Mobile app versus mobile site? What’s right for me?
Andrea Leo writes: “I am hoping you can settle this for us. We’ve had FIVE (five too many, I might add!) mobile consultants here in the past three months and they all have different opinions on what we should do – develop our own app or build a mobile site. We put a lot of money in our mobile budget this year and I am afraid we’ll never be able to spend it as we just can’t get anyone to agree what is the right course of action for us. What do you think? What questions should we be asking? I think we’re going to need to bag the ‘experts’ and figure it out on our own.”
Andrea. Andrea. Andrea. You don’t have to be a math genius to know that five consultants equates to at least 17 different responses.
Here’s the thing… Like most everything else, everyone has their own opinions on this. Unfortunately, most of those are based on what the consultant is selling (or making a commission from, as the case may be.)
If you are looking at a 2011 foray into mobile (which everyone should be), you essentially have four choices:
- Enhance your regular site
- Build out an optimized site
- Develop a mobile native application
- Do one or more of the above
How do you pick the one that’s best for you?
First, look at what your users are currently doing (you can get this from your stats.) Then, ask them. (Surveys about mobile experiences are often very effective, especially if you can use Facebook/Twitter as a driver.)
I’m one of those people who doesn’t count the iPad as a mobile device. I know a lot of folks do. I just don’t think it’s appropriate based on the conversion levels I am seeing. (Currently, iPad experiences are performing better, as a percentage, than regular sites pretty much across the board for non-Flash sites.)
Look at what devices your user is using. There is a big difference between a Droid, a BlackBerry and an iPhone. You need to know what your customers favor – this is critical and a lot of folks underestimate it. (I recently saw a B2B company spend a boatload on an iPhone app only to find out a couple of months later that 75% of their biggest customers have BlackBerries.)
Look at what networks your users are on. AT&T on an iPhone isn’t at all like browsing on a Bold using T-Mobile.
Find out what your users are doing on their phones. Are they spontaneously going to your site or are your e-mails and text message programs driving them? There’s a big difference between a user who’s being driven by your marketing versus someone who ends up at your site all on their own. This is especially applicable if you’re getting a lot of traffic from social media. For example, if your average user is coming from your Facebook account, the last thing they’re going to want to do is find your app, download your app and then start using it.
What is your user doing (or going to do) on your mobile site/app? Research? Price comparisons? Read reviews? Look at videos? Entertainment? Customer Service? Look up account/order status? Order? Find a store?
How many third-party applications are you using? Performance is a HUGE issue when it comes to mobile – much greater than a desktop experience – and all of those handy add-ons you’ve added to your site over the past couple years (reviews, recommendations, analytics, A/B split testing, specialized shopping carts and platforms, affiliate programs, image builders, etc.) have an impact on your mobile experience.
How much Flash and Ajax are you currently using? Most smart/feature phones don’t support Flash or Ajax applications well.
What are your competitors doing? What are other companies who are selling to your consumer (even if it’s a different product) doing?
How much functionality do you need? Right now, it’s often easier to get a lot of whiz-bang technological showmanship from an app. (Long-term, that won’t be the case.) You can also design an app that doesn’t require internet connection.
What’s your timeline? Apps tend to take longer (there are exceptions to this but generally speaking) to develop. Plus, you need to get approval.
There are zillions of other questions but the ones above should point you in the right direction. (By the way, when you are looking at your stats – you need to look at several different metrics to get a good handle on what’s working for you, including screen size, browser, network, referring URL, etc. – mobile stats just aren’t all that great yet.)
I will go over the pluses and minuses of apps and mobile sites in the next couple weeks. In the meantime, the questions above should keep you busy.
Have a question you think should be added? Please put it in the comments below.