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Recently the New York Times wrote about how publishers are increasingly challenged to build two mobile audiences – one for their website and one for their app. While it may be worth it for some larger publishers, the cost of maintaining two mobile platforms can be prohibitive to many smaller or niche publishers.

Smartphones are one of the dominant platforms for consuming news, so it’s critical for news publishers to master their mobile experiences. Ninety-three percent of consumers that access news content do so through their smartphones, while 92% do so through desktop and 90% through TV.

So is it worth it for smaller publishers to build a mobile app and web experience? Of course, the answer depends on the individual publisher and what its target market prefers. However, through the Compete mobile clickstream panel, we’ve found that 78% of consumers access news content through their browser only, while 16% access news content through both an app and their browser.

News Access on Mobile Browser

In our study, The New Mobile Mantra, we discovered that app/browser decisions are often determined by the consumer’s level of brand commitment. A consumer is not going to download an app for a brand they are not committed to, or they only engage with infrequently. For those activities they would use the browser.

So when it comes to engaging with news publishers, many consumers are not loyal to a specific publisher – rather they are browsing for information on a specific topic.

This becomes clear when we look at the keywords that drive traffic to publishers on smartphones. The vast majority (93%) of search referrals to news properties on mobile are from non-branded keywords. For example, a non-branded keyword would be “2016 election” rather than “Wall Street Journal.”

search referral mobile

In making app/browser decisions, publishers have to weigh many options. Consumers undoubtedly love the convenience of an app, but for many publishers the cost and effort it takes to build and maintain an app might not be worthwhile. If consumers tend search for information on specific news events in their browser rather than in a publisher’s app, it might be worth investing in a user-friendly web experience instead.

Learn more about the distinct roles of the mobile app and mobile web by downloading the report today.

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