Nielsen’s mobile phone statistics for the third quarter showed smartphones now account for more than 28 percent of the entire U.S. cellphone market. As such, mobile smartphone applications (apps) are the newest “must-have” item for retailers and businesses wanting to connect with tech-savvy consumers.
While mobile apps definitely have the potential to build your business by engaging customers in unique ways, many overlook a logical starting point: making your website mobile friendly. Some businesses have chosen to circumvent website compatibility and usability issues by offering apps that try to provide the same features as their website. While apps do have their time and place, they are not the silver bullet.
The benefits of mobile website optimization vs. applications include:
- Better Compatibility: apps are extremely platform specific, meaning that without having an app on each platform, you are alienating a portion of your potential traffic. As opposed to developing mobile applications for 2, 3 (or more) platforms, one standard website optimized for all smartphones can be accessed anytime on any device.
- Lower Cost: many times the mobile website can deliver the same functionality as would a stand-alone application at less than half the price of a full-fledged app. You may get more bang for your buck from the properly optimized mobile site than you would from an application.
- Customer Usability: the end-users experience is ultimately what matters. While applications can serve advanced purposes, it can still be difficult to navigate simple sites if it’s not properly optimized for finger-based browsing.
- Maximum Reach: mobile websites can reach a broader audience than can an individual app, based on the fact that they are aligned with your businesses website.
- Ease of Implementation: mobile websites do not require the download, installation and use of a particular operating system in order to be used. As recent research has shown, 62 percent of apps are deleted within two weeks of being downloaded, which can hurt if your investment depends on the apps long term use.
In order to make the case for mobile sites, it is important to look at the market and an increasing percentage US adults use their smart phones to browse the web; as the next generations of smart phones are launched, mobile browsing will only continue to grow. Many carriers are also requiring mandatory data plans with the sale of web-enabled phones, anticipating the growth of mobile web use.
Additionally, many non-phone mobile devices use a “limited function” browser to browse the web. This includes tablet devices such as the iPad and Amazon’s Kindle Reader. These devices also usually benefit from a mobile site, though not as significantly as smart phones.
This presents challenges to many companies who have invested in a very good and very effective website, but suffer from it being incompatible with mobile browsers, or just plain difficult to use on mobile devices.
Specifically, sites programmed in Flash are currently not compatible with almost any phone browser. Flash sites are excellent tools for traditional desktop browsers, and provide great tools for customer engagement, but are completely dysfunctional on mobile phones. Even if this changes with some of the new OS launches and upgrades this year, Flash sites will still require some mobile optimization to exhibit the same level of effectiveness.
None of this is meant to completely discount the value of apps for the right situation, just to emphasize that taking a step back to start with the overall mobile browsing experience makes sense. Apps and widgets definitely have their place and may ultimately work better for your particular business – but don’t ignore the basics when it comes to mobile website optimization.