Should You Advertise in-App or on a Mobile Web?

It is clear, as it has been for quite some time, that mobile is the future of content consumption. As in-app time continues to eclipse mobile web, it appears advertisers should focus their efforts on in-app. However, there are pros and cons to both environments.

Advertising on a mobile web vs. in mobile apps

If your budget is big enough, you should be in both. If forced to choose one over the other, it is important to know the strengths and limitations of each. Only then can you make an informed choice for where your advertising efforts should lie.

The key areas of comparison are reach, engagement, conversion, budget, tracking options, targeting, and ad blocking.

Reach — Mobile Web

Everyone with a smartphone has a mobile web browser and consider them superior for content consumption because all of their content can be accessed in one place. The result of this convenience?

They’ll be consuming the majority of their content within mobile web. Therefore, more eyes will see your ads with more frequency when you deliver your message over mobile web.

On the other hand, apps just aren’t convenient. They have to be downloaded, they have to be updated on the client side; and they are task specific. Thus, no one is “browsing” on an app,  resulting in fewer people will see your ads with less  frequency.

Engagement — In-App

The attributes that give mobile web greater reach compromise engagement. What are users doing when they are in mobile web browsers? Visiting web pages. Like desktop, and perhaps even more so, any ad that is provided is an unwelcome interruption to the user’s content experience.

Conversely, apps provide an immersive environment where ads can be designed and implemented seamlessly, resulting in higher engagement. For example, with rewarded video, users can opt to view an ad in exchange for a reward that’ll ad to the experience.

With in-app, you may have fewer people seeing your ads, but they’ll be interested…

Conversion — In-App

…which results in higher conversion rates. It’s simple, engagement = conversion.

Targeting — In-App

Apps are targeting personified. By virtue of downloading the app, the user is providing specific,  actionable data, right now.

Eventually, mobile web targeting will become incredibly sophisticated as programmatic advertising and fingerprinting will become mainstream. Coupled with the IOT movement, the amount of information available to advertising and marketing teams will be astounding.

But the operative keyword is will

Budget — Mobile Web

The greater engagement, higher conversion, and targeting that come with apps come with a price. That price is driven even higher because user experience is sacrosanct for publishers, resulting in limited ad space.

This is not the case with mobile web…which occupies the same space as desktop. Therefore, the traffic pool is much larger, resulting in a saturated market, further resulting in lower prices.

Tracking Options — Mobile Web

When users click on an ad within the app environment, they will likely be redirected to mobile web. Because cookies can’t travel between environments, advertisers are confined to S2S tracking.

Implementing S2S tracking is more complex, which is a barrier to smaller advertisers. 

However, because mobile web users are redirected within the same environment advertisers can use either S2S or cookies for tracking.

Ad Blocking — In-App

Ad blocking, the war rages on. Ad blocking is more widely available and utilized within mobile web browsers. This will likely always be the case.

Especially when you consider the level of engagement provided by the in-app environment, it is unlikely that the rates of ad blocking will come anywhere close to mobile web.


  • Mobile is the future of content consumption
  • In-app time continues to eclipse mobile web
  • Mobile web will continue to be relevant
  • Both have their strengths and limitations
  • Consider your budget and campaign goals when choosing one over the other

Verdict — both: balance the pros and cons of each with your campaign goals and decide.