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iOS, the winds of 2020, and the growing significance of the web

By Elan Freedberg
ios covid mobile web comeback - Square

2021 is finally here, and seven months after Apple’s dramatic privacy announcements, the dust is settling. On the surface, it may appear that the market is still dazed and confused and that advertisers are reacting like deer in the headlights now that they may have less granular data for user acquisition and engagement efforts. 

But from conversations with AppsFlyer customers and analyzing AppsFlyer data from 2020, it appears that advertisers recognize that the rules of the game have changed.

In fact, there’s a trend: advertisers are exploring new acquisition channels, such as owned media, and examining strategies that connect previously disparate digital touchpoints.

“The iOS 14 announcements have driven a rise in interest in web-to-app flows.”

One area in which advertisers are showing interest after the iOS 14 announcements is web-to-app flows, in other words converting web visits, especially those with high-intent, into new and return app usage. 

Why is there interest in web-to-app?

From what we’re seeing, the web is making a comeback among app marketers due to new behavior patterns among consumers and advertisers. 

In particular, the mobile web is an increasingly important touchpoint – with search often being the starting point – as consumers use it to learn about a brand, its offerings, products, and services, and what it can do for them.

Advertisers are taking note and reacting accordingly.

Consumers see web as a pre-install touchpoint

In terms of consumer behavior, as AppsFlyer’s recent 2020 trends report shows, the number of app installs with a preceding visit to a brand’s website nearly doubled in 2020, with nearly 10% of installs including a previous web visit.

The above refers to apps that were live throughout the measured timeframe.

What’s interesting to note is that this is a trend on the users’ side of the equation.

In other words, this is not the result of numerous advertisers changing up their game to build web-to-app journeys. Though many brands are certainly exploring web-to-app, the overall percentage of advertisers aiming to convert web visitors into app users is still relatively small.

There are a few reasons for the uptick in consumers spanning web-to-app:

  • Wiser consumers: Users across all cohorts have become savvy when it comes to researching brands on mobile devices; the watering hole for research is the web. Web exploration and evaluation especially for eCommerce, Travel, and Food & Drinks are part of what Google recently called the “messy middle,” the difficult-to-follow shopping experience between “triggers and a purchase” that take place on the web and in-app. Though the study is about shopping journeys, it is fair to say that it describes the way people “shop” for apps as well, starting with search terms such as “best fitness app”, “Los Angeles best delivery app”, etc.

  • COVID-19: On top of these trends, COVID-19 ushered in a period in which people have spent a lot more time on their mobile devices, surfing the web to explore, evaluate, and find optimal ways to “get things done” (shop, work, exercise, play) in apps; in other words, they’re searching the web for ways to do things better and improve their lives via apps.

  • Mobile and app install advertising: Advertisers use paid (Facebook, Google Ads, etc.) as well as owned (email, SMS, QR codes, etc.) media to drive traffic to their websites. Mobile advertising is set to grow by over 40% in the next four years (eMarketer). As mobile advertising grows, consumer click throughs to the web will grow.
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App monetization strategies for iOS 14: The complete guide

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Advertisers view web as a key media channel

Just as we’ve seen an organic trend by mobile users to head to the web before making decisions – whether it’s an outright purchase or an app install – we’ve witnessed advertisers considering a shift in ad spending. In a recent MMA/AppsFlyer survey, 19% of marketers “strongly agree” and 41% “somewhat agree” that they are likely to shift budgets within mobile. Many of our forward-looking customers are exploring the web as an attractive source for UA and engagement, confirming these data points.

Though we’re still at the beginning of this new trend, here are five suggested reasons for increased advertiser interest in the web:

  1. Costs: Brands are exploring ways to reduce costs and increase ROI by using web campaigns instead of and/or in parallel with app campaigns. 
  2. Increased retention: Brands recognize that consumers are installing apps only after exploring and understanding the product benefits and offering (e.g., eCommerce, Travel, and Food & Drink).
  3. Registration on the web: Some brands, for example, media streaming companies with subscription models, prefer that users register and pay on the web, before directing them to their app.
  4. Expanding reach: On some platforms such as Facebook and Google Ads, not everyone who sees an “app ad” will see a “mobile site ad” and vice versa.
  5. IDFA and SKAdNetwork: Brands are working with attribution providers to retain attribution functionality despite the difficulties surrounding Apple’s iOS 14 changes. Full visibility into web-to-app journeys, available despite IDFA loss and lack of coverage from SKAdNetwork, opens up new opportunities for advertisers in a post-iOS 14 world. 

Cross-channel journeys drive digital transformation

Finally, in parallel to these five points, we’re seeing first signs of the traditional silos between web and mobile app organizations cracking.

Many of our future-focused customers understand that user journeys and flows involve a gamut of touchpoints – mobile web, desktop web, apps, and email and social (which are also apps, technically).

To Google’s point, this is part of the messy middle, with users going back and forth among these channels as they explore and evaluate products and services.

Google's messy middle model
Google’s “messy middle”

In essence, we’re seeing signs of a digital transformation brought about by a combination of forces unleashed in 2020 – iOS 14, COVID-19, new consumer and advertiser behavior riffing off of each other, and web-to-app.

How is this transformation playing itself out? Brands are connecting the dots among web-to-app touchpoints and as a consequence adjusting their organizations accordingly to facilitate the design, implementation, and measurement of smooth user experiences across the new flows.  

Stay tuned

In this blog, we showed how and why the web is making a comeback thanks to a confluence of forces and new behaviors that coalesced in 2020.

Elan Freedberg

Elan is a seasoned product marketing manager with two decades of experience helping large and small tech companies bring products to market by honing in on core product value, messaging, and narratives. In his current role as Senior Product Marketing Manager at AppsFlyer, he is focused on improving customer and user experience through the creation of seamless digital journeys. When not at the office, Elan loves to spend time with family – especially in nature – and is an avid skater and aspiring surfer.

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