Wayne Gretzky has a quote that I love – “A good Hockey player goes where the puck is, a Great hockey player goes where the puck will be.” Mobile is no longer the future, it is here my friend. By the end of this year there will be more people searching the internet on their Smartphones than on their Desktops or PCs. Your small business needs to have a mobile presence but you may be confused on how to best proceed.
Should you get a Mobile Optimized Website or a Dedicated Mobile App?
Mobile websites and apps can look very similar at first-glance, and figuring out which is a good fit for your small business needs will depend upon a number of factors, including who your target audience is, your available budget, and what your intended purpose and required features are.
What’s the Difference Between a Mobile Website and an App?
Before you can evaluate the benefits of a mobile website vs. an app it’s important to understand the key differences between them. Both apps and mobile websites are accessed on a handheld devices such as smartphones (e.g. iPhone, Android and Blackberry) and tablets (iPads, Kindle Fires, etc).
A mobile website is similar to any other website in that it consists of browser-based HTML pages that are linked together and accessed over the Internet.
Here’s how it works in a nutshell – your main business website stays the same except we put a simple piece of code on it that detects if the person viewing the site is on a Desktop or a Mobile Device. If the visitor is on a Mobile Device it automatically redirects that person to a special Mobile Version of your main website.
For example: Here is the main website for one of our Clients. (You can click on each image to see how it looks.
The Main Version of The Website
The Mobile Version of The Website
Another Important Reason Why a Mobile Website Is A Must For Small Business Owners…
Google recently made a very important announcement that every business owner should be aware of. They said: “To improve the search experience for smartphone users and address their pain points, we plan to roll out several ranking changes in the near future that address sites that are misconfigured for smartphone users.”
Translation = If you want your website to rank in the search engines you need to be Mobile Optimized. A downloadable App will not solve this problem so be sure to keep that in mind if you wish to be found in the search engines by local customers looking for your business.
More About Mobile Websites…
The obvious characteristic that distinguishes a mobile website from a standard website is the fact that it is designed for the smaller, roughly 3 and 1/2 inch touch-screen interface. They are designed to make it EASY for your prospects and customers to access your business via this tiny screen (most website are NOT designed to work well on these tiny devices).
Just like your regular website, mobile websites can display text content, data, images and even video. They can also access mobile-specific features such as click-to-call (to dial a phone number) or Geo-location-based mapping that can guide a customer right to the front door of your business.
Mobile Apps, on the other hand, are actual applications that are downloaded and installed on your mobile device, rather than being rendered within a browser.
Users visit device-specific portals such as Apple’s App Store, Android Market’s Google Play, or Blackberry App World (who knows how much longer they will be around) in order to find and download apps for a given operating system.
Typically, the app pulls content and data from the Internet, in similar fashion to a website, or it may download the content so that it can be accessed without an Internet connection. It depends on who builds your App and the functionality you are after.
So All This Begs The Question – Which is Better – a MobileApp or a Mobile Website?
Decisions, decisions… Your head may be spinning but stick with me, before you are done reading you will have more information so you make an informed decision.
To start off let me give you the definitive answer to the question of “Mobile Website vs Mobile App – Which Is Right For My Business?”
Here is my answer:
It Depends… Real helpful right? Stick with me…
The most appropriate choice really depends on your end goals. If you are developing an interactive game an app is probably going to be your best option. I know many app developers that build games that do VERY well for themselves but for the small business owner this isn’t what I recommend.
If your goal is to make it easy to attract New customers, increase sales from existing customers, and get more referrals then a Mobile Website is the direction I would recommend. If you want to offer mobile-friendly content to the widest possible audience then a mobile website is unquestionably the way to go.
In some cases you may decide you need both a mobile website and a mobile app, but it’s pretty safe to say that it rarely makes sense to build an app without already having a mobile website in place.
Having a mobile optimized presence is definitely where you should start…
A mobile website should be considered your first step in developing a mobile web presence, whereas an app is useful for developing an application for a very specific purpose that cannot be effectively accomplished via a web browser.
Advantages of a Mobile Website vs. Mobile Apps
If your goals are primarily related to marketing or public communications, a mobile website is almost always going to make sense as a practical first step in your mobile outreach strategy. This is because a mobile website has a number of inherent advantages over apps, including broader accessibility, compatibility and cost-effectiveness.
1. Ease Of Use – Mobile Websites Are Instantly Available and Don’t Require Action From Your Prospects and Customers
A mobile website is instantly accessible to users via a browser across a range of devices (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, etc). As I mentioned above, the Mobile Website is automatically shown when someone visits your website URL on their Mobile Device.
Apps on the other hand, require the user to first download and install the app from an app marketplace BEFORE the content or application can be viewed – a significant barrier between initial engagement and action/conversion. Friction in the process can diminish results. Points here for Mobile Websites over Mobile Apps…
2. Mobile Websites Work For Everyone and Every Device – Mobile Websites are Cross-Device Compatible
A properly-designed dedicated mobile website can reach users across many different types of mobile devices, whereas mobile apps require a separate version to be developed for each type of device. Yep, nightmare… (an expensive). You can have an app built for the Apple App store that will absolutely NOT work for Android (and vice versa). Furthermore, mobile website URLs are easily integrated within other mobile technologies such as SMS, QR Codes and near field communication. More points here for Mobile Websites…
3. Easy To Upgrade and Update – Mobile Websites Can Be Updated Instantly
Flat out, mobile websites are easy to update. If you want to change the design, the text on a page, the images or anything on the site you simply publish the edit once and the changes are instantly live and viewable to the world; updating an app on the other hand requires the updates to be pushed to users, which then must be downloaded in order to update the app on each type of device. Ugh, more points scored for mobile websites…
4. Easy To Discover – Mobile Websites Can be Found Easily and Automatically
There is an interesting book on Website Design that I actually never read but do have on my bookshelf. Its called, “Don’t Make Me Think…” That is GOOD website design in four words. Mobile websites don’t require your prospects and customers to think – they make it EASY for them to do business with you.
Mobile websites are much easier for users to find because their pages can be displayed in search results and listed in industry-specific directories, linked to from a Yelp page – making it easy for qualified visitors to find you.
The most important reason is that visitors to your main website can be automatically redirected to your mobile site when they are on their smartphone (using device-detection and automatic redirection). Looking at Apps, the visibility of apps are largely restricted to manufacturer app stores and users must go there to download the app. I do love apps and use many myself, but I am hoping that you are starting to realize that for small business owners Mobile Websites are really where you should start.
5. Easy To Share – Mobile Websites Can be Shared Easily by Your Prospects and Customers
Mobile website URLs are easily shared between users via a simple link (e.g. within an email or text message, Facebook or Twitter post). It doesn’t even matter what device someone shares your website URL because if the person they share with is on a Mobile device the site will detect that and automatically show them the Mobile Version. It works like magic. Publishers can easily direct users to a mobile website from a blog or website, or even in print. An app simply cannot be shared in this fashion. Boo apps, yeah mobile websites.
6. Increased Reach – Mobile Websites Have An Increased Consumer Reach
Frankly, because a mobile website is accessible on any platform, and can be easily shared among your prospects and customers (as well as in the search engines) it has a much greater reach capability as compared to a mobile app.
7. Mobile Websites Can’t be Deleted – Mobile Apps Can
I admit it. For some time I was addicted to Angry Birds, a very popular downloadable App. For weeks I snuck in quick games of Angry Birds and beat lots of levels (and wasted a lot of time)… ;-)
While it was fun, after some time I stopped playing it and got back to work. I eventually did a “spring cleaning” on my smartphone and deleted a bunch of apps – including my beloved Angry Birds.
The average shelf-life of an app is pretty dang short. Some research states that its less than 30 days. Unless your app is something extremely unique or extremely useful, it’s questionable how long it will last on a prospect or customer’s mobile smartphone or tablet. Mobile websites on the other hand are always available for users to return to them and they are automatically redirected to them anytime they go to visit your website while on a mobile device. More points scored for Mobile Websites – this is a landslide victory…
8. “Two Birds With One Stone…” A Mobile Website Can Double As A Mobile App
Just like a standard website, mobile websites can be developed as database-driven web applications that act very much like mobile apps. A mobile web application can be a practical alternative to native app development if you so choose.
9. Fast To Go Mobile
A good mobile website developer can help your small business go mobile in typically a week’s time. A mobile app can take significantly longer to build AND you will have to build a different app for every platform you want to have your app available on. The margin widens…
10. Cost – Mobile Websites are Easier and Less Expensive
Mobile website development is extremely cost-effective when compared to what it costs to develop a mobile app. If you need to have a presence on different platforms for your mobile app it will require development of multiple apps which exponentially increases the cost of development. (Do I even need to say it?)
11. Support and Ongoing Maintenance
Don’t fool yourself in thinking that the up front investment for getting a Mobile App made is the end of the discussion. You must take into consideration properly supporting and developing an app (upgrades, testing, compatibility issues and ongoing development). In the long run maintaining a mobile app is much more expensive and involved than supporting a mobile website over time.
11. Site Conversion Metrics, Directly Trackable Return On Investment, and Increased Profits
The mobile website software my team and I use to build mobile websites for our clients has amazing tracking capabilities so that you can see exactly how many unique visitors see your mobile website, how many people click to call, how many people click for directions, and you can even offer Digital Coupons that can be redeemed in the business.
The problem with most marketing and advertising investments small business owners are asked to make is that you can’t actually tell if it is driving more sales for your business. If you choose the right marketing company to build you a mobile website you can know without a shadow of a doubt that your mobile website IS making your business more money.
A word of warning – There are lots of options out there that promise to build your business a mobile version of your website BUT 99% of them aren’t designed in this fashion to actually remove the guessing and show you how they are making your business more money.
Hopefully those 12 points help you make a more informed decision. I think you can tell what I would recommend to you if you pressed me for an answer but does that mean I think mobile apps are a completely bad idea? Not at all. There are situations when you have to use the right tool for the job.
5 Situations When a Mobile App Make The Most Sense
Obviously I recommend most small business owners get a mobile website before even thinking about getting a mobile app but, with that said, there are situations when you may want a mobile app. Mobile apps are still very popular, and there are a number of specific situations where an app will be your best choice. Here are a few of those situations ;
1. Interactivity/Gaming – for interactive games (think Angry Birds, Words With Friends, Draw Something, etc.) an app is almost always going to be your best possible option.
2. Regular Usage/Personalization – If your target users are going to be using your app in a personalized fashion on a regular basis (think EverNote or Nike Running’s app) then an app provides a great way to do that.
3. Complex Calculations or Reporting – If you need something that will take data and allow you to manipulate it with complex calculations, charts or reports (think banking or investment) an app will help you do that very effectively.
4. Native Functionality or Processing Required – mobile web browsers are getting increasingly good at accessing certain mobile-specific functions such as click-to-call, SMS and GPS. However, if you need to access a user’s camera or processing power an app will still do that much more effectivley.
5. No connection Required – If you need to provide offline access to content or perform functions without a network/wireless connection then an app makes sense.
As with any project, when developing an app you want to ensure that your are getting the best possible ROI (return on your investment). What you want to avoid at all costs is the needless and expensive exercise of building an app to do something basic that can be achieved with a mobile website. Have you ever heard that story about how NASA dumped a TON of money into trying to develop a Pen that could be used by the astronauts in space. The Russians, who beat us into space just used a Pencil. No point in developing a mobile app when a mobile website will do just fine.
Wrapping Up and Conclusion
The future is here and Mobile is no longer optional – its a requirement. With that said, the “mobile app vs mobile website” question will remain a very real consideration for small businesses seeking to establish a mobile presence.
If your mobile goals are primarily marketing-driven, or if your aim is to deliver content and establish a broad mobile presence that can be easily shared between users and found on search engines, then the a mobile website is the ONLY choice.
On the other hand, if your goal is interactive engagement with users, or to provide an application that needs to work more like a computer program than a website, then an app is probably going to be required.
I sincerely hope that this analysis was helpful in if you have any questions or want to learn what a mobile website for your business would take I invite you to contact us.