Apps vs. mobile web sites: Here’s data to think through your decision

Recent research from comScore shows that despite the rise of mobile games and other downloadable tools, there is still life in more traditional Internet browsing

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comScore mobile websites vs. apps

If you think apps are the only sure-fire way for an organization with an IP network to connect with mobile users, think again.

In its recent 2015 Canada Digital Future in Focus white paper, media measurement company comScore looked at retail activities via smartphone, paying particular attention to the level of activity through mobile web browsers compared with activity through mobile apps. The firm found that browser activity outpaces app activity in certain key categories, including store location searches, product research and product purchases.

ComScore isn’t the only organization noticing that apps aren’t always tops. According to research conducted by Catalyst Canada, a marketing firm that specializes in boosting clients’ web-search rankings, app usage is declining and browser usage is climbing across a number of activities. For instance, Catalyst found that in 2014, some 40% of Canadians preferred to use apps to find a restaurant. In 2015, that number had dropped to approximately 37%. Likewise, in 2014 about 40% preferred apps to “look for a car.” In 2015, closer to 20% used apps for that.

App alternative

In a post published several months back, comScore blogger and marketing insight analyst Adam Lella pointed out that not all mobile activities occur via app. Far more mobile visitors to Wikipedia, for instance, use browsers rather than apps. Why? ComScore looked at Wikipedia and other sites that attract more browser users than app users, and noted three similarities among such sites.

  1. They rely on browser searches to generate traffic. In the case of Wikipedia, for instance, people seldom visit the website’s homepage to begin looking for information. Rather, they arrive at the site after typing a term or phrase into a search engine, which returns a link to a Wikipedia entry.
  2. They are designed to work well on all sorts of devices, including smartphones and tablets. If a company builds its website for easy mobile access, visitors are more likely to view that site from tablets and smartphones.
  3. They are run by organizations that have philosophical reasons to de-emphasize the app experience—groups that may want to reach a large audience, for example. If these groups prioritize apps, they might not reach users whose mobile devices can’t run the app, perhaps due to performance limitations or platform incompatibility. Browsers and websites, on the other hand, are available to everyone with a web connection.

The end of apps?

None of this is to suggest that the app is dead. In fact, in its white paper, comScore predicts that many of the retail activities conducted through web browsers may soon shift to apps. ComScore senior account manager Paul Rich puts it this way: “In 2013 Canada had a smartphone penetration of 75%, which increased to 81% in 2014… As more and more Canadians spend time on their mobile devices, we see an increased time spent on apps.”

Though the app isn’t going away any time soon, IT decision makers need to understand their companies’ motivations to decide if an app is really the best route, or if a mobile-friendly website is the better investment. Check your firm against comScore’s trio of tips identified above to understand which to go.

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