At Cog Mobile, we often get asked if a product would be better hosted as a mobile website or a native mobile app and see many online sources attempt to answer this question in the wrong way. In this blog post, we will put forward that viewing the problem from a user journey point of view is far more important than considering things like reachability, visibility and development speed.
A mobile website is a website that has been converted or designed with mobile users specifically in mind. The blog you are reading now has been designed using Twitter Bootstrap technology that ensures that the content is viewable and readable from desktops, laptops and mobile devices equally. This technology is based on the idea of responsive design that scales content to fit the device that the website is being viewed on. Images and other content items can be defined with sizes in percentages so that they retain their aspect ratio and relative size compared to the website borders.
A user usually finds a mobile website by going through a search engine on their mobile browser app from their device. Websites can be updated remotely, ensuring users always see up to date information and modern HTML5 sites can provide rich content and app-like features such as offline use, caching and access to hardware features like the device camera. There is no longer such a big gap between the capabilities and performance of mobile websites and apps.
Mobile apps are typically rich user experiences that focus around one or a small number of small tasks. Apps are downloaded from App Stores from the users device, relying on the store for hosting and the downloading of apps and updates. There is around a week for a new app or update to go live for users on the iOS App Store and this can be a problem for bug fixes or tying in new releases with marketing (although Apple does offer a limited expedited review system).
We argue that many similar articles push content developers into making a decision to build a mobile app or a mobile website by failing to see the issue from the users point of view. We will go into many of these other factors later but first, let's focus on the most important.
Users use apps and websites in distinctly different ways and this should be the main driving factor in deciding which type of product to build. In it's most basic form, new customers are unlikely to simply search in the app store for your app and are far more likely to use the power of a search engine like Google. On the other hand, existing customers looking for more out of your business are likely to seek out an app so they have the content they visit often, directly on their device.
To illustrate this, we use the swimming pool analogy. Imagine you own a swimming pool and want to use technology to increase indirect revenue by attracting new customers and retaining and up-selling to existing swimmers.
New customers who have an impulse to go for a swim, but don't frequent the swimming pool often, are much more likely to search through Google for "swimming pool opening hours" or "local swimming pools" to find out what they need to know. From there, they should find your site and get the information as quickly as possible. This maximises the chances that the user will put the impulse into an action and visit your pool.
Take another example, but this time of a customer who is very interested in swimming and frequently visis your swimming pool already. An app is a great way to improve the advocacy of that user as they can potentially be notified of additional sessions that they might enjoy, be kept up to date on swimming events, be able to book sessions directly from within the app and most importantly - have social features that allows them to share content to help convince their friends of why they should join them in their hobby.
As users typically only have a limited number of apps on their device at any one time, it will be apps that really define them as a person that they will retain on their device. In return for one of these limited spaces, your brand will get the added visibility of being on the homepage of their phone, but more importantly the user will have access to the thing they need from your business as fast as possible and these are the customers you want to target with a rich, full experience. This will entice them become advocates for your brand and ensure they share your content with their friends.
There are many other User Journey questions that you should ask yourself of your product and truly put yourself in the user's shoes and decide how they will interact with your brand.
Does your product have content that is against the App Store policies from Apple or Google? If it does, it might be less risky to deploy a mobile website that doesn't need to be curated.
Is it a game? Users typically browse for games directly through the app store and not via search engines. This can change the discovery pattern.
After considering the user journey and the implications of who is hosting your product, other technical considerations should be noted but not limit how you chose to deliver your content.
To debunk a few myths, mobile apps and websites can both be responsive, cross platform, updatable remotely, accessed offline and interactive. The technical limitations of both are not distinct enough to give serious weight to in the majority of cases and cost really comes down to the desired quality / features on both platforms.
We suggest looking at your product from the eyes of your users and aiming a product that meets their needs. In brief, websites are still king for getting new customers in the door but apps can be invaluable for customer advocacy and increasing the revenue of your existing customers.
In truth, Cog Mobile can help you with either. We offer free consultancy, so get in touch if you need advice on which routes you should take for your brand and of course, we can help with the delivery of mobile apps or websites too.