The Rise of Apps & the Impact on Brand Discoverability

Are mobile browsers becoming a thing of the past? According to eMarketer, apps have always been the preferred method of information consumption on mobile devices. Back in 2011, mobile users spent 1 hour and 4 minutes per day in-app vs. 29 minutes per day on the mobile web. By 2017, mobile users will spend a projected 3 hours and 23 minutes per day in-app vs. 52 minutes on the mobile web. This whopping app usage has been powered by the likes of Netflix, HBO, Amazon, Spotify and Pandora:

emarketer apps
But what does this mean for discoverability of products and services on mobile devices—especially on search engines? In particular, are people more likely to discover, consider and buy through apps than through mobile search? The answer is that both apps and mobile search are—and will continue to be—key to driving performance in today’s mobile world.


Although in-app is significantly trumping the mobile web, it’s important to consider exactly how apps are being used. According to Flurry, time spent in-app on iOS and Android connected devices is dominated by gaming, social networking, social messaging and entertainment.

Apps aren’t yet eating into mobile search share; we’re still seeing significant year-over-year increases in Google mobile search volume. That being said, apps are indeed a threat to traditional mobile search, as the discoverability landscape is fragmenting well beyond Google. Consumers are increasingly using the Amazon app for shopping or the Yelp app for local business reviews, often at the expense of Google. In fact, L2 recently reported that 6% fewer people said they used search engines to discover brands, products and services this year. And Forrester has reported that 30% of shoppers start their research on Amazon vs. only 13% on Google.

Brands must be visible in the right moments, where their consumers are. And with this fragmentation, your consumers are everywhere. Today, consumer intent is likely to be stimulated in-app, whether it be on Facebook, in-game or in-entertainment (Spotify, WatchESPN, etc.). That intent is then likely to be served (e.g. delivered upon) in search results, whether your consumer is searching on Google mobile, or within a product/service-focused app like Amazon or Yelp. Thus, universal discoverability in mobile hinges on an approach that embraces both apps and the mobile web.


Mobile Web

Despite fragmentation in the search landscape, Google is still the mobile search king. Google drove $12B in mobile search revenue in 2014, which was 20% of its total revenue (75% of Google mobile search revenue is from iOS users). According to StatCounter, Google now commands 88% of the mobile search market (Sept. 2015), up from 83% a year ago. Your consumers will leverage their favorite apps (like Yelp or Amazon) to find you; but they won’t use hundreds of apps to get answers for everything. Google will fill in all the gaps.  Focus primarily on Google paid search in mobile, while also dedicating test-and-learn budgets to new paid search opportunities on sites like Amazon and Yelp.

On the organic side, Google’s recent Mobilegeddon algorithm update focuses on rewarding mobile content that is (1) relevant to users and (2) highly consumable on mobile devices.  Content that’s not optimized for mobile will be penalized in the search rankings. Mobile consumability considerations include:

  • Responsive Design: Ensure your site can be accessed on any device
  • Dynamic Serving: Serve different content and CSS for mobile-focused user intents
  • Site Speed: Leverage Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test and PageSpeed Insights to guarantee that your pages don’t eat up too much of your users’ expensive mobile data


As previously mentioned, consumers are spending massive amounts of time in-app. Advertisers should take advantage of in-app ad opportunities, particularly in gaming, social and entertainment. The Facebook app is currently the biggest opportunity; Flurry found that 17% of time spent on iOS and Android connected devices is spent in the Facebook app (vs. 14% spent total in mobile browsers). Facebook’s app leads in time spent on apps by U.S. smartphone owners (Forrester Research, 2015). And Facebook is making in-app advertising easier for brands with LiveRail’s recent expansion to in-app mobile ads. LiveRail now supports video, native, interstitial and banner ad formats, all seamlessly woven into the user experience.

The YouTube app is also rivalling Facebook in time spent and should be a key consideration for brands.

App Installs Ads (Paid)

Beyond popular third-party apps like Facebook and YouTube, many brands have built their own apps.  Oftentimes, these apps foster a better user experience on mobile because (1) many websites were originally created for desktop and (2) even mobile-friendly sites may be difficult to operate on smartphones.

Once you have an app, you need people to install it. One way to do this is through mobile app install ads. Mobile app install ads are now a $4.6 billion market, comprising 30% of total mobile ad revenue for companies like Google, Bing/Yahoo!, Facebook and Twitter. The ads enable users to download apps directly from the Google Play store or Apple’s app store. Google (despite potentially being threatened by the use of mobile apps), has continued to elevate app install ad opportunities for brands, including:

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App Indexing (Organic)

Google’s Mobilegeddon algorithm update also strives to better surface app content within organic search results.  Thus, brands must ensure that their apps are indexable, so that people can find—and install—them within organic results. Also consider “deep linking” within apps (e.g. connecting content within apps to a page on your brand’s mobile site). This will enable Google to correlate mobile pages with related app content, and users can choose which way—app or site—they want to engage with you.

As consumers move across the mobile web, they’re discovering and engaging with brands and purchasing products and services—online and in-store. Mobile search and apps each play a unique role in the discoverability process. As mobile overtakes desktop, advertisers must consider both mobile web and app strategies that stimulate and serve intent.

For more information on Paid and Organic Mobile Search and App Strategies, contact your Performance Account Team today.

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