In the past few years, it's become fashionable for companies to develop a mobile app. After all, more and more online activity happens on smartphones today. However, with many options available, it's become confusing for some companies to determine if they should develop a standalone mobile app, or instead create a responsive website that renders well on desktop and mobile devices.
Before I go any further, let me first put the argument to rest—you must start with a website that is responsive. From there, adding a mobile app is an additional decision to make for your business.
To accommodate all of your users, a responsive site is critical, whether or not you choose to build an app down the road. A responsive site ensures that regardless of whether your users visit from a tablet, smartphone or desktop device, they receive the experience you intended. Too often, brands don't understand the importance of responsive design and user experience suffers as a result. Excessive scrolling and zooming, or even form fields that are too difficult to input text into, will deter users.
Although it's essential that you first develop a responsive website, another option for improving your mobile presence is to create a mobile app. This alternative is far more costly than a responsive site; that being said, for some brands, it's still a worthwhile investment if it aligns with your needs and objectives. Apps come with plenty of benefits that you may not find on a responsive site, including added security, more personalization options for users and the potential for both online and offline access.
Ultimately, to be successful as an organization, simply having a digital presence with no true focus on mobile isn't going to cut it. If you can't offer potential customers a great user experience when they engage with your brand from their smartphone or tablet, they'll find a different company that can. Before you determine what mobile presence will be best for your brand, and if a mobile app is the right move for your organization, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Will your app be used regularly?
Mobile apps take up space on a user's device, and for a lot of people, this is precious digital real estate. If your app will not be used on a routine basis, it will get deleted. To encourage regular use of your mobile app, it's essential that you constantly have fresh content to offer so that users have motivation to repeatedly return to the app, ideally multiple times during the day. If you think of some of the most successful apps across different industries, or even the apps that you most regularly check throughout the day, they all have one thing in common—consistent use.
2. How will you drive downloads?
It can be expensive to build an app, so you want to ensure that if you're making that investment, users will actually find and download it. If not, you'll find it quite difficult to encourage downloads without a strategic marketing approach aimed at capturing the interest of your unique audience. Before you start creating your app, make sure that you have the time and resources allocated to market it appropriately with a combination of SEO, paid advertising, social media marketing and digital PR efforts.
3. What makes your app different?
Downloading an app takes additional steps in comparison to visiting a website from a mobile phone, so if there is no real differentiator between your website and your app, there's a good chance that your customers won't see the advantage in downloading it and will stick to your site instead. Whether you're a B2B or a B2C, before you begin mobile-app development, determine what unique or interactive functionality you can offer with your app that makes it a worthwhile download for users. With so many apps in the marketplace, it's essential that you offer users a real value if you're going to invest in development.
Building a mobile app can be a cost- and labor-intensive endeavor, so it's not something to rush into. Consider the above questions before setting out—and determine whether a standalone app is good for your customers and good for your company.