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Is a mobile-optimized website or app right for your small business?

Check out part one of this blog post to learn an easy trick for developing a mobile strategy for your small business.

Arguably the strongest case for going mobile is the opportunity it gives you to engage with customers. The widespread adoption of smartphones and the evolution of mobile apps have vastly increased a company’s touchpoints for interacting with customers. Thanks to mobile computing, small businesses can not only provide services to consumers 24/7, but also improve and customize these services based on the unique data that users themselves provide. The tools and technology to provide a highly customized mobile app experience are there, said Mike Schneider, vice president of marketing for big data company Skyhook Wireless.

Speaking at the recent Mass Technology Leadership Council’s Mobile Summit, a gathering of mobile app experts, Schneider urged the audience to create “appticipation” by delivering personalized user experiences with their mobile apps. “Knowing where your users go and the places that are important to them allows you to reduce the friction from the opening of the app to getting value,” he said, citing advances in geofencing and persona development.*

Understand the use case for mobile

Mobile’s expanding reach, however, won’t do you any good if there isn’t a sound use case. A recent case study by SearchCIO contributor Christine Parizo on small business 8z Real Estate‘s decision to develop a mobile app is a good model. Much of the agency’s decision to go ahead and develop a mobile app was based not just on the prevalence of smartphones, but also on the nature of buying property, explained 8z marketing associate Staci Striegnitzk. “People driving or walking through a neighborhood and seeing a ‘For Sale’ sign don’t want to wait until they get home to know the details,” she said. Indeed, Striegnitzk expects the percentage of listing traffic that comes from mobile to climb to 50% during the next few years.

Experts agree that you should apply the same rigorous business logic when considering whether to build a mobile app or mobile-optimized website to reach digitally savvy consumers. The cost of developing a mobile app can range from almost nothing (if you’re a self-starter and are up for learning to code yourself!) to tens of thousands of dollars. There’s also the matter of how time-consuming and difficult it is to develop native apps, especially if you want to create one that can reach users right away; as such, some small business owners opt to outsource app development to a third party.

While creating a mobile-optimized website tends to be cheaper than an app, if your current site is built on an older protocol, you’ll likely pay more than you’d expect to commission one. Unlike native apps — which don’t rely on connectivity and can be designed to do anything, from pushing notifications to providing café recommendations based on your current location — users can’t access the content on your mobile-optimized site unless they’re connected to the Internet. Also, the mobile version doesn’t go beyond the information they would find if they were to visit your site on a desktop, but they do have the advantage of working across operating systems.

The bottom line: Deciding whether “going mobile” for you means building a homegrown app or creating a mobile-optimized version of your website requires lots of homework, particularly around the question of what your target customers want: Are you planning on providing extra benefits that would make downloading a unique app extremely useful for them, or would creating a mobile site on which they could access up-to-date information suffice? One thing is certain: Considering the breakneck speed at which mobile technology is disrupting businesses, the question may be not if your small business should go mobile, but when.

*More than one person in the audience raised concerns on the “creepiness” factor, but as an avid user of my Starbucks and LevelUp apps, I’m willing to share the necessary data in exchange for convenience — a point Schneider also addressed. But that’s a topic for another blog post!

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