Mobile Apps vs Mobile Sites: Which One Is Good For Business? - BuildFire
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Mobile Apps vs Mobile Sites: Which One Is Good For Business?

Trying to choose between a mobile app and a mobile site for your business?

That’s a problem of the wise. Businesses really need to go mobile—especially because the vast majority of Americans – 95% – now own a cellphone of some kind. The share of Americans that own smartphones is now 77%.

Not taking advantage of this is just letting your competition get free reign.

So here we are. I know that getting an app or having a website built is not a simple undertaking, so I want to help you make the right decision.

In this post, I will try my best to help you make your decision by detailing what mobile apps and mobile sites do for businesses.

Which one is for you?

Before we go into the details, let’s just go over the reasons why you really need to be on mobile.

★ 40% of consumers have turned to a competitor after having an awful mobile experience

★ More people are searching on their phones year over year

★ 67% of consumers said mobile friendly sites make them more likely to buy a product or use a service

★ 50% of mobile searches lead to purchase

It’s simple. If you’re not on mobile, you’re losing customers. You’re losing money.

Google has emphasized the need for businesses to be present on mobile that it made adjustments to its search engine to accommodate the surge of mobile users. Mobile sites and mobile apps are taking center stage in that sites are expected to have a mobile counterpart be it with an app or with a site.

For small businesses, there are case studies left and right when it comes to both mobile websites and mobile apps.

Before we proceed, I need to tell you that in the end, you know your business better than anyone else. More importantly, you know your target and clients better than anyone. So I can only provide you with facts and recommendations. In the end, the decision is yours and no one else can really answer it for you with 100 percent sureness.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s try to look at what a mobile website and a mobile app can do for your business.

From there, you can decide.


Mobile Website or Mobile App: What’s the Difference?

Let’s start with the similarities between the two. Both the mobile website and the mobile app:

  • are designed to be accessed by a mobile device such as smartphone or tablet
  • incorporate mobile-only features, such as click to call and geo-location mapping
  • have design elements scaled to look good and work properly on smaller mobile screens
  • enable social sharing with friends and followers
  • can be structured around e-commerce/m-commerce
  • facilitate certain mobile marketing functions

Before we move on to the differences between mobile websites and mobile apps, it’s important to point out a caveat: A responsive designed website is not the same as a mobile website.

For the purposes of this article, “mobile website” refers to separate URLs on either a mobile subdomain ( or a separate mobile domain (

Now let’s look at the main differences between a mobile website and a mobile app. Unlike a mobile website, a mobile app:

  • resides on the mobile device; it must be downloaded and installed
  • usually has features and content that can be accessed without a Wi-Fi connection
  • interacts with, and often integrates, mobile device features such as the camera, contact list, calendar, etc.
  • offers a virtually on-demand communications channel between the business and the user

As a general rule, a mobile website should be the first step in your mobile marketing strategy, the bare minimum for businesses that must establish a mobile presence in a world increasingly dominated by mobile devices. A mobile app, on the other hand, complements the mobile website by helping users accomplish certain tasks much more easily than they could on the mobile website, and by advancing mobile marketing goals.

Mobile Websites

A mobile website is a mobile version of your desktop website. It is separate from your desktop site and is designed for exclusive mobile use. Mobile websites typically do not have as much content as desktop sites. It has limited pages and each page is optimized to match what people usually need when using mobile to access websites.

Why you need a mobile website

★ Mobile websites make your business reachable from any mobile device that has a browser. And now, all smartphones have browsers meaning your business will be accessible by 61 percent of the US population if you have a mobile site.

★ Mobile websites are an extension of your brand. If you have a desktop site, people will assume you have a mobile website. That means a lot because it’s been widely reported that more than half of users tend to have negative opinions of a brand when they can’t access it from their phones.

★ There are no downloads necessary. Just a browser and users can pop right into your site.

★ Mobile sites improve your search rankings, even for your desktop site. Search engines like Bing and Google openly declare that they favor sites that offer good mobile experience when ranking on the search page.

★ If your site is hosted on WordPress or Joomla and you don’t want to have a separate mobile site developed for your business because of cost, time and other reasons, it’s not difficult to make a mobile-friendly version of your site just by adding a component that makes it responsive.

“Responsive” is a word used to describe websites that are designed to be pretty, usable and viewable from any device.

Make your website mobile-friendly

On Tuesday, April 21st 2015, Google rolled out its ‘mobile-friendly’ algorithm update. With an increasing number of people conducting searches on mobile devices, Google has determined that in order to maximize user-experience on mobile, they need to prioritise mobile-friendly websites, ensuring that searchers are getting an optimal experience through search matches.


The announcement has sent many into a panic with some even dubbing the update ‘mobile-geddon’, fearing their Google referral traffic would fall away entirely if their website was not optimized for mobile users. And it’s true, as noted in Google’s official announcement:


If your site’s pages aren’t mobile-friendly, there may be a significant decrease in mobile traffic from Google Search.


If your site’s not optimized for mobile searchers, you’re likely to lose some of that Google traffic.


As part of their official announcement, Google offered two tests where users can check the mobile-friendliness of their websites. How much does it cost? They are free. In the first, you can test individual pages of your site to check their mobile compliance. It’s worth noting that

Google’s update is a ‘page-level’ change, not ‘site-level’ – so if ten of the pages on your site are not mobile-friendly, but the rest of them are, only those ten pages will be affected by this algorithm update (the update does not impact on desktop or tablet search rankings, only mobile searches).


The second test Google provides checks the mobile-friendliness of your entire site using Google Webmaster Tools. Based on the information provided in this report, you can update and optimise your pages accordingly, then either wait for Google to re-check your site and re-index your pages, or you can submit your site to Google to get them to re-check your content immediately. Even if you opt not to go down this route, it’s worth checking these reports out to see how much your site is likely to be affected by the change.


You could also consider building a mobile version of your existing website, though given the massive increase in mobile usage; it makes more sense in the long term to build a site that one mobile and desktop-friendly.


responsive design
Responsive Web Design

Mobile Apps

mobile app is a software application made specifically for use on smart phones and other small, wireless devices such as tablets and smart watches. They are developed entirely separately from your website.

In the beginning, apps were made to provide users with a similar experience to a website they can access on desktop. Today, apps are usually highly-specialized individual software that serves as part of a business’s mobile strategy.

Why you need a mobile app

★ US users spend more than two hours a day on their smartphones where 86 percent is spent on apps.

★ Apps can serve many functions. They can deliver general information like prices and events, they can facilitate booking, search, be a platform for personalized service, can have messengers, and much more. Perhaps the biggest advantage to having an app is that you give the user a complete experience when they’re inside your app.

★ It reinforces your brand or you can create a smaller branding subset through your app. You can use your app to market to a certain segment of your base and target.

For example, you own a bakery and baking supply shop, you can market to home cooks and stay at home moms through a specialized app that takes into consideration this particular customer segment when it comes to design, messaging and other brand components.

★Stand out from the competition. Let’s face it: Apps are the Jaguars of the business world. If you have an app, you’re already ahead of the competition both by giving customers another way to reach you and by having the addition cool factor of having an app. C’mon, apps are cool.

Mobile apps connect you to customers

★Cut through the noise of websites by providing an all around experience that is centered on your business. When you bring customers into your app, you connect with them without all the distractions of the wider web. Apps allow you to”stay close” with your customers.

Mobile Apps vs Mobile Websites: The Cons

Having an app and a mobile website will help your business, but what if just want to choose one? Here’s a rundown of the cons of each one.

Mobile Website Cons

If you have a desktop website, it’s pretty simple to setup a mobile site. If you had someone else or an agency develop your site, it shouldn’t take a lot cost and time-wise to setup a mobile site. That said, businesses should have mobile sites. For the purposes of comparison, here’s how they stack up against mobile apps.

★ No app store presence As a business, being visible on all marketing channels is useful.

★ No push notifications Push notifications are a delicate but amazing way to communicate with your audience. It can be highly targeted and is aligned with their interests.

★ No offline access Mobile websites need the internet to work.

★ A challenge to design If you’ve put mobile web design duties to someone who isn’t familiar with usability practices and performance benchmarks, your site can be useless and do more harm than good.

Mobile App Cons

The truth is that comparing mobile apps and mobile websites is like asking to choose between bread and butter. Bread is great, but it’s awesome with butter. Right? Since mobile websites are easier to get up, an mobile app need to have a strong argument for itself if you were to consider getting one set up.

★ Added setup This used to be a pretty strong con against mobile apps, but now with app building solutions like BuildFire, getting an app up and running isn’t really hard and definitely doesn’t take a long time. For a business, the app doesn’t have to be very elaborate at the start. The setup can be quick if you’ve planned ahead.

★Extra cost
It’s rare that a business wants to have a fully custom app developed for them. Whether for functions like booking, mobile commerce store or as a customer service channel, app builders are able to provide a drag and drop platform for a fraction of the price of custom apps. Builders can charge anywhere for $30 to $100 monthly, which saves you a lot in upfront costs and ongoing support.

★ It’s more work Mobile apps might be drag and drop but they’re not definitely going to operate themselves. Apps should be part of a larger mobile strategy and marketing strategy. You need to have someone who will spend time learning the ropes of app marketing so you can maximize your app and get a good return on your investment. It’s more work but it promises more returns.

What Are the Advantages of a Mobile App for Small Business?

Let’s start with the whole reason behind cultivating a mobile presence: You want a way to connect with and engage your customers when they are using a mobile device. Mobile devices, by their very nature, are more intimate and personal than their desktop or laptop counterparts—when’s the last time you took your computer to bed with you (or anywhere else for that matter)?

And that leads us to one of the most potent advantages a mobile app has over a mobile website:

Mobile apps provide a superior user experience.

A mobile app does much more than just repackage stale web content and streamline mobile web functionality; it takes the user experience to a whole new level by combining content, navigation, and integrated mobile device functionality in a way that optimizes the user’s relationship to his smartphone or tablet.

It is simply not possible for a mobile app to mimic the user experience a mobile app permits. Native apps engage the user beyond the capabilities of a display-only mobile website and provide a more personal, efficient, and responsive overall experience.

The superior user experience is one reason that mobile device users spend 86 percent of their time interacting with mobile apps compared to just 14 percent using mobile browsers.

Mobile apps give you a direct communication channel to your customers.

A mobile app resides on the user’s device, which means it’s always there, reminding them of your brand even when they aren’t actively engaging with it.

In addition, your app lets you put the information you most want your customers to have right at their fingertips, whether that’s information about products, prices, sales, promotions—whatever you want. When paired with push notifications, you are approaching a level of direct interaction mobile marketers dream about.

Mobile apps are better for customer engagement.

Increased customer engagement is partly a function of the superior user experience, but it’s also because mobile apps integrate so many different activities and capabilities. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • A customer uses a restaurant app to reserve a table for herself and three guests, export the reservation to iCal, email the confirmation to her friends using her address book, collect loyalty rewards points, set a reservation reminder, pull up step-by-step directions to the restaurant, take a selfie with her friends at dinner and share it on social media, post a review on Yelp!, redeem a digital coupon, and even pay for her meal.
  • A customer uses a home store’s e-commerce app to browse DIY projects, discuss ideas in the store’s social forum, use augmented reality to imagine the project in his own home, calculate the amount of materials he will need; order, pay for, and track shipment of his products, watch a step-by-step instructional video, and share photos of his completed project on his social networks.

Mobile apps have functionality even when they are offline.

This is a major advantage over mobile websites, since your customers can access information on your app even if they aren’t connected to the Internet. You can build menus, maps, product lists, podcasts, games, how-to libraries, guides, videos, reading lists—there’s no real limit to the offline information you can bake into your app.

Your mobile app can actually optimize and extend the assets in your mobile website.

Think of the mobile app as a natural way to curate all the native resources and data feeds (videos, news, social, etc.)  as well as specific pages from your mobile website and combine them with relevant external and/or third-party resources and capabilities.

Here’s how a “curated” mobile experience might look for a large farmer’s market:

The app would be loaded with information visitors would need at a glance, such as a map of vendor stalls, schedule of cooking and food prep demos, directions for parking and mass transportation, and a calendar of season produce availability in the region, and a newsletter signup form.

Embedded web pages from the mobile site might have detailed information on canning or pickling fruits and vegetables, nutritional information, and in-depth vendor descriptions and links to vendor websites, and route maps with links to public transportation systems.


Then app-only functionality could be layered in to enhance the user experience:

  • iBeacons to trigger alerts and messages as the visitors wandered through the market
  • Push notifications to notify users when a new vendor joins the market or new products are available, or to alert them to upcoming sales, promotions, and events
  • Integrated event calendar and registration for classes, demos, and seminars
  • GPS pathfinding to help them locate a particular stall or amenity quickly
  • An interactive shopping list to help customers plan their visit
  • Integrated electronic payment to streamline checkout
  • Integrated YouTube or Vimeo channels to give users access to a library of how-to videos and demos
  • Built-in loyalty program to incentivize return customers and simplify the process of redeeming awards
  • SMS text notification to alert a customer that an order is ready for pickup
  • In-app social networking to enable visitors to engage and interact with attendees while shopping.

This is just a small example of the ways a mobile app extends the usefulness of your mobile website and creates a more engaging, holistic, and useful experience for your customers.

So, which is good for business?

The answer: Both.

I’m trying really hard not to be biased here. I don’t like mobile browsers. But since the dawn of smart phones with huge screens, they’ve become more tolerable and usable.

I think since it’s easy to setup, all businesses should have at least a mobile website.

However, if you want to bring your business’s mobile presence on a whole new level, getting a mobile app is mandatory. Through your app, you can possibly open up a new revenue stream and bring better service to your customers.

In today’s mobile-driven world, the question for small businesses shouldn’t be whether you should build a mobile website or a mobile app; the better question is how you can integrate the two into a highly effective mobile presence that advances your marketing goals.

With a mobile website to expand your top of the funnel activities, such as awareness and education, and a mobile app to advance lower funnel goals (conversion, engagement, customer loyalty), your small business will be head and shoulders above the competition.

Since it’s not a lot to have one up, you should really think it over.

Make sure you have a mobile website setup, then review your options for having a mobile app running.

Got specific questions for your business? Happy to answer your questions in the comments below!

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Ian Blair

BuildFire Co-Founder. I'm a digital marketer by trade and an entrepreneur at heart. I'm here to help businesses go mobile and build apps more efficiently than before.

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