shifting quickly here. For instance, early in Dictionary.com's presence on the platform, Android use was resembling more iPad than iPhone use, in that Android users were interested in the push content like "Word of the Day" notifications. But that pattern changed as the Android base widened, and now it more closely resembles the iPhone.
As for the iPad, Goli says the company sees a different mode at work in the way people are interacting with content here -- more learning and media consumption modes. "There is almost 2 times the use of audio on the iPad, like word pronunciations," he says. On the weekends iPad use eclipses iPhone use, and the tablet is also where he is seeing the highest eCPMs. "With the iPad we are able to offer richer formats and not take up the real estate of a small device. If the ads are interesting or relevant and you are in consumption mode, you will use those ads."
Dictionary.com optimizes across a number of ad networks and does a small but growing direct sales business. Goli says the budgets are still pretty small in the space and not conducive to highly granular targeting. But content like dictionary.com can conceivably offer some search-like targeting capabilities. Aside from the stray Scrabble dispute, many entries involve subject matter users are interested in discovering.
The challenge and opportunity for an eponymous URL like dictionary.com is to break out of its narrow identification as a word look-up source to become a broader publishing brand. Apps are a great venue for that, because the brand can spin off task-specific and entertainment products like flash cards and translation functions and then determine whether they should be folded into the core product. "We both spin off to apps and also integrate," Goli says. "We don't want bloatware. Additions like speech to text, recently implemented, make obvious sense. "We are sensitive to making it useful and keeping what it stands for, but giving people the ability to snack on other things."
In many ways, what Dictionary.com is trying to do on mobile and on the Web is return to one of the fundamental appeals of the dictionary itself. How many times have you picked up a dictionary in task mode looking for a single word and then found yourself converting to grazing mode -- thumbing through and randomly discovering more? The serendipity and random roaming of analog information retrieval is not easily virtualized by digital.