In-App vs Mobile Web: Who Wins the Battle for Engagement?

August 30, 2017 | Article written by Carly Morris

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

In total, nearly 2/3 of 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% sticks to mobile web.


But, time spent doesn’t always equate to higher engagement. So when it comes to performance mobile advertising, which placement packs a bigger punch: 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. In their assessment, they found that 47% of users worldwide took some kind of action after seeing an ad within a mobile app, while 45% did the same on mobile web.

The study also found that 86% of users recalled in-app ads within the days following the initial impression, whereas the rate for mobile web was 90%.

Finally, about 1 in 10 said they’d clicked on a mobile web ad, with 8% visiting the brand’s website afterward. For in-app ads, 13% of users clicked and 9% later visited brand sites.



With the two so evenly matched, it’s hard to deem a winner. The fact of the matter is that in-app and mobile web placements are both engaging and effective options for any RTB campaign.
But, for advertisers who like to carve down to the finest details, you can also assess each channel through the lens of your unique initiatives. That is, understanding how people interact with mobile apps and mobile websites to understand where your ads fit into the mix.

One way to dive deeper is to evaluate by market. For starters, consider where your target market stacks up in terms of mobile websites vs mobile apps used each day:



Looking closer at individual markets, you can also weigh channel usage by app genre. In Japan for example, online shoppers tend to opt for mobile web, while mobile apps dominate for news consumption.


Meanwhile, in the US it also boils down to a factor of age. Here, more than half of millennials prefer app-based purchases, while 60% of baby boomers would rather turn to mobile web.

The same IAB study also found that around the world, mobile web is generally preferred for functionality and utility, while apps lean toward entertainment and social networking. For example, searches, purchases, and bookings are often predominantly mobile web functions:



Apps, on the other hand, are the clear favorite for entertainment and communication activities:


Reshaping the Focus

So, which one comes out on top? On the whole, it’s simply too close to call.

While perhaps 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 at IAB 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, Mobile and Video, 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 less a matter of comparing mobile app/web placements, and more a matter of optimizing your strategy for the best results on both sides of the equation.