Build an App Or Optimize Your Mobile Website?

September 14, 2014

10:00 am

To app or not to app: that is the question. If you're a business owner, you would be silly to think you can ignore mobile users. You know that you need to cater to customers on mobile devices, but the question that often rears its ugly head is: Do I need to optimize my mobile website, build a mobile app, or do both?

There is no doubting that the mobile web is huge. Stats from 2013 reveal a lot about the current state of web enabled mobile phones across the globe:

  • 56% of people own a smart phone
  • 50% of mobile phone users, use mobile as their primary Internet source
  • 80% of time on mobile is spent inside apps
  • 72% of tablet owners purchase online from their tablets each week

The good news is that one of those questions is easy to answer – you'll definitely need an optimized mobile website. With so many people accessing the net via mobile, if you don't provide an optimal experience for these users on your site, then you're losing potential customers.

So, the question now remains, do I also need a mobile app for my business? While an app can be a helpful addition, app design is often more complicated than designing a website, so there are several factors to consider before jumping into the world of Android and iOS apps.

What Are The Differences Between Mobile Websites and Apps?

Mobile sites are designed specifically for smart phones, tablets, and these days, phablets. These devices have smaller screens than traditional laptops and desktop computers and often don't have the same processing power. Sites designed for mobile devices need to load quickly, use limited bandwidth, and cater to touch screens.

Implementation of a mobile site can take many forms – including a separate mobile version of the site, a responsive design or a combination of responsive and adaptive design. In general, a mobile site is a mini version of a standard website.

Apps, on the other hand, are programs that work on mobile devices, but they have to be downloaded before they can be used- just like programs on a computer. Most modern apps require an internet connection to work, but they usually don't require as much bandwidth since images and files are already saved on the device.

Pros and Cons of Mobile Sites

In this day and age, there is no reason why you should not have a mobile site. Internet users are becoming savvier and now expect all businesses, not only major brands, to have a mobile optimized website. Google established 25 principles for mobile website design which work as helpful guidelines when building a mobile optimized website.

You've probably had the experience of browsing a website meant for a desktop on your mobile device. The last thing you want is a potential customer getting frustrated and leaving your site because it doesn't work well on their phone. Mobile sites can be created with responsive or scalable design, or a separate site can be built specifically for mobile devices.

The downside of only having a mobile website are that sites don't always have the same functionality as apps, and they require an internet connection as well as a large amount of data transfer to be used. This is why many banks offer a mobile banking app that delivers basic information and functionality, even though most of what is in the app can be done via their website.

Pros and Cons of Apps

For the majority of businesses, an app is overkill. It's not likely that you need an app, but they can be very beneficial in some cases. Along with having a large amount of data pre-loaded and providing much more functionality than what can be accomplished with just a web page, you also have access to push notifications. Push notifications are messages and alerts that show up to users who have installed your app, and are great for notifying people of special deals and new products.

The downside of apps is that app design is a longer and more expensive process than designing a mobile website. Apps are usually reserved for businesses where a high degree of online customer interaction and engagement is required. Great examples of this include social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. All three provide both a web and app experience.

Apps will also require updates and changes to improve their functionality and to fix bugs as they appear. This means that customers who are using the app will need to be notified of any changes, and update their app accordingly. A mobile website, on the other hand, never needs to be re-downloaded and installed.

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Clancy is the Organic Search manager at DesignCrowd. Clancy has over 7 years of online marketing experience ranging from large inhouse roles to agency land. He's got a passion for analytics and a degree in Petroleum Engineering from the University of New South Whales.