Crossing the App Gap

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Google recently implemented two main changes to its search algorithm: For the mobile web, they instituted lower rankings for URLs that don’t adhere to Google’s mobile-ready guidelines. For apps, they started indexing for users who have the apps installed and are also signed in.

That raises the question: Besides search, how do consumers find mobile content? By directly entering a URL? Through social media? Via in-screen app views?

In this regard, apps become not an end in themselves, but a tool that’s part of the total mobile experience. This view is reinforced when you look at the results of the Interactive Advertising Bureau/Harris Poll recent study, Apps and Mobile Web: Understanding the Two Sides of the Mobile Coin, which found that “more than half of smartphone owners use apps to lead them to content on the mobile web.”

Specifically, 52% of smartphone users said they tapped in-app links that took them to web articles. Other highly-used mobile web links that are regularly embedded in apps include news aggregators and social media. And with ads on the mobile web often directing users to apps, the process obviously works both ways.

But do consumers notice or care?

The IAB cited fall 2014 data from comScore showing that while 88% of mobile time was spent on apps, only 18% of all mobile users felt that their usage skewed heavily to the app side. You could call this a 70% app gap.

If users don’t even realize what platform they’re on, what does it say about the transition from mobile web to applications, or vice versa? “People are pragmatic about their mobile Internet use, opting for convenience and ease to accomplish any given task,” according to the IAB. “Sometimes the convenient path will lead to an app, and sometimes it will lead to a mobile website. So consumers split their usage.”

Perhaps types of use determine whether users choose apps or the mobile web?

The IAB found government and automotive needs skewing to the mobile web; search skewing towards apps; and shopping, news and directories were right down the middle. Overall, nothing definitive.

Or maybe it’s demographics?

No, again. “A perception of balanced app-web use holds across demographics,” reported the IAB.

The conclusion?

Put simply, content remains king. And the particular medium – in this case, the mobile web or an app – is only the messenger. Consumers decide on mobile apps or websites based on convenience and ease-of-use. What it all means, is that any advertisers who have assumed that the mobile web will soon be dead and buried, have fallen into their own gap.

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