Mobile’s been a hot topic for a while now. We know it’s not something to be ignored, but when it comes to different mobile mediums, it can be tricky to determine where to focus your efforts. In this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand goes over the differences between marketing via mobile apps and mobile web, examines some criteria that can help guide your decision, and speculates about the future of the mobile world in general.
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat a little bit about the mobile world and specifically whether we should be investing our mobile marketing efforts into the mobile web — meaning a website that is responsive and adaptive or just specifically designed for mobile browsers — or whether we should be worried about building a mobile app to help draw in traffic and gain customers and users. I think these two worlds are actually quite different.
So I spent a bunch of time recently here internally at Moz going through a huge number of statistics, trying to gather as much data as I could to understand these two worlds, and I thought I’d share that with you. I’ll give a bunch of links in this presentation, probably a good dozen of them that I’ll make sure are in there.
- Pew Internet: Smartphone Use in 2015
- Comscore & MarketingLand: Apps Eat Digital Media Time
- Morgan Stanley & MarketingLand: No, Apps Aren’t Winning, the Mobile Browser Is
- IAB Study & MarketingLand: Despite Time Spent, Mobile Web Just as Important as Apps
- Fred Wilson [AVC]: Mobile Web is Top of Funnel, Mobile Web is Bottom of Funnel
- MarketingLand: Search is Number One Content Discovery Tool for Mobile Users
- SimilarWeb & Clickz: Why Mobile Web Still Matters in 2015
- Andrew Chen: Mobile App Retention Rates
- Smart Insights: Mobile Marketing Statistics
- Think with Google: Mobile Path to Purchase
- Comscore: 2015 Mobile App Report
- Forrester: Mobile Users Spend 80% of Time in Just 5 Apps
- Nielsen: So Many Apps, So Much More Time for Entertainment
- TechCrunch & Nielsen: An Upper Limit for Apps
- TechCrunch & Forrester: Only 5 Apps See Heavy Use
- VentureBeat: Mobile Browser Traffic is 2X Bigger than App Traffic
- Quartz and Comscore: Most Smartphone Users Download 0 Apps per Month
Mobile web qualities
Just to give you a broad overview, basically the mobile web kind of looks like this.
There’s a lot less time spent in the mobile web, meaning on mobile websites on a mobile device, than there is in the world of apps — far, far less time spent. But weirdly, and this is very strange but confirmed by several different sources, there’s more traffic overall, meaning more unique people making more different visits, which makes a little bit of sense when you think about how those things are done. Remember that a visit to a web page is a much less intense activity than loading up a mobile app and then spending time in it. So sure that can make some sense.
It’s also growing faster. So the mobile web is about two times bigger in terms of raw traffic, and it is growing faster than the mobile app world, which will also make sense in a sec when we talk about apps.
This is Morgan Stanley data. I think they’re using comScore as one of their sources, and there’s another one that backs this up as well.
Mobile traffic is also highly distributed, and you can see that in everyone’s numbers, everyone from SimilarWeb to comScore to Nielsen. They’re all reporting this. It’s a lot like desktop, which again makes sense.
It’s not that we spend all our time on just a few websites. In fact, because so much of the time that we spend on the web in desktop is on Facebook’s website and on YouTube’s website, and that is mostly app traffic in the mobile web, the long tail looks really long when it comes to the mobile web. There’s essentially tons of people visiting tons and tons of different websites all across there, I think on average visiting a few hundred to a few thousand unique websites in a month across mobile browsing.
For the mobile web, search, social, and word of mouth or type in or bookmarking, those are the big sources of mobile referrals, which isn’t surprising. Those are pretty big on desktop as well.
So pretty distributed broad system here. A lot of similarities to the desktop web. We’re pretty familiar with this world.
Mobile app world
Mobile app world qualities, kind of different though. Apps dominate. I mean dominate like they crush the times that we spend on mobile devices. So you might have seen Mary Meeker’s State the Internet Report for this year showing that mobile traffic in 2014 eclipsed desktop traffic.
Desktop traffic is weird. It basically kept growing, growing, growing from 1990 to 2010, and then it’s basically today almost exactly where it is in 2010. Weirdly, I think a good trivia question would be, “Do people spend more or less time on desktops today than they did five years ago?” Of course, we would all say, “Well, they spend less.” But actually we spend a teensy, tinsy bit more than we did then.
It’s just that mobile has gone crazy. Mobile has eaten up all of the rest of the time in our lives. We don’t see our friends or family any more. We don’t eat meals. We just browse our mobile devices.
So mobile is about 85% to 90% depending on the source of time spent on mobile. It’s your YouTubes and your Facebooks and all those kinds of things.
It sends and receives far fewer referrals. So basically, most of the ways that people are getting to apps is not from another app or from a website. It’s directly from the launcher. They’re going to their home screen. They’re clicking on that app. That makes pretty good sense.
But they’re also not sending out as much traffic. So if you’re browsing Facebook on a mobile device, it seems like, on average, you’re less likely to click on to a mobile web link and then load up a web page versus maybe if you’re browsing Facebook on the desktop web, which also makes sense. You want to stay in the app that you’re in. Mobile speeds are slow or especially outside of countries where 4G and LTE are common.
The top 25 to 50 apps in mobile — and it depends on who you ask — some sources are showing that just the top 5 apps are responsible for 80% to 90% of all app usage. This is data from Forrester and data from comScore. Marketing Land did some work on this.
So what we’re essentially saying here is if you’re not in the top 25 to 50 apps on a platform, you’re probably getting very little mobile app activity, because it turns out that the long tail is nowhere near like it is on the mobile web. People don’t visit hundreds and thousands of apps. They visit just a few.
In fact, the average mobile owner uses about 24 apps per month, 24 unique apps per month and visits between 10 and 30 times as many unique websites in a given month.
Seven percent of heavy app users (so the people who download the most apps, who use the most apps), they’re responsible actually for 50%, a full half of all download activities.
So it’s sort of a small subset of app users who just go crazy. They download every app that they can. They treat apps like websites. They have this huge long tail. But for the 93% of the rest of us, a little bit different.
Most new discovery for mobile apps comes from three sources — mobile web, word of mouth, or app store top lists. That tends to be how we get to the app world.
So these two are very, very different. They’re different in usage. They’re different in how they operate. They’re different in how you would need to do marketing around them.
Things every business needs to optimize for mobile web
It’s my general opinion, based on what I’ve seen about the mobile web, that every business needs to optimize for the mobile web, and you have to optimize in a few ways. That means you must have responsive or adaptive design. It’s not just an option any more.
You’ve got to have a mobile search-friendly experience, so being able to get the mobile search-friendly tag, which means you can rank better.
But it also means that you’re delivering a better user experience from search because search is so big to the mobile web world.
You should be SEO-aware and optimize your site for search engines. That’s critical. If you’re watching Whiteboard Friday, you’re probably doing a fine job with that.
You need to load fast, even on slow connections.
I think one of the challenges is that a lot of us assume that everybody is on 4G or everybody is on LTE. That is not the case, especially in a lot of the developing world. But even in the United States and in Europe and in other countries like Japan, there are plenty of connection speeds that are slow or limited due to where people are, particularly when they travel or are inside buildings or are having connectivity issues. I’m sure you’ve all experienced that.
Finally, you’ve got to provide that great user experience and a great content experience that delivers answers quickly.
So I don’t mean just loads fast. I mean gives people the answers they’re looking for quickly, because as we know, Google is using click-through rate and pogo-sticking and all those kinds of things. If you have a bad experience where you’re not delivering, even if your page loads fast, you’re not delivering the answers someone was seeking when they performed a mobile search, they land on your mobile web page, they’re going to click the “Back” button and choose somebody else. They’re less likely to choose you in the future, and Google is less likely to rank you in the future. Very frustrating.
My take on mobile app development
But mobile app development — again, this is my opinion — I think that there are plenty of folks out there who have reasonable disagreements about the way that I think about this. But based on what I’ve seen, I would generally recommend that mobile app development is only right for your organization if you fit a few criteria.
(A) You need to have a great strategy around what your mobile app will do and that there need to be features and value that your app provides that you could not provide well or could not provide at all in a mobile web experience. Apps can do things like push notifications, even when the app is dormant. That’s very, very tough for a website to do, although Google has talked about potentially making that available in Chrome someday. So maybe.
Integration with contacts or integration with other apps. Integration with the phone features itself, the calling and the device system or the root functions of the phone. Those types of things, if you can provide value off of that that you could not do through a mobile website, okay.
By the way, the mobile web provides a lot more features and functionality than many folks often think it does. I’ll link you to another great piece (What the Web Can Do Today) that was on Hacker News the other day that has just a great chart of all the things that you might want to be able to do and whether they’re supported on mobile web or app or both.
(B) You’ve got to be able to convince not only yourself but convince your team, convince your audience that you can be among the top few — let’s say hundred — apps in the world, or you only need a small handful, maybe a few hundred to a few thousand people that install your app in order for it to be successful.
If you can’t make one of those claims — either we’re going to be one of the top few hundred apps in the world, or we only need a few hundred to a few thousand people on our app — well, the way apps work is the rich, the dominant apps get all the traffic, all the activity.
I think it can be very frustrating to say, “Hey, we’re going to build a great app that sits somewhere in the middle of the pack just like our website sits somewhere in the middle of the pack.” That’s not how it works. All the attention goes to the most popular apps.
(C) Your app can beat the retention curve odds.
So again, in my research what I found time and time again is that mobile app retention, it’s just awful, terrible. Basically, the overwhelming majority of apps, I think more than 9 out of 10 apps will never be opened again after 90 days. So you’ve got to find a way to make your app retain users and keep their interest, keep them coming back to you again and again, and that is no small feat.
(D) You’ve got an amazing team of app developers or an incredible one or two people who can do great app development and make a world-class product.
Because if you’re not going to be best in class, app world just doesn’t feel like it’s worth it.
This could all change if…
All right. Now let me add a quick caveat at the end of this. So what I want to say is that this world of apps versus mobile web could change.
In fact, I think there’s a lot of people in the SEO world who believe that it’s on the verge of changing because of what Google is doing with mobile app integration into mobile web search.
So if I do a search today for “best pasta Portland” on my mobile device, I am going to get pretty much exclusively mobile web content. That’s true until and unless I perform a search that really is very app-focused or app-centric. So if I were to perform a search like “find best local restaurants near me,” it might come up with Yelp or a travel destination app. Google will pull up in my results probably TripAdvisor and stuff like that. That is happening a little bit today, and we do see it. I think there’s folks who are going, “Hey, this is an opportunity.” It is an opportunity.
But Google has also made another change where they are now indexing content inside of apps, including in Facebook, which was a big announcement a few weeks ago, and potentially will be placing those inside of the mobile search results, potentially even if you don’t have that app installed. That’s the game changer. If it turns out that mobile search, which is now more than 50% of all search, becomes a place where Google does sort of what they did with Google+, remember where they were giving highly biased, preferential treatment to posts that had been Google Plussed, even from people who were barely in your network or connected to another person and they made Google+ like this center of the local ecosystem and all those kinds of things.
If they do the same thing in the app world and they give this biased, preferential treatment across the board to apps rather than to mobile web content, we could see this equation start to change. Then it might make sense to say, “Hey, even if I can’t attract and keep people and build the best app in the world, maybe I should build an app anyway just to be able to expose my content and get the benefit to Google.”
I think it would be a little bit of an odd move from Google, but it’s not impossible, and I think in 6 to 12 months we’re going to know a lot more. There’ll be plenty of studies and data about the clickstream patterns on mobile search and how often the results appear and how often they’re clicked and how often that leads to a mobile app download. All those kinds of metrics should be available in the next 6 to 12 months. Then we’ll be able to report back to you with a lot more about whether this equation has changed.
All right, everyone. Look forward to your comments and we will see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.