Native Mobile Apps May Dominate Now, But The Mobile Web Will Endure

If you’re lucky enough to be a huge brand marketer with unlimited budgets, what I’m about to say probably doesn’t apply to you. You have the good fortune to focus on providing not only a phenomenal mobile website experience, but a great experience in mobile apps, as well. Not or, but and, as it should be.

So, you can feel free to use the contact info below to discuss how to take your campaigns to the next level and stop reading this column.

time_spent_donut_hires_v2-resized-600_0For the other 99% of us, the recent announcement by app analytics provider Flurry that users are still spending more time in apps than the mobile web might have made us think twice about where to put our marketing dollars in mobile.

And, that’s a shame. Because a focus on the mobile web is essential for reaching users today and tomorrow, and will be even if the time spent in apps numbers increase. Here’s why:

Games & Facebook Make Up 50% Of The 86% Of Apps That Dominate Time Spent

Anyone who has visited my house understands how much time some people spend in Facebook and games on mobile. My four-year-old recently kicked his Angry Birds addiction and is now on to Jetpack Joyride and Lego Batman.

Like many parents, we have to consciously limit the amount of screen time our toddler has, because if it were up to him he would be playing games on the iPad from the moment he wakes up in the morning to the time we have to pry the device away from him to get him to go to bed.

My son spends a lot of time on his favorite games and even engages with the ads quite a bit. For example, I asked him how he found out about “Get Gilbert,” the Goldfish cracker-themed advergame put out by the Campbell’s Soup Company that he was obsessed with for a good three weeks, and he told me, “Angry Birds told me about it.”

So if you’re a marketer for a game maker or Campbell’s Soup, or someone who markets to children, this is not bad news, exactly. But most marketers thinking about app marketing are going to build app versions of their websites, and those have a tendency to be ignored in favor of gaming and Facebook when it comes to time spent in mobile apps.

Most Facebook Users Aren’t There To Keep Up With Their Favorite Brands

I know this is hard for a lot of us to hear. We’re often obsessed with monthly active users and buying reach when it comes to marketing, but of the 1 billion monthly active mobile users Facebook has, how many of them are there to follow your brand? Likely not many, I’m afraid.

Academic research suggests that people use Facebook for the need to belong and the need for self-presentation; and while some of that may include telling their friends that they like your brand, it may be a much smaller percentage than we as marketers would like to think.

I did an informal poll recently of my Facebook friends, who tend to be either family members or people in the industry using Facebook to market to people, and I asked them if they follow brands on Facebook or hide the brands they follow from their news feed. It was an informal poll from a limited sample, of course, but about half of the people either didn’t follow brands or hid the ones they followed at some point. Here’s a sample of their feedback:

“I tend not to follow brands, and I have been hiding stuff from bands that I’ve previously liked because it’s too much.”

“I’ve only hidden brands that post too much, post about something irrelevant or push me to take an action. The connection needs to be genuine, not forcing me to increase their engagements “Like to vote for a, Comment to vote for b”.”

“I am pretty selective about which brands I’ll “like” on fb. Meaning, I may technically like the brand, in life, but won’t on fb, so as to not annoy everyone and my mom with “nate likes…ads”. I view fb, as more of a place to connect with friends and fam vs. Twitter, where I don’t use to connect with fam, but rather stay connected to news, connect with people I “like” but don’t actually know, and am way more willing to follow brands here.”

“Any brands I’ve followed in the past I’ve hidden. I don’t currently follow brands.”

“I had to double check if I even liked the one brand I could think of because I never see anything from them in my newsfeed.”

This is not to say that Facebook advertising is not effective or that brands that connect with users on the platform intelligently and authentically are not seeing great results. Only that, as Zak Knudson, VP, Product & User Experience at 4C, a company that measures social engagement for brands, says:

Facebook does have a lot of monthly active users on mobile, and many of them spend a lot of time in the platform; but, if you’re trying to understand the value that your media buy brings, you have to look to different KPIs.

Platforms Change, The Web Remains

Most people who have read my columns or heard me speak know that I have very little love for the web design collective known as Future Friendly. For the most part, I think they look ridiculous in their toy space helmets and advocate for responsive web design as a solution to a problem even when dynamic serving or mobile URLs could provide a better user experience. But, one thing I agree with them on is their commitment to the web as a platform that will stand the test of time.

Since 90% of our time is currently divided between multiple screens: computer, tablet, smartphone and TV, a true app strategy would have to develop multiple apps for multiple platforms — not just iPhone or Android, the dominant smartphone platforms.

And, with new platforms emerging every day, like Google Glass and Apple Car Play, developing high quality apps that engage users for every platform can quickly become cost prohibitive even for marketers with the deepest pockets. But, the web works on all platforms, and with the responsive and adaptive web trends that are so popular right now, will continue to provide a good experience for most users regardless of platform.

Apps Are Nowhere In Terms Of SEO

If none of these things convince you to focus on the web rather than apps, consider that Google is still the dominant traffic driver to websites by far, dwarfing even social visits; and, apps are far less visible in Google search than web sites. Unless a searcher uses navigational or app-specific keywords in mobile search, it’s highly unlikely that your app will appear in Google search, regardless of how much time someone spends in it.

Google is making strides to include more app content, showing it for smartphone searches for which the app is already installed on the phone. But not for the great majority of users that aren’t yet aware of your app.

For marketers trying to decide between mobile web and native mobile apps, this is another reason why the mobile web is still the best investment for marketers, regardless of how much time users are currently spending in mobile apps.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Mobile Marketing | Facebook: Advertising | Facebook: Apps & App Center | Facebook: Insights | Facebook: Marketing | Facebook: Mobile | Facebook: News Feed | Facebook: Statistics | Google: Mobile | Google: Search | Google: SEO | Mobile Marketing | Mobile Marketing Column | Native Advertising | Statistics: Mobile Marketing | Statistics: Popularity & Usage | Statistics: Social Media


About The Author: is the Director of SEO Strategy at Resolution Media, and a primary architect of Resolution Media’s SEO product and Clear Target Digital Behavior Analysis. You can follow him on Twitter @BrysonMeunier

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  • Justin Talerico

    Bryson, I absolutely agree with your reasoning that web apps provide a far greater opportunity for marketers than native apps do. Content marketers in particular, have huge, untapped potential to wrap their content in more engaging and actionable interactive experiences — that ‘just work’ everywhere. App-like web experiences are useful by nature and bringing that utility mindset into marketing as a core value takes a brand from an also-ran provider of self-gratifying content to one that people want to engage with, and learn from. And, we all know that we remember experiences far better than words on a page. Cheers!

  • Josefreak Salem

    I’ve been hearing this argument since 2008 and native apps still dominate even when articles like this have been speculating a drastic change year after year. These predictions continue to be wrong, so how much longer will bloggers spout this nonsense? People have to constantly explain why native apps remain a favorite:

    1. People generally like to use one app to do one task well, and they don’t want to search for an online version of it and navigate to it using their browser every time they want to access it. The preferred method (that hasn’t changed in 6 years) is to go to the application library, download the app that does the job well, and be done with it. Now you can leave it running on your phone/tablet for easy access.

    2. Web is great for pull, not so great for push. I’m sure there’s no argument here. We’ve all tried to push data using a browser and how many times have you lost all your work because you mistakenly hit the back button or closed the browser and the cache did not work? I’m sure you’ve done and it pissed you off.

    3. Some of the best apps take advantage of the device’s hardware. Guess what? Not all apps are for reading stories about Tom Cruise.

    4. Given point 1. above, most people want the same looking UI that was made for their device. Sure, I know some Javascript frameworks have come close, but they’re still way too clunky. Just let me use my phone’s interface, because the way you’re designing it looks and works like crap.

    5. Website UI design is not standard, device UI is. We’ve all grown to accept that every webpage is going to have its own UI design whether it be the menu on the top with text, or the menu is on the side and is icon driven. Everyone’s website is different and you have to fish around to figure out how to navigate it. We accept that on the browser, we don’t accept that on our phone/tablet. We want consistent behavior (see point 4).

    6. Speed. Depending on the resource demand of your app, using a mobile browser and javascript might not be good enough and will make your app feel slow and clunky which will make the user think your company sucks at software design.

    7. Competition. My native app works better than your online app. Sorry. Also, my native app works better than his native app. Just look at the ratings! :)

    8. “Write once, run everywhere” has proven to be more of a pita than anything time and time again. Sounds great in theory, but generally takes a lot longer to get to market and maintain over time than if you just wrote a few native apps. If you have good, experience developers, porting to multi-platforms isn’t as evil as people make it sound. In fact, it just makes your company look better in the end, and not “lazy”.

    9. Native code is cleaner and consistent, and the vendors provide you the tools to get the job done faster. Web design and development is cumbersome because you need to know each and every inconsistency in every browser, and you generally need to find people that know 5+ technologies just to build an app. And the worst part? CSS.

    10. A lone developer can make a killing by creating a simple app the does the job well and selling it on an app store. ’nuff said.


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