With so much mobile app time concentrated in the top apps, it can feel as if every other publisher is fighting for the scraps. As a small or medium-sized publisher, how does your app succeed when half of all app engagement occurs within the Top 10 largest apps overall? Potentially even more discouraging for publishers, on an individual basis 96% of a user’s time spent occurs within their top 10 most used apps, according to comScore’s recently released 2017 U.S. Mobile App Report.
While this app environment is certainly challenging, it’s actually more positive for smaller-to-medium-sized publishers than it might seem at first glance. Many of these publishers today focus more (or even exclusively) on their mobile web strategy knowing that it’s easier to capture large mobile audiences this way than on mobile apps.
The downside of this strategy is that mobile web audiences tend to be a mile wide and an inch deep – they provide audience scale, but not engagement. On a per user basis, the advertising opportunity within the app is leaps and bounds better than the mobile web. In fact, the average visitor for the Top 500 apps spends 16x more minutes per month than the average visitor to the Top 500 mobile web properties. For this reason, moving the needle on acquiring and engaging more app users even a modest amount can have a significant impact on monetization.
To further illustrate this point, a 2015 analysis conducted by Jacob Nelson based on comScore data examined the digital audiences for 25 leading news publications. One of the major findings from Nelson’s analysis was that “while apps comprise an average of just 6% of the 25 news properties’ mobile audiences, they account for nearly half (45%) of the time that audience spends with those properties.”
Given the incredible opportunity for apps, here are three strategies publishers should consider to more effectively acquire and engage app users:
1. Offer users a reason to download the app.
This is somewhat obvious but nevertheless a critical point to make. Publishers can’t just assume that “if you build it, they will come.” In addition to an app taking up storage space on a user’s phone, there’s also a degree of friction that users face in going to the app store and downloading an app. If a publisher doesn’t offer the user a reason to put the app on their phone in the first place, most users will default to the lower friction alternative of visiting the mobile website – or even worse – not accessing the publisher’s content at all because they don’t have that prompt readily available on their screen.
One reason many people download an app is for easy access to that publisher’s content. It might be that some users simply need a reminder of this. Communicating to a publisher’s high engagement mobile web users that they can access the same content via the mobile app can be an effective way to convert any “low-hanging fruit” web visitors to app users. A more aggressive marketing approach could be offering a promotion for downloading the app, in the form of a discounted subscription or access to other special or premium content that they couldn’t otherwise get.
2. Serve up relevant content to drive usage frequency.
Once you convince someone to download your app, your next goal needs to be getting them to use it. The best way to do this is to meet and exceed their need for high quality content. This can be done by personalizing users’ feeds to put the most relevant and engaging content directly in front of them. A one-size-fits-all approach might not be optimal if it means a low or modest signal-to-noise ratio for the reader. If every time a user opens the app they instead see a selection of articles that is most likely to interest them, this creates a self-reinforcing habit that increases the likelihood that they will return to the app frequently – and spend more time while they’re there.
Timeliness of content is another important factor to consider. If you want to maintain a loyal audience, you have to be prepared to provide great content to the user whenever he or she demands it. Some users may even appreciate you telling them when you have content that is relevant to their personal tastes and interests. comScore found that interest in push notifications grew to 43% in 2017 from just 27% last year. Millennials tend to be much more receptive to these types of alerts than older generations, with 63% of them always or often agreeing to an app’s request to allow push notifications.
3. Get your app on the user’s home screen.
This last recommendation is the most challenging, but if your app is relevant enough to get promoted to a user’s smartphone home screen, then there’s a far greater chance your app will get used with more frequency. In fact, comScore found that 80% of mobile users intentionally move apps to their home screen, and 61% of those home screen curators cite app usage frequency as the top factor influencing their decision to promote an app to this premium position.
It was also found that there is an extremely high correlation for users’ “most essential” apps being placed on their home screen. This again comes back to quality, quantity and timeliness of content. If you have a lot of content that is relevant to the user at the moment they desire it, then your app will feel essential to the user, which might result in them giving you some of the best ‘real estate’ on their phone, setting your app up for success.
It’s important to remember that a small percentage of users can make up a huge percentage of overall media engagement and the corresponding advertising opportunity that comes with it. While having audience scale is important, it’s also important to drive loyalty and engagement to maximize monetization opportunities. Apps are an ideal way to get the most out of these loyal readers, or even convert casual readers into loyal ones. Modest gains in driving app usage and engagement can have a meaningful impact on the economics of digital publishers.
Adam Lella is a Senior Marketing Insights Analyst at comScore and co-author of The 2017 U.S. Mobile App Report. His research has spanned across numerous industry topics including digital, TV, e-commerce and advertising.