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It’s no secret that mobile usage is becoming more prominent for online consumer engagement. Google has reported that over 50% of searches worldwide are done on mobile devices.

In response to this, Google has been rolling out a “mobile-first” index which evaluates factors on a site’s mobile version over the desktop version in order to determine the site’s value and authority. Because of this growth in mobile emphasis, it is increasingly important for businesses to have a strong mobile presence in today’s competitive landscape.

There are a couple of mediums in which a business can bolster its brand’s mobile online presence: mobile websites and mobile apps. Determining which of these mediums your business should invest in will depend on your budget, your target customers, and your overall business goals.

To make this decision a little clearer, let’s take a closer look at the differences between mobile websites and mobile apps, and the benefits and limitations of each.

Mobile Websites

A mobile website is basically the version of your desktop website that is accessible on a mobile device. Your business most likely already has a website designed for desktop displays, but is your website compatible with the screen sizes of different devices and touchscreen technology? In other words, is your website mobile friendly?

Responsive web design makes your website mobile friendly in that your site automatically resizes so its content fits the smaller screens of smartphones and tablets. Mobile responsiveness is becoming the standard of web design because it creates a better user experience for those accessing your website on mobile devices. While mobile websites can display the same content and media as your standard website, they also go beyond standard websites by offering functionalities like click-to-call phone numbers and location-based maps.

Wpromote’s desktop website vs. Wpromote’s mobile website.

Mobile Apps

Mobile apps are applications that users download and install on their mobile devices. Apps are available from app store platforms like Apple’s App Store and Android’s Android Market, and aren’t pulled up in a browser like mobile websites are. There is a vast inventory of apps available through app stores for a countless number of user needs. Need to edit a photo? Need to transfer money to a friend? Need to catch a ride? There’s most likely an app for that. Think Snapchat, Venmo, and Lyft.

Mobile Sites vs. Mobile Apps

In comparing mobile websites to mobile apps, each medium offers unique benefits. (In the comparisons below, green text indicates the winner, and red text indicates the loser.)

Accessibility

Mobile Site: Can be pulled up in an Internet browser without any limitations based on device compatibility. Ease of accessibility also allows mobile sites to be shared simply among audiences via a link to the site’s domain.

Mobile App: Must be downloaded and installed on a device to be used (and can also be deleted off a user’s device). Device compatibility isn’t universal (ex. Apple vs Android).

Immediate Online Visibility

Mobile Site: Can lend more visibility to your brand as mobile sites can be found in the search engines results where pages of the site are indexed.

Mobile App: Visibility is limited to online app marketplaces (ex. App Store, Android Market). Marketing efforts need to focus on convincing customers to take action and download your app.

Cost

Mobile Site: Less expensive to develop and maintain. Updates can be made quickly and are instantly available to users.

Mobile App: Extensive costs associated with development and maintenance. In some cases, updates are available to users only if the user downloads the updated version of the app.

Personalization

Mobile Site: Users see the same version of the site.

Mobile App: Interface can be personalized with unique user accounts (ex. mobile banking, customer rewards). Push notifications can be sent to users to put information directly in front of them and enhance the user experience (ex. the Amazon app sends notifications when your order has been shipped).

Cross-Functionality

Mobile Site: Limited to functions like click-to-call, text messaging, and GPS.

Mobile App: Can integrate with other mobile apps and mobile functions, like the user’s contacts, camera, and photos.

Investing In Your Mobile Presence

Now that we have an understanding of what a responsive mobile website is and what a mobile app is, it’s time to decide which medium your business should be dedicating its mobile presence resources to (i.e. which medium will grant you valuable online visibility).

If your goals are focused on brand visibility with the intention of reaching new potential customers through information that’s readily available, then having a mobile website should do the job. However, if you’re looking to create a user experience that will allow customers to interact with your business outside the confines of a website, then you should consider developing a mobile app.

When A Mobile App Makes Sense

The development and maintenance of a mobile app is expensive. Therefore, it is important to make sure it’s the right fit for your business. When determining if an app will work to bolster your business’s online presence, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do customers repeatedly visit my website to take a specific action? – If so, it may make sense to develop an app to allow customers to do this specific action more easily through a mobile app interface. For example, many people check their bank accounts regularly, so most banks have mobile apps that allow users to access their accounts, perform transfers, and make payments, all on their mobile device.
  • Are my services best provided on a more personalized level? – Say your business offers a frequent buyer rewards program or operates an online retail store. A mobile app may be the best way to allow repeat customers to access their shopping accounts in order to keep track of rewards points or past purchases.
  • Am I looking to gather customer data in order to determine user behavior, buying habits, demographics, etc.? – If you set up your app to require customers to create a unique user account, this can give you access to valuable data based on the demographics and behavior of your most loyal customers. This data can be used to help you target your marketing efforts to the right audiences, which will lead to growth of your customer base.
  • Am I ready to make a significant investment into my mobile marketing? – As mentioned, apps are costly and require a special kind of marketing to get them in front of potential users and have users actually download them. You will have to invest resources in both creating the app and marketing it to your audience, whether that be through offering incentives or engaging in mobile app search engine optimization (SEO).

At The End Of The Day It’s Mobile First 

With mobile usage regularly increasing, there’s no doubt that every business should focus on maintaining a mobile presence.

Many businesses use both a mobile-friendly website and a mobile app to stay ahead of the competition. The mobile website serves as a cornerstone of your general online presence, whereas the mobile app is used for more specific customer actions. For example, Starbucks has a mobile-friendly website that has information on the newest menu items as well as a mobile app that allows store visitors to pay with their phones and earn points towards free products.

However, if you decide on just one or the other (site or app), what it breaks down to is this: while it would make sense to have a mobile-friendly site and not a mobile app, it wouldn’t make sense to have a mobile app and no mobile website. Therefore, the first step in your mobile presence strategy should be developing an optimized mobile-friendly website. The second step, should you choose to invest significantly in your mobile presence, is developing that customized mobile app to tailor to your customers’ needs even further.

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