If there was ever competition between apps and the mobile web for the attention of smartphone users, the former has run away with it. According to eMarketer, users spend some 84.9% of their time within apps, with mobile web browsing making up the remainder, amounting to 19.9% of average daily total media time. However, at the same time, most smartphone users use a very limited number of apps with any regularity, and for infrequent interactions with brands mobile web is the go-to. Google has a plan to combine the two, to make mobile web just as engaging as apps whilst sacrificing none of its reach and variety.
At the Chief Marketing Officer Summit in San Francisco last year, Google’s Head of Global Product Partnerships, Thao Tran, led the audience through what Google sees as the future of the mobile web.
Thao begins by discussing user behavior on both apps and mobile web pages. Users will visit far more web pages than they do apps, but they’ll spend a far greater amount of time within the apps they do visit. Apps have the engagement, web pages have the reach, and Thao’s first point approached how Google is working to achieve parity in terms of engagement, without sacrificing mobile web’s reach. The reason such a disparity exists, she posits, is that mobile web doesn’t work as well as consumers expect it to. “I really want to drive this point home about why the web is so painful,” she says. “Users expect things to load really fast on their devices, but yet we're still seeing that, on average, pages are loading in 19 seconds on a 3G network - that's just bad for everyone. We're also seeing that conversions drop whenever there is an additional one second of delay - as high as 7% - so that's just bad for your businesses.”
So, what is Google doing to fix the problem? Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) have been developing and rolling out for some time, and are now commonplace on both social media and search when accessing through mobile. They are web pages designed to load almost instantly, removing the friction of access. “Over the last year we've really proven out that amp pages work well,” Thao says. “So, on average AMP pages load reliably in less than one second and, moreover, it actually consumes 10x less data, which is really important around the world where there are other parts of the world where data is really expensive.”
The pages see a 10% higher engagement than normal web pages, a rise Thao puts down simply to quicker loading time. As a result, the number of platforms supporting AMP pages has soared. To give an example, blogging site Tumblr is converting all of its 340 million blog pages into AMP pages. The Weather Channel, meanwhile, has seen a 4x increase in click-through rate from people finding their site via an AMP page.
Users are clearly more engaged by pages that load instantaneously and, though initially the pages were static and primarily built for publishers, eCommerce companies were quick to approach Google to see how they could benefit. “We started working with eBay, which launched product listing pages for over 15 million of their pages,” Thao says. “One of the pieces of feedback we heard from eCommerce players was that they needed AMP pages to be more interactive, that it can’t just be for static content.” Google is working to improve AMP pages to allow them to be more interactive, and brands should be paying attention to the opportunities these developments may bring.
Thao Tran's full presentation at the Chief Marketing Officer Summit
Twitter have been successful in bringing their mobile web service up to speed with their app. Working with Google, the social media giant has increased the speed of its web offering, and Thao notes that many users say they actually prefer the web version to the app. “I think what's astonishing is that you can deliver this incredibly immersive engaging experience at a fraction of the download size.” Instant apps, as a notion, haven’t taken off, and what Thao is hinting at is that AMP could be essentially the same proposition, so long as brands create pages that have all the functionality of an app whilst loading instantaneously.
The interest in AMP is universal across industries. From publishers like the Financial Times, to social media giants like Twitter, all the way to eCommerce leaders like eBay, there is a clear appetite for faster, more interactive mobile web experiences. Encouraging smartphone users to download an app, use it regularly, and keep it is difficult, and a growth in genuinely usable mobile web products could go a long way to avoiding the problem altogether. The big names already using AMP mean that it will likely progress at pace, with the clear benefits and relatively low barrier to entry an enticing way to improve engagement on mobile web.