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How to Turn Web Traffic Into Mobile App Installs

It’s no secret that increasing numbers of internet searches are being performed on mobile, not desktop. In fact, last year mobile internet consumption overtook desktop as consumers’ device of choice for accessing the world wide web – a trend that shows no signs of letting up anytime soon.


This news might make you think you don’t need to worry about desktop users at all. The future is mobile, right?

As of December 2015, 35% of digital media was still being consumed on desktop devices. Sure, this number will have declined since, and will likely continue to for the foreseeable future, but will desktop use ever disappear entirely? In our lifetime, probably not. There are some tasks that are just easier to perform on desktop – a lot of what we do at the office, for starters.

Okay, so technology will evolve. At some point both desktop and mobile as we know them will disappear entirely. But until that happens, desktop devices will continue to be used by a portion of the population, and marketers, if they don’t want to alienate a potentially significant chunk of their audience, will need to account for that.

If 35% of digital media is being consumed on desktop devices (a figure that may have dropped since but for the sake of argument we’ll assume it’s remained the same), that’s 35% of potential app users you’re failing to account for if you have not implemented a system designed to get desktop visitors to download and install your app.

If you want to ensure you’re not excluding that 35% then stick with me – we’re going to go through everything you need to do to become more effective at turning desktop visitors into mobile app users.

How to Drive Web Traffic to Your App

Data from late 2014 revealed that roughly half of consumers are searching for and finding apps directly in the app store.



That’s huge, but what about the rest of those consumers? If they’re not finding you in the app store, where they can download the app instantly, where are they finding you? And how can you ensure you turn that traffic into app users – especially if those consumers are away from the device they will subsequently use to access the app?

Link to the app store from your website

This one’s obvious, and kind of a no-brainer. If you’re not linking to the app store from your website, you should be. Sure, when it comes to turning desktop traffic into mobile app users it’s very ineffective, but here are three reasons you should include them regardless:

  1. They’re so simple to implement.
  2. If you’re talking about your app on your website (which you are, aren’t you?) users expect to be able to click a link to your app in the relevant store (or stores).
  3. They are effective at converting users who have visited your site and read about your app using a mobile, not desktop device.

Below is an example of how Sony does this on its apps page. Sony offers a range of apps, and each one gets summarized using its name, logo, and a brief blurb. When clicked, the “download” buttons reveal a drop-down menu with a link to where that app can be found at each of the relevant app stores.


The Hilton, on the other hand, keeps it simple with a series of text links:


Downloading an app from a desktop device to your phone is really simple – so long as your two devices are linked via a Google account (on Android Devices) or an Apple ID.

Despite this simplicity, there are a number of reasons these links are so ineffective at converting desktop traffic into mobile app users:

  • The user might not be browsing on a desktop computer that’s linked to their mobile device.
  • The user might not understand that they can download apps to their mobile device from a computer, and so overlooks this option completely.
  • As soon as a user clicks “download,” the download should begin immediately. This isn’t ideal if the user’s mobile device isn’t currently connected to Wi-Fi.
  • If the user doesn’t pick up their mobile device and use the app right away, there’s a chance they might have forgotten about it by the time they do use that device.

Just to reiterate, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t include a link to the app store on your website. Customers expect to see it, and more importantly, may be browsing your site on a mobile device – in which case the above points are irrelevant.

I just mean that there are more effective ways of turning web traffic into mobile app users.

Utilize retargeting ads

Use this strategy for converting those who have expressed an interest in your app – for example, they’ve visited the app page of your site, or had details sent to them by email or text, but haven’t taken the next step and actually downloaded it.

I’m going to talk about retargeting on two channels: Facebook and Google. You can either advertise with these platforms directly or use a third-party service like AdRoll or Criteo.

Retargeting on Facebook

On Facebook ads, you can retarget by uploading a custom audience of phone numbers or email addresses (that you have collected via text or email to download options – we’ll discuss that just below), or by adding a pixel to your site that tracks and re-markets to people who have visited your site – either to any page, or to a specific page.

In both cases, the first step is to select “Create New” in the audience section of your ad set, and choose “Custom Audience.”


From here you’ll want to choose either “Customer File” (for adding customers’ phone numbers or email addresses) or “Website Traffic” (for retargeting people who have visited your site).


If you want to re-target website traffic, and you haven’t already added a Facebook Pixel to your site, you’ll be asked to create one. To do this, give your pixel a name and click “Create Pixel.” You will then need to add this code to each page of your site that you want to be able to track.

Retargeting on AdWords

To get started with retargeting on AdWords go to Campaigns > Shared Library, and then select “Audiences.”

You will be presented with four choices. To re-target to people who have visited your website, select “Website visitors.”


You’ll be prompted to create a HTML “tag.” This is essentially the same as a Facebook Pixel – it’s tracking code that you will need to add to each page of your site that you want to track.

Once you’ve received the tracking code and have added it to your site, return to the “Audiences” page, click the red “Remarketing List” button, and select “Website Visitors.” The next page will allow you to create the audience you want to target – in other words, which page or pages of your site you want the people you’re targeting to have visited (in this case, probably your app page).

After you’ve created your first list, Google will begin to populate it as people that meet that audience’s criteria visit your site.

When you’re ready, go to “Campaigns” and click the red “Campaign” button, then select “Display Network Only” to begin creating your first ad.

Allow customers to receive a text to download the app

This is by far my preferred method of turning desktop visitors into app users. That’s firstly because it’s simple and convenient for the customer. More importantly, texts rarely get forgotten or ignored. According to data from Mobile Marketing Watch, SMS marketing messages boast a 98% open rate, while only 22% of email marketing messages get to see the light of day.

Bank of America offers customers the option to receive a text link to the app (alongside the obligatory link to the app store).

To access these options from this page, customers must begin by clicking “Get the secure app.” This activates a drop-down menu that asks them to select their device. From here, a screen that looks something like this will appear:


At this point, the customer has three choices.

  • Visit Google Play and download the app directly to their mobile device.
  • Enter their phone number and receive a text link to download the app.
  • Fetch their mobile and visit in their web browser for a link to download the app.

For desktop users, the middle option is the clear winner.

BT UK offers customers both choices too; however, in this case the text to download option functions a little differently.


Instead of the customer entering their phone number, they’re asked to text ‘MyBT’ to ‘81192.’ In my opinion, this setup is far inferior to Bank of America’s. Here’s why:

  • If the customer is viewing this message on a desktop device, they might not have their phone on hand (yep, believe it or not, not everyone has their phone attached to their hip at all times).
  • The customer has to think more – they have to check that they’re sending the right message to the right phone number. Not a huge ask, considering, but certainly more inconvenient than simply typing their phone number into a box.
  • The customer might incur charges for sending the text. More worryingly, they might get warned about it. This is a huge barrier to entry.

BT’s model is an excellent example of what not to do. I’d strongly advise adopting a model similar to that used by Bank of America, instead.

The easiest way to provide customers with this option is to use a third-party service like LinkTexting.

To get started, sign up for free by clicking “Get Started.” Next, click “Create New Link” and enter the content of the SMS you want to send, and the domain (or domains) you want to send it from.


Then, click “Embed/Test,” copy the displayed code into your website, and you’re good to go.

Allow customers to receive an email to download the app

This option functions similarly to text to download, though for the reasons outlined above (emails are far more likely to be ignored than texts) it’s not nearly as effective. However, not everyone is comfortable sharing their phone number online or with businesses, so for that reason it can be worth offering email to download as an option.

Most email marketing tools will allow you to create a simple form that customers can complete to receive an email with a link to the relevant app.

Optimizing Your Web to Download Conversion Funnel

Providing a route from web to app is only part of the battle. It’s important you optimize each part of that funnel for conversions, too.

Let’s take a look at how.

Keep your calls to action simple and consistent

It’s critical you make the route from web to app as seamless as possible. In the case of website links and text or email to download, this means including minimal, consistent calls to action (i.e. they should all look the same and clearly lead to the same location). If in doubt, always choose a single large, bold CTA over multiple smaller and more discreet CTAs.

Get this bit wrong and you risk your users becoming confused, or worse, abandoning the idea of downloading your app altogether.

“Which one do I click?”

“Do all these links lead to the same place?”

These aren’t questions you want your users to be asking. Ensure every CTA looks the same and never include more than one type of CTA on the same page (for example, a “subscribe to our blog” button alongside a button for downloading the app).

“The point of having a CTA on your page is to give page visitors a single action to take. It’s crucial that you give potential leads one path to follow to conversion, so that you don’t lose them along the way. Companies often insert too many messages, steering potential leads in all directions, rather than helping them to conversion.” Claire Grayston, Wishpond

Carefully consider which pages you place your CTAs on

If you have a website dedicated solely to your app, then it makes sense to include bold, consistent calls to action on each page.

If your app is linked to your product or company, and as such has its own page on your main domain, consider how you can maximize downloads by placing CTAs on other pages of your site.

As mentioned above, you shouldn’t include more than one type of CTA on a single page. Don’t confuse visitors or divert revenue away from the site by asking visitors to download your app on a page designed to push products.

If, however, you have…

  • Information pages that are complemented by content contained in your app, or
  • Blog posts that talk about your app or features, or information that is linked to your app

…then you can leverage these pages for app downloads by enhancing them with relevant CTAs.

Another option you might want to consider are pop-up CTAs, as seen on Hotspot Shield.


Pop-ups can allow you to market your app to visitors on pretty much any site without running the risk of confusing them with multiple CTAs.

It still pays to carefully consider where and when you want these pop-ups to appear. They should never, ever be triggered when actions have signaled that a visitor is about to convert.

Keep your ask simple

This applies anytime you ask anything of users online – contact forms, email sign-ups, checkout pages – the more you ask of your visitors, the lower you can expect your conversion rate to be.

The examples we saw earlier – Bank of America and especially BT UK – arguably ask a little too much of their users.

Bank of America asks customers to complete an – albeit simple – three-step process.

BT actually asks their customers to do the legwork by texting them.

There are ways to simplify the process further.

All customers have to do to get the SpotOn app is enter their phone number and click “Text me the link.”


From that text, the customer will be able to choose the type of app they want (i.e. Apple, Android, or Windows). The customer has already moved far enough along the conversion funnel that they’re less likely to be deterred at this stage by the small ask of having to choose from more than one link.

Best Practices for Effectively Turning Web Traffic Into App Users

To maximize the impact of your conversion funnel optimization, I strongly encourage you to incorporate some, or all, of the following best practices into your strategy.

A/B test

If you’ve read pretty much anything I’ve written before, chances are you know how much I advocate split testing. My philosophy is that if you can test it, you should test it.

Web traffic to app download funnels are no exception.

Variations you might want to test include:

  • Website calls to action.
  • Position of CTAs on the page.
  • Which pages feature your CTAs.
  • Use of pop-up CTAs.
  • Where and when pop-up CTAs appear.
  • How you describe your app.
  • The imagery you use to accompany your app description.
  • The options you offer visitors for downloading your app and/or their order and prominence.

If you’re not already using an A/B testing tool, I recommend Optimizely or Kissmetrics.

Track conversions

How can you know whether your efforts to turn web traffic into mobile app users are paying off if you’re not tracking conversions? Exactly which type of conversions you need to track will depend on the channels you’re using to turn web traffic into app users; however, chances are, at least some of the conversions you’re going to want to track will include:

  • The number of people who click a link to the app store on your website.
  • The number of people who get your app sent to a mobile device.
  • The number of people who install your app after clicking a link on your site or receiving details via text.

Do this in partnership with A/B tests to establish how effective the wording, appearance, and position of your messaging is.

Track user behavior

What happens once a user downloads and installs your app? Are they opening it one time only? Do they use it two or three times and forget about it? Or are they using the app regularly?

Unless you’re selling a “premium” app that users purchase full access to up front, getting users “hooked” on your app is key. Even if subsequent uses won’t directly increase your revenue, a regular user of your app is more likely to leave a positive review and recommend you to others.

Ways to encourage repeat app users are discussed just below. Pre-download however, your concern should be ensuring that your marketing messages aren’t just driving users, but driving the right type of users.

A high number of installs alongside low repeat users could signal a problem with the app itself. It might also signal an issue with your messaging – that users are being mislead or their expectations mismanaged.

If anything, it’s critical to describe your app accurately, because if you don’t, it could be removed from both the Apple and Android app stores.

How to Retain App Users

As covered above, unless your app generates revenue solely from installs, retaining users is key. Even if a current user won’t drive revenue directly once they’ve made their purchase, they could still prove valuable to you through reviews and word-of-mouth.

In other words, whether your app is designed to streamline the process of shopping in your e-commerce store, or is a premium tool with a one-time purchase fee, ensuring that your users keep coming back for more is fundamental to your success.

How? Let’s take a look at a few ways.

Ensure it’s easy to use

A study of mobile app use found that one in four apps are abandoned after a single use.


There are going to be many reasons users abandon apps so quickly. They could, as touched on earlier, have been misled as to its contents. Or they could just forget it’s there.

Something we can be pretty sure about, however, is that no one is going to return to your app if their first use left them stumped trying to figure out how to use it.

Build an app that’s user-intuitive – that functions in a logical manner that users expect – and you should drastically increase the number of users who come back for more.

Make damn sure it performs correctly

In a Hewlett-Packard survey, 96% of respondents said that app performance is crucial.

The other 4% probably didn’t understand the question.

It should go without saying that if your app doesn’t work properly, you’re going to lose users. The more severe that usability problem, the more users you’re going to lose.

Common usability issues include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Poor speed – slow to load and/or slow to respond. If your app isn’t quick enough, users are going to get frustrated and leave. Once that happens, you’re going to need to be offering something really special if you expect them to come back.
  • The app crashes more often than almost never. This is one of the most annoying things an app can do. Inevitably, it will happen occasionally, and you might not always be at fault – the problem could lie with your users’ devices. But that being said, if it happens more than very occasionally, there’s a problem you need to investigate.
  • Slows down the device (not really an issue with app usability as such, but definitely a problem that could lose you users).

Test your app regularly, get others to test it too (from a variety of different devices), and pay attention to reviews – if a user highlights a problem, don’t assume it’s a “one-off.” For every user who reports an issue, another 20 might just stop using the app. If a problem with your app comes to light, investigate it and fix it – as soon as possible.

Make it easy to use again

Don’t ask repeat users to jump through hoops each time they open your app. Once a user’s signed up, that should be it – they should not have to login to use the app again.

That said, whether or not an app is easy to jump back into goes beyond the login screen.

  • Does your app save each user’s last position, or is it better for the user if they’re taken back to the home screen? Should the user be given a choice?
  • If users are reverted to the home screen each time they open the app, what – and how much – information are they presented with? Establish which features will be most important to returning users and configure the home screen to ensure they’re available right away.

Exactly what works best here will depend on the functionality of your app; not all apps will share the same rules for optimal user experience. A banking app, for instance, should always launch the home screen upon opening – in part because it feels more secure, but also because the nature of the app means that each use should see a specific task started and completed.

Real-time strategy games, however, should of course launch in exactly the same place the user was when they last closed the app.

Figure out what setup will offer the best experience for your users and configure your app accordingly.

Utilize push notifications and in-app messaging

Push notifications are messages that appear on your users’ devices while your app is closed. They feature messages designed to entice users back into the app, and they look something like this:


In-app messages are similar, but they appear while a user is already engaged with the app. They may look something like this:


Both forms of notifications are very effective at driving repeat uses.

In-app messages have been shown to boost user retention to 46%.


Push notifications have been shown to increase app engagement by up to 171%.

If you’re not utilizing push notifications you’re probably (almost definitely) missing out on a huge amount of repeat traffic.

That said, it’s important to use them carefully. Overly-intrusive push notifications can, and do, result in uninstalls.

“Yes, push notifications are an efficient way to keep in touch with your audience and re-engage your users. However, you definitely don’t want to go overboard and flood them. So, make sure you use them wisely, once more bearing in mind that quality of content is key. If you approach your audience make sure you have something to offer that will be worth their time or else they will be quick to either turn off notifications if not delete your app.” Isabella Leland, Good Barber

You can read about how to get started with push notifications here.

What strategies have you used to overcome the problem of potential app customers finding you while using a desktop device, and how effective have you found them to be? Let me know using the comments below.


Image Credits

Featured Image: Pixabay



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