Now that we're fully immersed in a mobile-ready world, it's not enough for business websites to feature responsive design (although it's still important). Now it's all about mobile site, app, or both. Which one works best for your business, consumers and company, and which can you do without? Just like you shouldn't join every social networking site just to spread yourself as wide as possible, not every business needs a mobile site or an app.
It starts with understanding the dynamics behind each and what your consumers want. After all, why spend the time, money and effort developing an app if nobody's going to use it? It's a cool toy, but the novelty factor alone isn't worth all of the trouble. Before deciding between the two or going with both, consider the pros and cons of each.
More and more people are using mobile devices to go online, especially for researching products and services before purchasing. This trend will continue, which makes it clear that your site needs to be mobile-ready. However, there's a difference between a site that's responsively designed to display well on any device and a "mobile site" that's designed just for mobile use. This is a totally different site with the same URL, and smartphones "detect" them and offer an option (or force you) to go to the mobile site instead of the "original."
On the plus side, this simplifies the site to speed up the load time and make it easier to navigate. However, these mobile sites can look much different than the original which can be confusing to some users, especially if your demographic is an older audience. The perfect balance is to design a mobile site that's as similar as possible to the original and to not leave out anything at all that might be important. Otherwise, Luddite-esque users might think the site is too different and defect.
An app is a great way to make access as easy as possible and can even provide offline connections in some cases. It keeps your business at the forefront of your consumers' minds, especially if your app makes it only their mobile desktop. It also gives an exclusive "in club" type of vibe and some people say having an app makes you seem more professional (even though anyone can develop an app). Basically, it's a pretty cool gadget if people will use it.
On the downside, a lot of people don't want yet another app taking up precious retail space on their phone. They can forget about your app, even if you do make desktop status, and if you require regular updates you risk annoying your users. It can be tough to tell if your consumers would want an app, so the best way to find out is ask. Take a survey or pool, utilize social media, and let your users help you design the app if that's the direction you go.
There are certainly cases where businesses successfully integrate both a mobile site and app as part of their mobile readiness campaign. However, these businesses are often big (think Geico and major banks) and their users regularly need to access the companies (it's a need vs. want issue). If you're a startup or small company, it might be best to start with a mobile site and see if you want to grow from there.
No matter what you decide, at the bare minimum ensure responsive design is in check. Otherwise, you're driving away traffic and don't even know it.
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