Opinion: Why a website is key to app success

11 Aug 2016

Barron Ernst, senior director for mobile and growth at Naspers, wrote the article below for the Naspers site. We thought it valuable, and asked his permission to republish it in full. He said, “OK”, so here we go.

(Here, if you prefer to read it on the Naspers site).

Why a website is key to app success

Apps seem set to dominate the way customers interact with brands. In 2015, Apple’s App Store grew by 1,000 apps per day, and Google Play downloads are expected to triple by 2020.

Barron Ernst, (photo from his LinkedIn page with thanks)

Barron Ernst, senior director for mobile and growth at Naspers (photo from his LinkedIn page with thanks)

At the same time, visits to brand websites are declining, and in the U.S. digital-media time is now significantly higher on mobile (at 51 percent) than on desktop (with 42 percent).

It’s tempting to think that websites have passed their ‘Best before’ date.

But, could the rapid growth in app downloads lead to the channel becoming a victim of its own success? People don’t have unlimited space on their devices and often only best-loved apps are used. In developing markets, space and data are even more limited, so assuming that all customers are going to install and keep your app is not realistic – unless it’s a great user experience.

Here’s a scary stat. According to Flurry Analytics, only 36 percent of apps are retained longer than one month, and only 11 percent are retained for a year.

This is where websites can still play a prominent role.

Companies and brands should manage their web and app presences as integrated wholes, rather than let their websites drift as they move to apps. As well as being an important content and commerce hub in its own right, a great website can also drive app downloads and installs.

First of all, remember that visitors to your site are already interested in your product. If they’ve spent the time to actually visit your site, there’s a chance they are looking for what you are providing. So, you already have a potentially interested customer. Knowing this, the key is now, to think through how getting them to install an app, can deepen and enhance the experience with your product.

For many users, they are often discovering your website as a first stop to understanding and using your product. Therefore, it’s critical to use this experience to convert them to installing and using your app. It’s key to spend time thinking through the user journey from landing on your website, to discovering the value of your product (the content, the products, etc.) and then to leveraging that to drive installation of your app.

You also need to think deeply about the mechanics that will drive users to install the app. You can’t just put a smart banner on the top of your pages and expect users to convert. It’s critical to integrate the app install experience into the web experience, and provide the user a compelling reason to download and install. For example, make it easier to store a wishlist through the app, to track collections, or to have some key functionality that isn’t as easily available on the website.

Pinterest understands this well. It created a dynamic dialogue between its website and app worlds to improve the ‘stickiness’ of both. One of the growth leaders at Pinterest, Casey Winters, does a great talk on growth here. But relevant to my article, Winters gave a great summary of how Pinterest constantly evolved and iterated on their web to mobile flow, leading to massive adoption of their app.

The main point is that they leveraged massive incoming traffic to their website, and then used that as an opportunity to get users to download and install the app – a platform where they could more deeply engage with the user.

Given the depth of modern app stores, it’s hard for brands to bring their apps to the surface, over a sea of others. Just remember that ASO (app store optimization) works, but it’s still not nearly as powerful as old-school web search and SEO.

Converting existing web users to the mobile app can be a quick and easy win, and should be a key element of any brand’s mobile growth strategy. Web expansion through SEO and other similar tactics is definitely still worth doing, and in many cases a necessity to have successful app user growth.

Barron Ernst
August 9, 2016


Christo Volschenk

Christo Volschenk is managing editor of the news on Aimgroup.com and our senior analyst covering Naspers. He brings more than 31 years of experience in business journalism to the team - the last 18 years focused on classifieds and e-commerce. Apart from working closely with the AIM Group, Christo is a freelance journalist, content manager, and copy editor. Before branching out on his own, he spent 15 years with Naspers in South Africa as journalist, economics editor and online project manager. He now spends most his day editing the news reported by 23 colleagues in 23 countries from his base in Stuttgart, Germany.