• Share
  • Share
  • Share
  • Share
  • Share

Posted by Nat Walker on 21 January 2016

We explore the different benefits offered to your business

If you have a digital presence then it’s likely that you’ll be advised regularly of the growing importance of your website being fully accessible to mobile users.

This topic has become even more powerful with the Google Mobile Algorithm changes introduced last year which rank mobile friendly sites higher in search results, but making your current site responsive or building a separate mobile site aren’t the only options to build a mobile presence. You may opt for creating an app instead of, or as well as, a website.

In terms of mobile optimised websites there are two main types. You can either make sure that your desktop website is designed and built in a way that means it responds to be usable on mobile devices, or you can have a mobile specific website which is designed in a way that is suited for mobile devices, but doesn’t change its design when viewed on a desktop computer. The pros and cons of these two approaches can be found in our earlier blog post “Responsive Design vs Mobile Websites”.

In this blog I'm going to focus on the differences between a mobile optimised website and a mobile app, hopefully helping you to decide which option is right for your business. 

The differences

Okay, let's first take a simple look at how the two options differ:

A mobile optimised website works the same as any website and can be accessed via an internet browser. The functionality of a mobile website is available to the user immediately, providing they find the site online, normally by searching or visiting the site directly. A mobile optimised website can also access certain phone features such as linking to the phones map application and calling a phone number by clicking on it in the website.

An app is an application which a user can install onto their device, usually using their phone’s application store. The user cannot access the app’s content until they have installed it on their device from an app marketplace.

In terms of the benefits offered, both options offer a number of pros and cons which I've summarised below: 

Mobile Optimised Website Mobile App
A mobile optimised website is immediately available to anyone who has an internet connection and finds the site online. A mobile app must be downloaded onto the user’s device before they can access its content and functionality. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the user can just as easily delete the app if they find they aren’t using it, whereas a website is always there for them to revisit.
A mobile optimised website can (and should) be built in a way that means its content is accessible across all devices, from desktop to tablet to mobile. Mobile apps require a separate version developed for each operating system (OS) - many businesses can’t afford to build for each OS which cuts the potential audience of the app substantially.
If you need to update the content on your mobile website you can do this pretty much instantaneously, either using a CMS or making changes to the HTML and uploading it to your server. If any significant changes are made to an app, the user will need to download an update to the app before they see them.
By adding search engine optimised content to your website, you can rely on it appearing in search results found by people interested in the industry or topic your website content is about. Although you can create a website in order to tell people about your app and help people find out about the app through search results, you still have to rely on them choosing to download the app. Steps can be taken to solve this issue by ensuring that your app is as easy to find as possible through App Store Optimisation.
Users can easily share your website across social networks and other channels, simply by copying and pasting the URL. Although users are unable to share a URL for your app, they can share the marketing site for the app, or alternatively share the app from the app store using the links provided. They can also talk about how great your app is across social media if you impress them enough!
There are options for personalising a website but these are quite limited without the user logging in first. Using local storage and cookies can extend the level of personalisation delivered. An app can be personalised to a much greater extent than a website, and can gather information about the user’s activities direct from their device. At the point of downloading, the user will be told what data they will be sharing with the app if they download it. Gathering this data means that the app can send regular, personalised notifications to keep the user engaged and remind them about the app.
A mobile website can access a few of the features of the device it is viewed on but nowhere near the extent which an app can. An app can access a wide number of device features - a perfect example being the camera functionality such as used with popular apps such as Instagram and Whatsapp.
Building a mobile website is highly likely to cost less than developing an app. An app can be expensive to build and maintain. Websites tend to age better inline with technology advances, whereas an app can become out of date - and thus broken and unstable - quickly depending on operating system updates.
Adding a significant amount of interactivity to a website using JavaScript can have a negative effect on the speed at which your website loads. The technologies used in applications (Objective C, Java, .Net etc.) tend to be faster when it comes to data lookup/manipulation and game interaction.

Decision Making Time

In an ideal world of course, you would invest in both a mobile optimised website and a mobile app as this would allow you to cater for all of the needs of your mobile users, but not all businesses have the budget to do this or the time to maintain both platforms.

When deciding between a mobile optimised website and a mobile app, the first step is to consider how your users are currently performing tasks on your website and how you can best improve this for them. If the primary objective of your website is to share information with your visitors when they are online and you need to be able to regularly update that information you may decide that a mobile optimised website is the best option.

However, if your goal is to build an interactive experience with your users, investing in developing a mobile app makes sense. It all comes down to how you wish to engage with your audience. A number of features work better on mobile apps than they do on websites – these include gaming, personalisation, reporting or complex formulas, providing access to mobile device functionality such as a camera or accessing information offline.

If you do decide that a mobile app is the best option, then we strongly recommend that you use analytics data to inform which operating system you build the app for.

Conclusion

Most importantly you need to decide what you are looking to achieve from the project and exactly what your goals are. For example, if you're wishing to build a broad mobile presence and deliver content that improves your search performance then a mobile website will achieve this. But if you're striving to improve how you interact with your mobile users and wish to benefit from closer engagement with them – possibly by offering increased personalisation and delivering a much more tailored user experience, then developing a mobile app will ensure you meet those goals. It all comes down to what results you are looking to achieve and what is the most effective tool to use. Hopefully the pros and cons outlined in this blog post will help in making your decision. And if you would like to discuss the topic further then please do get in touch, we would love to help.

Comments:

close up picture of a Mobile smart phone seen peeping out of the pocket of a pair of jeans

Responsive Design Vs Mobile Websites

We look at what to consider when choosing between Responsive Web Design or Mobile Design

3 minutes

Hand Holding Coffee Cup And Using Smart Phone

How mobile friendly is your website?

Find out with our handy checklist

4 minutes

man wearing a pair of glasses showing matrix style display on each lense

The new Google Mobile Algorithm: What is it and what do I need to do?

Get prepared for the Google Mobile Search Algorithm changes coming soon

2 minutes

Interested?

If you think we might be a good fit for your business, fill out the form at the link below and we'll send you our agency playbook. It contains lots more information about us and what we're like to work with.

Send me the playbook