The mobile web is maturing and a growing number of companies with native apps now have enough user data to start evaluating the long-term ROI.

So it's no surprise that the mobile web versus native app debate is taking on new dimensions.

As one prominent venture capitalist sees it though, there's little conflict between the mobile web and native apps.

Fred Wilson, a partner at Union Square Ventures, believes that the mobile web is top of funnel for companies while their native apps are bottom of funnel.

In a blog post, he writes...

I like to think of [it] this way. The mobile web is the window of your store. Users window shop on your mobile website. Getting them to download and install and use your mobile app is like getting them to come into the store. And that’s where the action is long term.

Wilson points to comScore data as evidence for his argument. According to comScore, mobile audience growth is being driven by mobile websites.

Across the top 1,000 native apps, year-over-year growth is 21% while year-over-year growth across the top 1,000 mobile websites is double that at 42%.

ComScore credits this to advantages the web has in terms of "digital infrastructure." For instance, despite the fact that there is a growing amount of interest in and activity around deep linking, linking to content is far easier on the mobile web.

But where native apps shine is in time spent. On both smartphones and tablets, comScore says that apps account for 87% of a user's time compared to just 13% for the web browser.

The native app lie

On the surface, these statistics seem to suggest that Wilson's top of funnel/bottom of funnel argument could be the foundation for a sensible mobile strategy. But is it?

Unfortunately, the devil is in the details. A relatively small number of super-popular apps account for a significant amount of the time spent in native apps. According to comScore's data, in 2014 Facebook's app alone accounted for 18% of all time spent on mobile.

The vast majority of native apps experience high if not painful levels of churn, and lots of companies use less-than-efficient techniques in an attempt to reduce this churn.

For instance, many companies spend significant amounts on new user acquisition, which can keep some metrics up, but at the end of the day, they still lack the highly engaged native app audiences that companies can deliver real value to and extract real value from.

In reality, there's only so much time to go around, and most companies cannot and should not expect that they will be able to grow highly-engaged native app audiences. That doesn't mean that they shouldn't build native apps (although they should know when to kill them).

But it does mean that treating a native app as the bottom of the funnel as opposed to a channel that can stand on its own is for most companies likely to produce disappointing results.

To learn more about mobile marketing, book yourself onto our Mobile Usability and UX Training Course.

Patricio Robles

Published 6 October, 2015 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (2)

Maria Vittoria

Maria Vittoria, HR at Showapp

The portable application industry is blasting, and since the one-million-application imprint was come to in late 2011, the opposition to get your application saw in the commercial center is fierce.Marketing arranging ought to begin at the earliest reference point of application advancement, well before it is dispatched.

Maria Vitoria - HR Specialist at http://www.showbox-app.com/

over 2 years ago

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Danielle Collins, Content Executive at Deepend

I think it is an important distinction to make (mobile web as an acquisition tool VS mobile app as a retention tool) because it means we can set realistic expectations for apps.

Apps aren't supposed to receive as high traffic as the web (web prospects > mobile app customers). Web is supposed to deliver the information to convert, app is supposed to deliver the engagement to retain

over 2 years ago

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