My Company Stopped Advertising on Mobile And The World Didn’t End

I’ve been singing the praises of mobile advertising for eight years. Conducting countless consumer surveys, publishing quarterly and sometimes monthly reports, doing everything in my power to show advertisers that consumers are purchasing on mobile and that mobile advertising is effective.

The irony of this article is thick. One of the biggest evangelist’s of mobile advertising comes out and says her company doesn’t advertise on mobile apps anymore. We’re a small company and every dollar that goes towards advertising is a dollar that doesn’t go towards improving our products. Because of this, we have a high bar for ad performance. The metrics don’t lie; mobile app advertising doesn’t work for us.

Happy Traffic Spike Day

It’s 6am PST on a Tuesday. Our office starts early so we can catch the tale end of the European day and match up with the East Coast. We refresh our Google Analytics page and see the Real Time Dashboard lit up with hundreds and hundreds of visitors. For an instant, my heart jumps up into my throat, my palms go cold and sweaty — what the farg will we do if they all place an order?

Scenario planning in the back of my brain, we dig into the metrics. Our AdWords campaign had just turned on.

Within minutes, we were 25% over our daily budget.

AdWords showed about 50% more clicks than we saw in Google Analytics and 75% more than what we saw on our shopping platform. Our bounce rate was just shy of 100%.

We pause the campaign immediately, dig in more. One placement in a mobile app accounts for more than a third of the clicks. A handful of other mobile app placements account for the rest. We compare our audience profiles to the apps — technically, the women we were targeting were big users of these apps. But so were a whole bunch of other random people. And those people were clicking our ad like mad.

High CTR Isn’t Enough

We’ve seen wonky campaign results before so we didn’t give up right after this experience. We tested different messaging and imagery and narrowed our targeting to a pinpoint. We locked down our settings to smooth delivery and optimize for conversions. It didn’t work. Consistently the campaigns would blow past the budget — by 25–45% in the space of minutes.

Consistently, it was mobile app placements that were to blame.

We crunched numbers. On the surface, we should have been ecstatic with the performance of our campaigns within mobile apps because the click-through-rate (CTR) was ridiculously high. CTR was, and is, a misleading performance metric. We were not happy.

Mobile Apps
CTR — 13%; CPC — $0.06; Average CPM $36.41

Everything Else
CTR — .65%; CPC — $0.11; Average CPM $28.92

Yes, advertising within mobile apps was more cost efficient on a per click basis. Yes, it had higher CTR. But the average CPM was 26% higher than non-app advertising. For mobile app placements, our bounce rate was insanely high (95%+), the average page view metric was hovering at 1, and our conversion rate was almost nonexistent.

Turning Our Backs on Apps

We took a deep breath. We held hands. We blocked ads from showing up in apps in the next campaign.

The world kept spinning. Our CTR went down, our CPC went up. Our pages views nudged up, time spent on the site went up, conversions went up. Our analysis of the best performing placements and targeting parameters gave us real insights rather than noise. We were happy.

Finding Our Mobile Bliss

We stopped advertising in mobile apps, but we’re still targeting mobile devices through search and other display placements. It would be foolish to throw all of mobile out because one tactic didn’t work for us.

We need to be where our customers are. The women we are trying to reach are dynamic, unique, and want to live life to the fullest. They’re using their phones and tablets more than their computers. We’ll still be on their mobile devices, just not buried in their apps.