Mobile websites vs. mobile apps – which one is right for you?

As we've discussed in previous blogs, having a mobile presence should not be viewed as an optional extra, but as an essential part of your company's digital presence.

The question that many businesses face is what is the most important thing to invest in - an app or a mobile website?

We strongly believe that mobile websites are the most cost-effective way of reaching the widest audience on mobile. However, apps have become increasingly popular, with the average mobile user spending 20 minutes a day more on apps than they do on mobile websites.

So which one is the right one for you? We take a look at things to consider before you make the move to mobile.

1. Usage

More people use mobile browsers than apps, but overall more time is spent on apps, and apps have more return users. This reflects the fact that the interactive nature of apps offers more opportunities to engage users and develop a relationship with them.

Users still prefer shopping searching and accessing entertainment via mobile browsers rather than apps. However, users prefer using apps for location and navigational-related functions, information and management.

Conclusion: Mobile websites are the best way to reach more people. However a successful app will create more engagement and more brand loyalty.

2. Visibility

Mobile websites are compatible across all mobile devices. They can be displayed in internet search results and can be easily linked to via blogs, other websites and even offline through print materials.

Apps are simply not accessible in this way. Native apps will only work for one specific operating system. An iPhone app will not work on an Android device for example. This means you are essentially limiting your audience unless you are willing to invest considerably more money developing your app for multiple operating systems.

One of the perceived advantages of an app is the easy access it offers, with users getting the functionality they want at the touch of a widget. However, bookmarking a website also creates an app-like widget that offers the same instant access.

You cannot find an app through a search engine or link to it through a web page. Apps are effectively self-contained, restricted to the stores of their manufacturers.

While apps may not have the same online visibility, they are available offline, unlike mobile websites. This means they are not dependent on a good internet connection to function.

Conclusion: Mobile websites are easier to find, access and share than apps.

3. Interactivity

Apps are more interactive. They offer more opportunities to engage and are fun to use. They are particularly useful when developed for a specific purpose that cannot be effectively accomplished by a web browser. For example, apps are ideal for manipulating data to make graphs, charts, perform calculations or develop reports.

However, HTML5 is already improving mobile website capabilities and many mobile websites now offer similar levels of interactivity.

Conclusion: If you require interactivity for a specific functionality, apps are ideal. However if your needs are less specific, a mobile website is likely to be a better option.

4. Longevity and adaptability

Some reports have the average shelf life of an app being about 30 days, unless it is particularly practical or useful. It is also more difficult to update an app, as you have to rely on users of the app to make the upgrade. This is not the case with mobile websites, where you remain in total control of what the user sees.

A user cannot rashly delete your website when they get bored the way they do an app. Users can easily return to your website, even if they haven't visited in a while.

Conclusion: Unless your app fills a very specific need, it may fall out of favour. Websites are easier to upgrade according to users' changing needs.

5. Cost-effectiveness

While apps are sexier, they are simply more expensive than mobile websites. Given the often unpredictable shelf-life of apps, it is worth considering which is the best long term option for your business.

Conclusion: Be wary of spending lots of money on an app that performs a function that could just as easily be performed by a more cost-effective mobile website.

So what's it to be?

While there is no reason you can't have a mobile website and an app, tight budgets mean many businesses don't have that luxury. When it's a choice between an app and a mobile website, we think a mobile website is the best place to start.

Consider your reasons for investing in a mobile presence. If you require something function-specific, something designed to provide a certain service, separate to any existing mobile or web presence, than an app could be right for you. If you are simply trying to gain visibility and provide more ways for users to access your business, then a mobile website will be the best option.

Contact us to discuss the development of an effective mobile solution.