Optimising your website versus creating an app

IT iPad

February 01, 2013

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Now that almost half the population owns a smartphone, businesses have little choice but to interact with mobile device users who want to access information and even buy products or services direct from their mobile.

The question is no longer whether or not to target mobile users but rather how to do so. The options are to create an app or to optimise your website for mobile devices, or to do both.

Smartphone ownership in the UK had risen to 49% even before Christmas 2012, according to Ipsos MediaCT’s Tech Tracker quarterly release for Q3 2012 published in September 2012. It found ownership of iPhones had gone up to 22% ahead of Android smartphone ownership (15%) and BlackBerry (13%).

The Tech Tracker report describes the tablet market as ‘niche’ with 13% of the adult population owning one. Tablets may be niche but their owners are generally the kind of customers businesses are looking for, as more than half of them use their tablets outside their homes and 45% use them for shopping.

Digital marketing technology firm Kenshoo’s ‘2012 Global Online Retail Holiday Shopping Report’, looking at Christmas 2012 shopping patterns, found that tablets emerged as a critical consumer shopping device, generating 18% of all paid search clicks and 21% of total revenue.

More affluent tablet owners produced an average order value of £88.48 from search ads, significantly higher than the £73.78 average order value for computers and the average paid search cost-per-click (CPC) for tablets is 31% less expensive than computers.

There are a number of pros and cons when choosing whether to create an app or simply optimise your website for mobile devices.

Top ten things to consider:

  • You will need to think about promoting your app and incentivising people to install it.
  • Once people have your app on their device they may be more likely to do business with you in future if the app works well.
  • An app allows you to simplify a purchasing process much more easily than just optimising your website.
  • Newly developed websites, for example those built with HTML5, may be optimised easily for a variety of different mobile platforms and work in a very similar way to an app.
  • You may need to provide technical support for an app, or pay someone else to do so.
  • Mobile-optimised websites have a larger reach than apps as all mobile devices can access them.
  • You can use search ads to drive people to mobile-optimised sites.
  • Apps offer greater functionality than m-sites as they can tap into features such as the compass, GPS, camera and phone.
  • It can be easier to build in location-based marketing, such as vouchers for people visiting your business, through an app.
  • Apps can send “push” notifications, of special offers for example. Once the user has opted into these they will appear whether or not the app is open.

As with all marketing, consider what you are trying to achieve and think about the customer you are trying to reach, before deciding between an app or a mobile website. The best option for you may be to create both.

Tracey Caldwell is an experienced business technology writer, having written for radio, newspapers, as well as various IT journals and publications.