• Advertising

The Marketer’s Dilemma: Mobile Web vs App

Tanvi Kapoor
Tanvi Kapoor
Director - Product Marketing
5 min read
Posted on February 18, 2016
The Marketer’s Dilemma: Mobile Web vs App

The Mobile Web vs Mobile App dilemma is perhaps one of the most common battles fought within the silent recesses of the mobile marketer’s mind. For marketers investing in mobile advertising, the decision between mobile web and mobile app is not just one of inventory but truly a choice between reach and engagement. If effectiveness of mobile advertising is the goal, then there are five prominent axes which need to be taken into account when making this decision.

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User Engagement:

Today, mobile content has evolved to snackable content to account for the shortened attention span of mobile users. Be it games, news or social updates, average session time rarely goes beyond a few minutes. While the app ecosystem has exploded with more than 20,000 apps being launched every month, users tend to download and retain only their most used apps. But for these apps, session lengths, user retention and frequency are very high. In comparison, almost 55% of mobile websites are visited via clicks on links in apps or recommendations, with the intention of returning back to the original app, resulting in low session times, weak attention span and increased accidental clicks.

It is no surprise then that comScore reports that 88% of smartphone usage is driven by apps.


Visits to mobile websites are generally the result of user initiated searches or clicks indicating the interest and intent of the user. As such, keywords scraped from the mobile website are a rich data source for identifying audience personas. A large number of advertisers depend on these direct indicators when setting up targeting for these campaigns. On the other hand, targeting on mobile apps is a function of inferred interests (given that the most used apps generally belong to the social, news and games categories). A large number of data signals such as demographics, location history, purchase behaviour, ad engagement behavior, etc. need to be crunched together to build reliable audience personas. While advertising on mobile websites seems straight forward, it is imperative for advertisers to identify the right partner when leveraging in-app mobile advertising.


Perhaps the biggest argument in favor of mobile apps is the robust attribution and tracking that apps allow through standardized signals such as the Google Referrer ID or Apple IDFA. This allows marketers to track the effectiveness of their campaigns in terms of direct response as well as down the funnel metrics such as brand awareness, recall and in-store footfalls. Mobile web, which relies primarily on cookie based tracking, suffers from attribution challenges such as cookie refresh, mismatch between cookies in the default browser and used browser, and post view tracking.

Creative Capabilities:

Brand advertisers have often relied on interactive ad creatives to engage with their target audience and build a relationship with the user. As an interactive medium, digital (both desktop and mobile) offered advertisers the chance to move from a passive message delivery to an interactive form enabling user engagement in the true sense. These advertisements, leverage the latest device capabilities like accelerometer, camera, location, etc. and as such work effectively only on mobile apps. On the mobile web, rich media ads are generally authored in HTML5 and remain limited to video and audio units without the goodness of mobile innovation.

Ad Blocking:

The argument to end all arguments - Ad blocking is a huge menace affecting the mobile web world. Since the launch of iOS 9, there has been an influx of ad blocking apps on the app store. Targeted primarily at mobile websites and browsers, ad blocking has serious impact on ad impressions on the mobile web. Mobile apps, however, continue to remain ad-pro (Ironically, Google went so far as to block ad blockers from Google Play). The threat of ad blocking has also given rise to the question of viewability to ensure advertisers pay only for viewable impressions.

With these parameters in mind, marketers allocating advertising budgets for mobile can make an informed decision on their media of choice to maximize ROI on the small screen.

About the Author

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Tanvi has been in the telecom industry for the last 6 years and is successfully using her understanding of the mobile user in the exciting mobile advertising ecosystem. In her latest role, she is responsible for dissecting the inspirations behind the user behavior on the mobile and identifying the best monetization strategies for the evolving mobile ecosystem.

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