Mobile App Development Blog

Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Building a Mobile App.

Ian Blair

A Mobile Website or Mobile App: What Does Your Business Need?

Perhaps the single most important thing you can do to boost your marketing efforts is to have an effective mobile strategy. Mobile commerce is gaining an increasingly larger share of all e-commerce and is expected to grow three times faster than its desktop counterpart. In addition, mobile search is overtaking traditional search, according to Google.

Mobile devices accompany consumers at every step of the purchasing journey, from product research to price comparisons and even vendor reviews. Even your SEO efforts are affected by mobile: Google prioritizes mobile-friendly sites in its rankings.

So, if you own a small business, going mobile should be at the top of your marketing priority list for 2016. There are two main ways to launch your mobile presence, the mobile website and the mobile app, and each has advantages and disadvantages for the small business owner.

Wondering which is right for you? Read on for a discussion of the pros, cons, and how to get started with an effective mobile strategy.

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.

Responsive Design Website

Separate Mobile Website

CostEasier/cheaper to maintain; one URL for all devicesMore maintenance; requires bi-directional annotation between desktop and mobile versions
Site speedLarge pages are slow to load on mobile devicesUniformly quick page loads on mobile platforms
User experiencePleasing both mobile and desktop users with same interface means not focusing exclusively on the needs of eitherUser experience customized to the benefits and limitations of mobile devices; content customized to mobile users
SEOSingle website/URL; content is optimized whether accessed on desktop or mobileMultiple URLs; each will need its own SEO. Note: Google prioritizes UX in SERPs

For the purposes of this article, “mobile website” refers to separate URLs on either a mobile subdomain (m.mysite.com) or a separate mobile domain (mysite.mobi).

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.

What Are the Advantages of a Mobile Website?

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If your mobile marketing goals are more aligned with top of the funnel activities—you need to grow and nurture a steady stream of new leads—a mobile website has some distinct advantages over a mobile app. Let’s take a look at what makes a mobile website a good investment for small business owners:

It’s immediately available, for both new and returning customers. 

Unlike a mobile app, which must be downloaded and installed on a mobile device, any customer can access your mobile website whenever they want from whatever device they are using at the time. Your new customers can get information without downloading an app, and your returning customers can access your site and any customer information they have stored even if they are using a friend’s device.

It’s compatible across all devices; you only need one version. 

Once you create a mobile website, your customers can access it whether they use an iPhone or an Android device. With mobile apps, you need to decide which operating system you’ll use, or else develop two versions, one for iOS and one for Android. In this regard, mobile websites are much simpler to develop and maintain.

You can instantly update your mobile website. 

Mobile websites are more dynamic in that it’s very simple to update the content, appearance, and functionality; once you make the changes and hit “publish,” the changes are instantly available to anyone who visits the site. Mobile apps, on the other hand, require users to download and install updates once you push them out.

Content is more easily shared from a mobile website. 

It’s easy for users to share a URL for your mobile site in an email or text, and it is easy for publishers to direct customers to a mobile website in the same way. It is not as easy to share an app or content within an app.

It’s usually easier to find a mobile website. 

Although Google is now indexing app content and including apps in some search results, it is generally much more common for mobile websites to show up in search results than for a query to return a mobile app.

Its lifecycle isn’t determined by the user. 

Customers can’t delete your mobile website. They can, however, remove your mobile app from their device.

It’s usually less expensive and less labor-intensive to design and maintain a mobile website. 

While services like BuildFire are significantly lowering the costs of building and maintaining a mobile app, there is still a gap between the costs associated with maintaining a mobile website and hosting and maintaining a mobile app.

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

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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:

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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.

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.

What do you use in your small business mobile marketing? A website with responsive design? A mobile website? A mobile app? Let us know what’s working for you in the comments section below.

 

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.