In-App, Mobile Web, and the Battle for the Best Engagement


In the world of real-time mobile advertising, marketers often pit in-app and mobile web placements against one another in a head-to-head battle for the best engagement.

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In a highly competitive mobile landscape, everyone can appreciate extra inventory, which offers precious added space and opportunity for advertisers. Given the higher average cost of advertising on iOS, for example, Android apps can be stacked to the brim with ads, making your game of FIFA look more like a game of Tetris. (Albeit, who’s to say how the tables may turn with the new announcement of Google’s cross-platform development framework, Flutter.)

More options doesn’t necessarily mean better options, but it does mean better chances of finding the right strategy to get your ads noticed, so it’s important to assess the question of in-app and mobile web inventory, both on the whole and as it pertains to your marketing needs.

Last year, nearly 2/3 of today’s smartphone owners use their devices every 30 minutes, with 22% tapping in every 5. Of this time, approximately 89% of daily mobile usage goes to in-app activity, while 11% is attributed to mobile web.


On average for the year, American adults spent nearly 2.5 hours per day using mobile apps, representing a 10.3% increase over the previous year. On the whole, this comes out to 84.9% of mobile time and 19.9% of all digital media time spent. In contrast, mobile browser remained at a plateau with an average 26 minutes of usage per day.

That being said, time spent doesn’t always equate to engagement. So, when it comes to performance mobile advertising, which placement packs bigger performance: in-app or mobile web?


Here’s what we know:

This summer, the IAB conducted a study to get to the bottom of the mobile engagement debate. Within their assessment, they found that 47% of smartphone owners worldwide took some kind of action after seeing an ad within a mobile app, while 45% had the same reaction to ads on mobile web.

The study also found that 90% of users could recall mobile web ads in the days following their initial impression, whereas 86% of could recall their in-app exposure.

Finally, about 1 in 10 claimed they’d clicked on a mobile web ad, with 8% going on to visit the brand’s website afterward. For in-app ads, a full 13% of users clicked on ads, and 9% later visited a brand site.


Mobile Web

Took Action: 47%

Took Action: 45%

Ad Recall: 86%

Ad Recall: 90%

Click Through: 13%

Click Through: 11%

Website Visit: 9%

Website Visit: 8%

With the two so evenly matched, it’s hard to deem a winner at face value. The fact of the matter is that in-app and web placements can both be effective options for any mobile RTB campaign when done right.

What does it take to do it right? Start by assessing each channel through the lens of your unique initiatives. That is, really understand how people interact with mobile apps and mobile websites to understand where your ads will fit into the mix best.

For starters, consider where your target market stacks up in terms of mobile websites vs mobile apps used each day:


When taking a closer look at individual markets, you can also start to take into account the specific digital activities that are most popular on each channel within that region. In Japan for example, online shoppers tend to opt for mobile web, while mobile apps dominate for things like news consumption.










Meanwhile in many regions your considerations could also boil down to a factor of age. In the US, more than half of millennials prefer app-based purchases, while 60% of baby boomers prefer a mobile web experience.

The IAB also found that around the world, mobile web is generally preferred for functionality and utility, while apps lean toward entertainment and social networking. On the one hand, activities like searches, purchases, and bookings are often predominantly mobile web functions:


While apps, on the other hand, are the clear favorite for entertainment and communication:

Picture1-5     Picture1-6

Changing the Focus

So, which comes out on top? On the whole, it’s too close and too nuanced to generalize.

Though not the most satisfying answer, it’s certainly good news for mobile advertisers who can rest easy knowing that their campaigns have the potential to get great results on either channel.

The folks behind the research say it best: “These findings confirm the fact that omnipresent mobile usage is a worldwide phenomenon, which creates a tremendous opportunity for marketers,” said Anna Bager, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Mobile and Video at IAB. “Digital advertising is making an impact and motivating consumers to action, whether they access the internet via the mobile web or mobile apps.”

If both placements offer an equally strong opportunity, then perhaps it’s time to rethink the question. Maybe it’s time to stop comparing mobile app vs. web placements and instead focus on optimizing your strategy for the best results on both sides of the equation.

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