Mobile App or Mobile Website? What’s Best For You And Your Visitors?

June 13, 2012

Apps are all the rage at the moment: iPhone apps, Facebook apps, Google Chrome apps, iPad apps and so on. In fact, every time something new is released it appears that app capability is a given.

We could introduce a new word into the English language – “Appxiety – the stress suffered by website and business owners whilst trying to figure out a mobile app strategy.”

So the question is: “Do you need a mobile app or a mobile website…or both?” Here is what you need to know…

Understand Your Audience

One reason that Facebook’s share price is performing so badly after their IPO is because a majority of their users access the site on their mobile devices, meaning that Facebook isn’t able to squeeze in the levels of advertising needed to justify their valuation.

Facebook has both a mobile app and a mobile website, which offer two distinct ways for users to access their content from their smartphone or tablet. They choose to provide these two options because they are catering to such a diverse audience.

Facebook is so popular that many users take advantage of the direct access to their accounts that a mobile app provides. They can keep up with all their Facebook activity with just one click and can effortlessly keep checking several times a day. The app can even push notifications to the user and thereby be literally connected to the site 24/7.

For other users who may only check the site two or three times a week and don’t want constant notifications, simply navigating to the site on a smartphone and using Facebook’s condensed mobile website is a perfect solution.

Facebook is covering all the bases, but they have to. They have millions of users, all with different preferences on how to access the website.

But not every large website follows the same formula as Facebook. Let’s take PayPal as an example, which also has millions of users. PayPal has (amazingly) no mobile version of their website. Instead, when you access it on a mobile device it asks you to download their free app instead.

PayPal does have a mobile version of their payment page but for merchants, there is no mobile option, only the app.

PayPal merchants generally check their accounts quite often and having a dedicated app makes sense. The app offers a level of functionality that they wouldn’t be able to replicate with a mobile website. In fact if you’ve ever used the PayPal app you’ll never use their main website again… It’s that good; fast and easy to use.

What About the Rest of Us?

Even if your site does not get as many visitors as Facebook and Paypal, it’s still important to understand your audience and adapt your mobile strategy accordingly.

If you have a website or blog, an ecommerce site, or a site where the same people won’t be accessing it on a regular basis, then there is probably little benefit in offering visitors an app to download. You are better off concentrating on giving them a better experience when viewing your website on mobile devices.

So Many Platforms

Another thing to consider when deciding to create an app is the number of platforms that must be addressed: iPhone, iPad, Android mobile, Android tablets, Blackberry, Windows mobile and others. It’s difficult for the average website owner to develop apps that will cover all of these and future platforms.

Getting Started

If you really want to get started with adapting your website today for a mobile audience then the easiest way to do it is by simply making a simple change to your current website so that it fits into a mobile sized display.

As most websites are today designed using CSS style sheets, offering an alternative style sheet for smartphone users is a simple way of offering mobile visitors a version of your website that comfortably fits their small screens.

Using this method is the quickest and cheapest way to make your current website mobile friendly.

So don’t get too hung up on creating an app for your website or business, unless you have an idea for an app that will truly add some value above and beyond your current website, take the easy route and CSS your way into the ever increasing world of mobile Internet.

This is a guest post by Mike James, who has been marketing online for over a decade and is passionate about website usability and mobile marketing trends. His latest projects focus on Malaga airport on the Costa del Sol and Malaga car hire, following is other passion of discovering Spain and it’s many regions.