“The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.
Digital advertising professionals seem to agree that in-app ads outperform those served on mobile web. Not only do users spend more time in apps than on the mobile web, but US mobile app spending is also expected to outpace mobile web nearly three to one in 2015, according to eMarketer.
With the popularity of apps skyrocketing, many publishers wonder if they should consider developing their own. Among apps' strengths: longer impression lengths and consumer-friendly interstitials.
Yet the mobile web can bring considerable value to publishers. There are more practical implications to the “apps vs. mobile web” comparison if we consider which advantages of in-app advertising could also work for mobile browsers.
Apps provide longer ad impressions than mobile web. When browsing the web on a smartphone or tablet, users load a new batch of ads with every new page. In certain cases, the user leaves the page before ads have time to load. In contrast to mobile browsers, the in-app user experience isn’t fragmented into numerous separate pages, which gives publishers more control over the impression length of served ad units.
Lengthier impressions are crucial for rich media ads and meaningful brand experiences. This contributes to a considerable difference in ad viewability: 81% for in-app ads vs. 50% for mobile web. To achieve a similar effect on mobile sites, publishers can use scrolling interfaces with dynamically loading content instead of pagination-based multipage layout.
The user interfaces of this kind mimic the infinite news feed of a social app. Publishers can either use interfaces with automatic content loading or choose site layouts that display older posts on tap. The second option leaves the site’s footer accessible, which may be essential for some mobile users. More importantly, it provides users with more control of how much content they load and how much mobile data they use.
There are multiple best practices concerning infinite scrolling websites. In particular, Google provides valuable recommendations on building SEO-friendly sites that combine infinite scrolling with internal pagination. Although this post is targeted at developers, marketers and publishers can use it when choosing site themes for content management systems.
Mobile web publishers have already embraced the in-stream advertising strategies of social apps. Particularly, some site owners combine in-feed native ads with medium-sized banners for a more diverse ad placement pattern. The next logical step is learning how to handle interstitials in the same way app developers do.
What makes in-app interstitials different from those served on mobile sites is the moment at which they appear. As of today, many mobile websites serve ads before content. For instance, the Forbes.com website presents its visitors with an advertisement before they can access the main page. As a result, the creative gets more attention. However, the ad appears at the moment when users anticipate seeing the site’s content, which may create a negative user experience.
In contrast, app users typically view interstitial ads after fulfilling an action. For example, an advertisement may follow the completion of a level in a game or finishing a chapter in an e-book app.
I believe integrating an interstitial ad into the flow of onsite activities makes more sense than interrupting users before they start viewing the content. A relevant ad that follows an article has better chances at complementing, rather than interrupting, the user’s activity. Such ads can be triggered by the user tapping on a link that leads to another post, a link to the main page or the “back” button.
This advertising tactic implies showing creatives to users at the point when their mood is characterized by a sense of completion, rather than being in a hurry. This usually means the users are more likely to engage with the advertisement.
More To Mobile Web Than Meets The Eye
The mobile web can bring considerable value to publishers. Although mobile sites seem to lag behind in-app inventory at the moment, they will inevitably catch up due to expanding browser functionality, constantly upgrading mobile devices and growing connection speeds. More importantly, mobile web provides better opportunities for acquiring new audiences, which makes it extremely valuable for publishers.
With this in mind, I see addressing the performance of mobile web ads as a more solid position for publishers than prioritizing applications over websites. Borrowing the UX features and monetization tactics from apps is a sensible approach to improving the performance of ad units across mobile websites.