To App or Not To App? There’s an Answer for You
By Todd Withrow
Being online is a given for any company, from a mom-and-pop shop to a Fortune 50 corporation, and Google rewards each one of them, regardless of size, by checking for their ability to be found by mobile phones and devices.
If you have a responsive website – one that’s developed to work on a cellular network – Google gives you a boost in search rankings, and you’ll turn up better when people search for you on a phone or tablet. People will also be able to get to a version of your website that displays and navigates better on that device and lets them reach you with a tap that connects them with you by telephone or contact page.
But is that enough?
One answer is, yes, it might be enough. It all depends on how you need to interact with clients and customers once they connect with you. Apps go a little farther. They’re accessible from the home screen of mobile devices, and they get users right to the place you want them to be for a transaction.
Responsive websites are part of every website project we do, and they are universal. They recognize the operating system of a phone, tablet or desktop computer and fit the available screen size. That makes it much easier for users to view the screen and navigate to information. While they help you meet many of your needs for searchability and functionality, mobile responsive websites sometimes don’t have all of the content as the desktop version – the content you see on a computer.
Behind the scenes, responsive websites have a special design based on CSS media queries that allows website’s content to fit into any type of screen. Those queries require more development work and attention, and they generally download content more slowly. However, they are easier to read on the smaller screen, which is an advantage for any user, and it only takes a tap to launch a phone call or an app that helps a visitor take action.
If your business is one that wants website visitors to make a reservation or appointment, they can access either forms that are customized for you or go to a third-party system that handles that type of transaction. If you have an online retail component to your business, the responsive website can take your customers to whatever shopping cart and payment system you work with. Some of this can be done on “desktop” website that appears on a phone or tablet, but the functions are generally more cumbersome.
Mobile apps give you more convenience and functionality. When most of us think of apps, we think of highly customized “websites” that allow us to get some quick, basic information – if need it – and the ability to take action. Most apps require a user to log in, so it’s easy to capture information, and they are – or should be – secure pages for doing business.
If you decide to go with an app, you have two choices. One is the native app that is developed to work with a specific operating system, either Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android. They must meet each company’s requirements, but that allows users to get them from the Apple Store or Google Play, and users always have a high level of confidence in their reliability. It’s also hard to top the branding benefits. Simply put, you’re “major league” when a client, patient or customer can download your app and do business with you on a device from anywhere in the world.
The biggest barrier to a native app is the cost. They are much more expensive to develop and test, and, again, they are OS-specific. Apps built for iOS need to meet Apple’s proprietary software and standards, and some claim that makes your app more secure. Apps built for the Android platform can be less expensive and – according to some – better performing because they can utilize open software.
A hybrid app might be a better choice if you decide to take the app route and are not looking to break the bank. Hybrid apps are accessible via both iOS and Android platforms. They allow users to access your mobile responsive website via a shortcut app icon installed on their phone. On the plus side, they’re most cost-effective to develop, and unless you have some specific, complex needs for user interaction, they look just like a native app to most users. Remember, users don’t care about whether it’s a native or hybrid app; they just care that it works. And that gets to the minus side. If you do have complex interaction needs, and this functionality doesn’t already exist on your mobile responsive website, hybrids will not work. Plug-ins have limits, and updating the plug-ins as part of maintaining the hybrid app may be as costly as a native app over the long term.
So, to app or not to app? Clearly, ‘tis better to go responsive than to do nothing at all, and depending on your budget and needs, ‘tis most likely better to go responsive. Once customers, patients and clients know you have a responsive site and can handle their transactional needs, they can bookmark your site and go right to where they need to be. You can have all the function you need.
An app is one tap to your website, but either a hybrid or native app will cost you more, and the native app will require a specialized developer. NicheLabs can develop and test responsive websites and hybrid apps, and that can help you maintain consistency throughout your online presence.
To get the best answer for you, it’s worth a conversation. As digital marketers, we can explain all the technical and cost considerations that go into your decision making and help you arrive at the solution that works best for you.
We can enhance your online presence by working with you to develop a content strategy, producing or editing your content and posting it on your website and all other places where you can stand out to attract more business. We can complement your content with website updates and digital marketing campaigns, including email blasts and pay-per-click advertising. If you’d like to start a conversation now, we invite you to contact us at 888-978-9254, or by sending an email using our website contact form. We love to talk about marketing, best practices for SEO programs, brand messaging and content strategy.