Mobile Web Is Top Of Funnel, Mobile App Is Bottom Of Funnel

comScore released a mobile web/app report last week that is very insightful. The data is US only so it is skewed in that respect and many interesting things are happening outside of the US and the report misses them. But regardless, there are some important conclusions from the report and the title of this blog post is the biggest of them. You can download the comScore report here if you are willing to give them some of your personal info.

First things first. Mobile web unique visitor growth is faster than mobile app visitor growth and the lines are diverging.

mobile web growing faster

This is because your mobile website is the top of the funnel for your user acquisition on mobile. It is where people land when coming from search, email, social media, text links, etc, etc.

The mobile web scales much better. You can build a large audience on mobile web much more easily than via mobile apps.

mobile web scales better

The things that worked in the desktop world tend to work well in the mobile web world, but don’t work in the mobile app world. So you have to use a two step process in mobile. Mobile web is top of funnel and mobile app is bottom of funnel.

But if you want users to stick around for long periods of time and come back regularly, you must get them to your mobile app. Here’s why:

app dominate time spent

I like to think of 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.

Disclosure: I was a seed investor in comScore in the late 90s, served on their board for something like eight years, and I still own some comScore stock.


Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    Yet, several App companies have skimpy mobile websites. They think they don’t need to do much there because they are an “App”. In reality, mobile App companies should nail their mobile web messaging and value props, or the visitor conversions into the stores won’t be there.

    1. awaldstein

      interestingI can’t think of an app that i use regularly that I have any familiarity at all with what their mobile site looks like.u?

      1. William Mougayar

        That’s because you’re already on their App. same with me.But what I said applies for those that aren’t on their App yet.

        1. awaldstein


          1. lisa hickey

            But to @awaldstein’s point — the apps I use regularly I never went to the mobile site first. I heard about the app—usually through people I knew already using it—and then the only actions I ever took were downloading it, using it the first time, and saying “Ahh, this is great.” If it’s not great as an app, it gets deleted. I’m trying to think of an example (looking at my phone now) where I used the mobile web first and then got the mobile app later. Facebook and Twitter maybe, but those are obvious anomalies—and even with them I often as not just use the mobile web for them instead of the app.There were some ecommerce apps where I started as mobile web and then got the app (groupon comes to mind) but ultimately deleted it because I grew tired of the app functionality (ie notifications) and would prefer to use that service on mobile web or even desktop on an as-needed basis. What apps do you use where the mobile site is robust and the app does something different or better that you use all the time?It’s not that I am disputing the data about the mobile web, it’s that I’d love to understand with more specificity what makes the jump from mobile web to app. I stand by the fact that the apps I use I don’t use as mobile sites (and rarely desktop). It seems to me they are more a part of my phone than a part of the web.

    2. Richard

      Apps have that huge moat surrounding them. If you don’t need the functionality of an app, living on the mainland has its advantages, e.g., product hunt.con

    3. Bruce Warila

      completely agree.. so many app developers fail to even create an adequate ‘web brochure’. When you hear about an app (via friends, social, or through the media), launching the app store to find out more does not seem as ingrained (behavior) as googling, then visiting a desktop/mobile site..

      1. William Mougayar

        Right. Searching the web still works 😉

  2. JimHirshfield

    I was just reading about this. Makes so much sense if you think about all the time users spend playing games (in app), doing email (in app), or IM’ing (in app). So yeah, time spent in app is bigger than mobile web. But more uniques and traffic (or impressions) in mobile web.And this is really important for publishers to consider when feeling pressured to put their content in app, especially someone else’s app, like Facebook’s instant articles.

    1. Elia Freedman

      The web is really good at some things and mobile apps are really good at others. Top of funnel is one of those things for the web. Linking is another one. Mobile apps are better at engagement. I don’t see how in the modern era, outside of maybe gaming, we as developers can have one without the other.

      1. JimHirshfield

        True, both. This isn’t the age old argument of which is better or which will prevail as has been discussed here many times.

  3. obarthelemy

    Aren’t there several issues with going app though ?- long update cycles (2-week Apple appstore approvals…)- high dev costs- home screen saturation (and notifications overload)- some reluctance to grant app privileges

  4. LIAD

    would be interested in seeing Android/iOS specific versions of these stats.since becoming an android user last year, my barrier to download apps is far lower than previously using iOS. specifically because the process is so quick and easy. fast loading app store, can download without having to type password, near instant install, simple uninstall etc etcmore frictionless app install becomes, quicker the trend will reverse. (as not doubt UX on the whole is far better in app world than mob web0previous inhibiting factors like phone storage space also less relevant as larger storage phones become more commonplace.——-wtf going on with disqus comment spam! last few weeks, multiple spam comments, each triggering email notification, each pissing me off. disqus need to get on top of things quick. people start turning off email notifications – bad news for their engagement.

    1. LE

      specifically because the process is so quick and easy. fast loading app store, can download without having to type passwordIt’s unclear to me why Apple with billions in the bank is so whinny about passwords.For that matter ditto for Starbucks. Every time I want to refill my Starbucks card using the phone I have to type my password. Often while I am in line and have realized that I need to do so. Considering that I have a history of refilling literally weekly or more you would think they would note the pattern and not require me to do that. After all what is in jeopardy for them $$ wise? What do they think will happen and what do they feel, with a certain group of users, is the chance of fraud? I would love to know the thinking behind all of this friction and why statistically they can’t eliminate it for at least some users.You know you can call many pizza or chinese takeout places, place an order for food, and they don’t require a credit card for a deposit and in many places (and this dates pre caller id) they don’t even ask for your phone number. Why? Because they have figured out that for the amount of time they get screwed, it’s not worth it to put that friction in the order process. (For that matter there are places that I order from online where I can place a $75 takeout order and choose to “pay when picking up”.)

      1. dangen11

        my lock screen is my security. if need be I can always whip out my second phone to enable Device Manager on the other phone. password save on mobile Chrome is awesome

      2. sigmaalgebra

        $75? Gee, I need to have you try my local Chinese carryout where $45 gets me a big box — two quarts of Hot Sour Soup, eight steamed Pork dumplings, a pork stir fry, a chicken stir fry, a beef stir fry, lots of rice, lots of fortune cookies, etc.

        1. LE

          This was actually Italian not Chinese or Sushi. What’s unfortunate is that they gave me a 20% discount coupon on my next takeout but I forgot it when I picked up the order.

          1. sigmaalgebra

            At’s a lots’a pasta!

    2. Ana Milicevic

      + 1Amazingly how much simpler the Play store is to use. I find I do quite a bit of discovery on desktop and cue apps to download to my phone via the browser as opposed to on-phone discovery. That’s somewhat unexpected behavior but precisely because they make it so easy.

  5. Scott Barnett

    Related article from Morgan Stanley –…I read that article first, shook my head a little bit, then came here. Your funnel description makes a ton of sense. I’m also thinking that your specific use-case matters too – if your product/solution can be sticky, focus on an app. If it’s more transactional, it may be better to have a kick-ass mobile web experience in lieu of an app.

  6. jason wright

    why has google gone to a vertical apps launcher layout?

    1. Drew Meyers

      More and more media companies who are all content will take this path, imho. There are just so so few media sites I would ever consider using a mobile app for…NYT maybe. Economist? The consumer always wins long term, and consumers don’t want an “app” for every media site they occasionally frequent.

      1. JimHirshfield

        Spot on

  7. Brad Noble

    I like it. Thought of this way, ad blocking is really just a way to optimize conversion from mobile web to mobile app.

    1. JimHirshfield

      How so?

      1. Brad Noble

        In a mobile web without all of those pesky ads and their CTAs, the only remaining CTAs on mobile web pages will be for the app(s) that the publisher(s) want you to use for their content. This is akin to optimizing landing pages for conversion — kill everything that doesn’t encourage it, and tune only those things that do.

        1. JimHirshfield

          Oh, I see, less is more.

  8. LE

    Once a mobile app gets kicked off your front screen [1] though it’s “out of sight out of mind”. It will almost certainly be used less. That’s a problem. There is limited shelf space and no way to pay slotting fees. Only way to overcome is make something that people want to visit everyday or multiple times per day or is essential enough to survive off the first screen.[1] Similar in a way to bookmarks

  9. dangen11

    I prefer mobile web, and will only use the app or app version if it’s better than mobile web. Apps tend to want access to all sorts of information on the phone. That’s something I’d never want to provide to some unknown startup.

  10. Ana Milicevic

    Apps make sense for goods and services needed and used regularly. It’s really an opportunity to provide tailored content and offerings for the most loyal and engaged of customers (those w/ high LTV). For example, someone who flies once or twice a year probably doesn’t need Delta’s app to be able to book a flight, check in, and get the boarding pass on mobile; this should be easily doable via their mobile browser. However, someone who flies > 100k miles a year uses the app almost daily. It’s similar with content: if I’m a drive-by reader who landed on a story via my social stream, I’m really not interested in downloading your paper’s app.Right now most apps are quite binary: you either have the app or you don’t. I’d like to see more differentiation b/w premium content and offerings in app (e.g. Delta Platinum flyers could ‘unlock’ special in-app content or partner offers that are truly tailored to them). I’m really eagerly awaiting to see the results of the Kardashian sisters’ app subscription model: it seems like the perfect combo of a large, engaged audience, micro payment monthly amount (less than a latte) and the promise of content exclusivity that’s been so hard to figure out and monetize independent of advertising.

  11. sigmaalgebra

    Good.That’s a better analysis than I’d had in mind, but I did anticipate some of it: In particular, for my startup, I decided to be a Web site (user needs only a standard Web browser) instead of an app (user would need to install my unique software on their computer, and I would have to write likely different apps for each of iPhone, Android, Windows).Why the Web? It’s a very simple, very old story: HTTP, HTTPS, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Unicode are now so standard that they play the same role as an old ‘dumb terminal’, that is, an end user device that looks essentially the same to all servers. So, for a software developer on a server, “write once and deploy 2+ billion times to Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, etc.”.So, such a dumb terminal has a fantastically powerful network effect: each of 2+ billion end users use Web browsers because they all work with essentially the 100+ million Web sites, maybe 1+ billion sites, 1+ trillion Web pages. The owners of those Web sites write for the Web browsers because 2+ billion users have such Web browsers.But, wait, there’s more:So, for any one of 2+ billion users, all they need is a Web browser and the Internet and, then, they can get to and, likely, quickly use, any of 100+ million Web sites, 1+ trillion Web pages or some such. Right away.This last part, “right away”, is incredible in comparison with, say, Microsoft Word that can take two weeks to learn and then can be forgotten in 52 weeks. Bummer.Why? Because HTML and CSS are so simple — just links, check boxes, radio buttons, single line text boxes, multiple line text boxes — that nearly all the Web pages work much the same. Yes, too much use of JavaScript is a bummer because it can change some of the basics of HTML and otherwise make a mess out of the page, what the keys and mouse do, etc.But, an app? We’re back to whatever a programmer wants to do. So, for the extreme case, for 100+ million sites, would need 100+ million apps, and a user would often be faced with learning the unique UI of each of so many apps. Bummer.Or, HTTP, HTTPS, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript have rationalized, standardized UI. Good. Finally. Pull down another Tower of Babel. It’s like wrenches in a car garage: Need only a dozen or so sizes of English and metric, in open end, box end, and socket, for any nut. It’s like tire sizes: Stock just a few dozen sizes and can put tires on any car. It’s like 115 V 60 Hz electric power: Sufficient to run nearly any electric appliance in a house or sold at Wal-Mart or Amazon.It’s like men’s suit sizes — 42″ Long, etc., and can fit nearly any man. Apps? Like back to custom made suits with no two the same size.Gee, if get a driver’s license using a Chevy for the driver’s test, then can also drive a Ford, Dodge, Toyota, Hyundai, Mercedes, etc. Apps? Potentially each is wildly different, e.g., like Microsoft Word, Excel, Lotus 1-2-3, CorelDraw, WinZip, etc. Bummer.The report also noted that a mobile device can have only 50-60 apps. That’s not much for the Web! Gee, I start my Web browsers with a little Web page I wrote with some of my favorite links — just now there are 798 of those. I have another list of general purpose information with just now links to 1195 different domain names (data courtesy of using simple text and a good, programmable text editor).So, depending much on apps would be squeezing709 + 1195 = 1,904links into 50-60 apps.No thanks.On these thoughts, I’ve voted with my software for my startup: So, right, I get to the users with just a Web site, with a UI that is just simple HTML and CSS (with just a little JavaScript ASP.NET writes for me) — no pop-ups, pull-downs, roll-overs, or icons.For mobile devices? Each of my Web pages, for mobile or any device, is exactly 800 pixels wide, with large fonts and high contrast. The screen never jumps around as DIV elements are loaded into the DOM, etc. The keys and pointing device have not been redefined and, instead, work in their native way.From the above, my judgment is that to expect a user to install, learn to use, and use a different app for each interactive service on the Internet is hopeless, pushing a rock up a hill, shoveling sand against the tide, pounding sand into a rat hole, a long walk on a short pier — fighting the billion ton monster of the network effect of the Web standard that works, 99 44/100% of the time, for all the users, all the operating systems, all the Web browsers, and all the Internet services and where the UIs are so simple and similar that any of 2+ billion users can make good use of 1+ trillion Web pages right away. That monster has won and will keep winning. I’m not trying to fight that monster.E.g., if Amazon wants my business, then they should just continue to do what they are doing and maybe do some of it a little better. In particular, they should continue to have one of the best designed Web sites on the Internet. Hat tip to them — a lot of darned good work. For my shopping, that’s just what I want. An app instead? Not a chance.My advice to CNN? Your site is nearly unusable. E.g., to read some of your content, I have Firefox give me the HTML source of the Web page, use some editor macros I have to extract the text, and read that in my favorite text editor. Great UX, right? What an upchuck. CNN: Fire 99% of your JavaScript programmers and return to just simple HTML, etc. standards. HTML is very well designed; what your JavaScript programmers design is an upchuck, destroys the utility of your site.Indeed, early in the development of the commercial Internet, it appeared that at least Netscape and Microsoft wanted to have a pair of a Web browser and a Web server that would work only with each other. That is, they wanted something non-standard that could have its own network effect and create a proprietary standard and lock-in. E.g., Microsoft wanted to push ActiveX; they were so eager for that non-standard functionality that they were willing to promote what was obviously a huge security hole. Outrageous.But, for whatever reason, Web browsers became quite standard — terrific, one of the best developments of the Internet.Indeed, the Internet as a communications standard was so well designed that it spread effectively all around the world with essentially no central management and, in the process, wiped out several other packet data communications efforts.Ah, the power of standards!Apps? I’m guessing that, as in Fred’s post, the world of the Internet is coming to the conclusion that, for client-server computing, use the Web with its standards. Anything else will be some niche.We need much more innovation, powerful, useful, valuable, but the theme of apps for the client side of client-server computing instead of the Web and its standards strikes me as silly, a fashion fad, in anything like its present form hopeless, a long walk on a short pier, and nothing like the innovation we need. Sorry ’bout that.Ah, the dirt simple test data in my SQL Server data base is no longer good enough for development, testing, Alpha test, etc. I have a lot of good initial data! So, on to putting that data into SQL Server! But it’s for a Web site, not an app.

  12. OurielOhayon

    Fred, something is really innacurate with that research:1. it is limited to the top 50 properties of the web. i don t think it really applies to the whole web.2. in the tops Facebook does not even show?3. how can snapchat show in mobile web when all Snapchat mobile experience is 100% native4. there is no difference iOS and Android?5. No insights on the mobile web generated from Facebook and Twitter native apps (in app browser? where we know engagement and time spent is much lower because of the zapping mode associated to social networks). I suspect a huge part of the growth of mobile web is due to that. One thing is to *go* to safari as a destination, another is to land in Safari because you clicked on something6. Really missing as key insight: the time spent in native apps is way more important than mobile web (unique users). Engagement is what matters in terms of monetization.I guess that if we were drawing a typical mobile funnel it would most of the time start in some native apps and not the mobile web. and that s what really matters.

    1. AppLift Community

      We wrote about this a few weeks back:…The gateways will most likely be the main drivers of engagement on mobile. (see Asia)

    2. boteman

      The dwell times for mobile apps might be grossly inflated because most apps run all the time, so they stay “connected” regardless of whether they are visible or being used. Without more information on how this was measured I’m skeptical of these numbers.

  13. William Mougayar

    I’m still puzzled why there isn’t a decent, global, comprehensive way to search for just Apps.

    1. Matt A. Myers

      Friction allows opportunity for chaos which supports or amplifies monetization.

    2. Drew Meyers

      I guess I’m just a weird use case, but I literally never ever find myself wanting to search for some specific type of app. The only way an app ever gets on my phone is someone tells me about it, or I read about it online somewhere — and I decide to try it then.

      1. William Mougayar

        True, but what if there was a really good search function. As is we search on iTunes or the Play Store.

        1. Drew Meyers

          I don’t ever search on either one of those, aside from for a very specific app or artist someone has told me about.

        2. boteman

          Why would an iPhone user need to search anywhere else? Apple acts as the all-knowing overseer to approve apps on its store so the only place to search is there. Similar with Google Play Store, although that is closer to the wild, wild west.

          1. William Mougayar

            True as a starting point, but both of these search experiences are not that great. It’s almost like Netflix search, – biased and gamed results.

  14. sigmaalgebra

    The interest in smartphones is astounding.Gee, I come to computing for some practical reasons.Then, I’m concluding that post here…is missing something: On smartphones and most mobile devices, I don’t get it.Sure, I can see why people who spend a lot of time driving in cars or trucks as part of their living would want a mobile phone.And, no doubt, one of the fundamentals of the universe is the propensity of human females over the age of 6 to gossip as much as possible, even when walking on a sidewalk. I remember Mom: She couldn’t buy a loaf of bread in a grocery store in less than an hour due to all the stops she made to gossip. Now human females gossip with cell phones.But for smartphones, why? E.g., why the apps, for playing computer games?For the readers on AVC, which spend a lot of time driving, in gossip, or playing computer games? My guess, not many.For a smartphone, except when used as a phone, I’m not getting it:Why put up with that thingy? No real keyboard. Really small screen. Lots of important desktop software can’t run at all. Have to worry about battery power. Have to do mud wrestling with connectivity options and communications carriers. In total, compared with desktop computing, it’s a lot of money.To me, smartphones look like a fad fashion accessory to make a social statement.Once at a meeting, during a break one guy was walking around quickly talking intensely into his cell phone. He was so busy and intense maybe he was trying to arrange to have UAE buy Airbus or some such — although somehow I doubt that. More likely he was trying to look like a big shot.Gee, again, I come to computing for some practical reasons, and I’m not seeing what’s practical about cell/smartphones except for workers who travel a lot, gossip, or playing computer games.

  15. carlos kirjner

    Alibaba says exactly the same thing re: Taobao on Web vs. on mobile. So, the phenomenon may actually be somehwat global

  16. pointsnfigures

    Strategy makes sense. Yesterday I used my phone to find a parking spot on The website asked me if I wanted to download their mobile app, and took me in app.

  17. Pete Griffiths

    Very interesting.

  18. Semil Shah

    One hack here is to get into the email flow of the user, click in email to browser, and then get them to trust you to visit the app. Takes a long time. Eventually, they can go from email deep linked right into the app.

  19. Patrick Kane

    To be a top of channel funnel you need functioning discovery, and discovery in mobile apps (and app stores) still sucks. And I don’t care how much ASO you do, you simply aren’t going to replicate the quality, speed, usability, and relevance of an app store search that you have on the web. The combination of mobile web search + deep linking to apps + using the app for rich experiences + mobile push is an incredibly powerful funnel for acquisition, conversion, and engagement/retention.

  20. kevando

    This post is amazingly timely. Thank you!

  21. Nick Devane

    This is something we are thinking about a lot right now.I am surprised you didn’t link in here with the return of the command line interface.We see it as two sides of the same coin. The killer piece to optimize our funnel is creating a twilio/stripe/mobile web integration. First touch point is texting a number (maybe even specific to chef) about food (command line). Ping back with basic menu from our backend, and providing command line ordering. Lowest friction experience –> galvanize downloads

  22. Ludwig

    This might change as in app search takes off.

  23. Marta Domínguez

    Great data, Fred. To me, it´s interesesting how little mobile web search accounts for. At least in mobiles and smartphones. Could it be a trend for publishers here to start moving out of mobile web search? On the contrary, tablets with a 17% share of web search sounds still like a valuable market to watch.

  24. amit panda


  25. awaldstein

    Interesting re Amazon.Auction geek here as the most fun–and the most disappointing outcome –of any startup I worked with was with Moai, Transactional auction engine.

  26. LE

    Does anyone here know anything about this?Doesn’t even google to anything. Do you have an example? Maybe they are spot testing it with certain people. Lancaster = Peoria. [1][1]

  27. dangen11

    what was the spamware ? I’d like to avoid it , I’m a 3 year Android user, Windows Mobile before that, I’ve never had spamware

  28. awaldstein

    another one that burned bright then fizzled.this was a cool one with lot of potential that had the game changing offer, was greedy, said no then the crash came.ugh!

  29. LE

    the weird thing is it doesn’t allow offers.At least not in your part of Peoria…

  30. LE

    (Regarding your deleted comment which I did receive by email.) You don’t have to be sensitive about the Peoria reference. Wasn’t a jab at Lancaster in a negative way or at you. Guess what? Nobody ever makes fun of the place that I live because it’s not on the radar to even make jokes about. And the city that I used to live in is a constant butt of jokes (as you know) and unlike Brooklyn is still viewed that way by many people.You know when growing up people used to make fun of me for “playing with computer”, “doing photography in that darkroom” “flying those silly helicopters” and “studying all of the time and not playing sports”.