The popular advice being fed to businesses is that having a mobile application for your business is critical: You'll lose customers if you don't have an app, they say. I would argue that an app might be detrimental for your company's marketing. You might be better off improving your mobile website than building applications—and I have the data to help back this up.
Google partnered with a Heart+Mind Strategies in 2017 to survey over 1,800 smartphone users 18 years and older. Google published some of these findings, including one interesting insight: Two in three people say they can achieve the same goal on a brand's mobile site as they can on its app.
Customers know they can achieve the same end in mind whether they're on an app or a website. So why are companies so often worried that they are losing business by not providing an app?
The Problem With Apps
Let me be the first to say that I think mobile apps are fantastic. They make online banking much easier, checking email more convenient and gaming apps are a fun distraction. Apps make the smartphone so much richer than just having a mobile browser.
All that said, the study cited above highlights an interesting truth about your customer: She cares more about a seamless experience than whether or not it's through an app or a mobile browser. (The same study also found that 87 percent of those surveyed said they could be loyal to a brand without having the app on their phone.)
Here's one thing that marketing teams and businesses alike don't really understand: the average consumer cares more about how easy it is to get information, not the medium used to deliver the information. If you can't deliver a consistent experience across platforms, the customer will have a negative experience.
Achieving this wonderful experience on an a mobile app is very, very hard. Some of the biggest brands in the world still have a hard time with this. Building a worthy mobile application for different platforms and devices is tricky and expensive.
This is why I often say that your business may not need an app, and you should instead work on improving your mobile website experience.
In Defense of Improving Your Mobile Website
Nearly every business I've ever worked with thought that their business needed an app; that customers were pining for it and the business was losing market share without one.
Some businesses have a hard time reconciling with the fact that there likely isn't a compelling reason for a customer to download your app unless it's vital to the usage of your product. If your business's app would be a glorified informational website, you're better off improving your mobile website instead of spending the resources to build apps.
There's a good chance that the potential mobile customer found your business or product on a search engine, voice search, website or some other online referral, and landed on your website. These potential customers are on a mission, with a specific goal in mind. It is in your best interest to make this mobile experience the best it can be right then and there. Improving your mobile website—the medium they're already on—makes much more sense.
Here are some of ways to help improve your mobile website, which can help boost conversions and customer satisfaction.
1. Remove barriers.
Oftentimes businesses have a mobile strategy that only uses a responsive design, or shrinking everything on the website so it fits onto a phone. While responsive design is a nice first step, it's only one component of making a website design mobile friendly.
It is more likely that people using a mobile device will be on the go and need different information than a desktop site would give. Directions and maps, phone numbers and store hours are great information to start featuring on a mobile device. You may also want to remove information that isn't as useful on a mobile device, or adding in better off-screen navigation to hide the information until needed.
2. Utilize helpful native technologies.
Mobile browsers are becoming more like apps in many ways. For example, mobile browsers have native-like features like geolocation, file uploads and push notifications, and can even access a camera or microphone. You might have to think outside the box on how to utilize these technologies, but if used properly, these features might go a long way to making your mobile website feel more like a native app.
One possible way to utilize these technologies is to use the customer's phone location—with their permission, of course—to send detailed directions to their phone, calculate shipping or provide other helpful location-based information.
3. Keep it simple.
Many companies get trapped into thinking that you need a complex and slick website for both desktop and mobile devices.
I would argue that it's better to have a simple website that loads quickly and displays the right amount of timely information than a pixel-perfect mobile design. While the website needs to feel professional, the information is the focal point on a mobile site.
Don't let the fact that your business doesn't have an app discourage you. The resources needed to maintain multiple apps across different platforms might be too much technical debt anyway. Improving your mobile website might be a better usage of your marketing resources.
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