When push comes to shove, it is more important to have a website with mobile web access than it is to have an admittedly potentially sexier app. It doesn’t have to be an either/or argument, but due to the lower cost of a mobile website, it having less barriers to adoption than an app and the guaranteed existence of the internet for years to come (not to mention it being THE place most Western people go to for information) its existence is a priority for professional business communicators.

Prioritise apps or mobile web to optimise PR & marketing?

Based on the volume of digital chatter, I would have thought that apps were the drop-dead-gorgeous winner over mobile websites, though maybe apps are sexy but single. The corporate website may be a staid middle-aged gent with a spreading waistline and diminishing athleticism, but with the appearance of his charming multilingual sibling, mobile web, the dating game has entered another dimension.

The ground shifting move from desktop/laptop computer access of the internet to mobile phones with internet access – aka smartphones – is a tipping point, one on par with the emergence of social media. Both are of enormous importance to professional business communicators because of the internet’s increasing influence as a means to convey information and as a platform through which people can be influenced.

Of course, it is not the internet itself or smartphones that are informing or influencing people, it is the information and those ‘influencers’ who inhabit the jungle. But that is a side-point to this discussion.

For me, it is fairly straightforward in most cases for the mobile web to be prioritized over an app. An app may well be a beautiful thing, with all manner of aesthetically pleasing elements and easy-to-access games, but if it’s an either/or argument, mobile web is the default winner.

Describing mobile web and apps

A mobile website is one which will adapt to the smartphone that you are using (they run on different operating systems, though iPhone’s OS dominates). It takes whatever data the mobile website has decided it is appropriate for you to see and downloads it to your smartphone. You do not, therefore, get to see ALL the information that exists on the primary website you have accessed.

This ‘skinnying up’ of information speeds up your access to the website. The speed is also enhanced by the way in which the information is formatted. It will probably have fewer bells and whistles than a normal website.

The formatting customisation to the mobile web should mean smartphone usability is enhanced, making the information easier to navigate and read.

An app is similar to the mobile web in fundamental ways. The app also organises information in a manner that is conducive to ease-of-use on the smartphone. Key differences are identified below.

Cost: mobile websites are roughly one third cheaper based on my (admittedly minimal) research

Access and barrier issues for communication adoption

There are a range of download and access factors to be cognisant of when weighing up the mobile web and app options:

  • Each time you access a mobile web (or normal website, for that matter), any updates that have been done to that site since you last accessed will be downloaded to whatever device you are using to access it – you therefore get the latest and greatest info
  • There is no cost for accessing the mobile website
  • To access the app the user must go through a download process that is more onerous than accessing the mobile website
  • Some app providers charge for the app download, though often it is a small cost
  • Once the app is downloaded to your smartphone, it will generally be quicker to navigate and find content than if you were accessing the mobile website. This is because all the app information is actually in the smartphone and doesn’t have to be ‘transmitted’ through the internet
  • An implication of this is that if an app does an update, you must go back through the app download process to get the updated version. I imagine that the updates often don’t cost anything, but it is still a process and is a barrier to adoption
  • The wireless internet speed of the location where the mobile web is being accessed will impact on its utility. For instance, in regional areas and especially remote areas with poor mobile/internet access, you can see the sense in having an app, such as for guides to national parks
  • A subtle dimension of this is the importance of text to mobile web platforms, as opposed to imagery or video, as the latter can take up more bandwidth, slowing down the efficacy of the mobile web site. Of course there are low bandwidth approaches to imagery, but it is still a factor that needs considering
  • This means apps have an advantage over mobile web as the former can contain more graphics and operate at a comparably faster speed than the latter.

Corporate website comes alive!

For me, the emergence of the mobile website seems to be an opportunity for the frumpy lady of digital communication, the corporate website, to get a lift in importance and relevance. Superseded, often incorrectly in my view, as communication mechanism by its beautiful and more intelligent social media daughter, the website now has a another chance, through customisation and speed, to get some skin back in the game.

Social media can still be accessed by smartphones, and in a very user-friendly manner, but for straight information on products and services, rather than opinions, the website is hard to beat.

Content development resourcing

Arguably, the content for a smartphone-customised website will be easier to produce than for an app and demand less human resources (i.e. content development, IT support), including for ongoing maintenance.

The speed of the whole process of development is likely to be quicker for smartphone-customised website.

Future-proofing public relations investment

The future is unknown in regard to apps and competitors/options to apps. But the web is standard (and stable for the long-term future) so the smartphone-customised website approach is future-proofing the work and the investment

Analysing user experience for communication excellence

Analytics are more advanced for smartphone-customised websites than apps, so user behavior and experience can be more effectively understood than with an app and, hence, mobile web can be more effectively customised on an ongoing basis using these findings.

Their ROI can also be, potentially, more easily determined through researching content accessed and concomitant impact on stakeholders.

Money can be made more easily from apps…for now

Revenue can be generated for organisations through sales of the initial app, as well as for various value-adds that the app may offer, but not include in its initial package. Advertising could be included in a customised app as well, which may not be an option on the corporate/mobile website.

Advice I have received said that the web is still in its infancy for revenue generating options, however, so expect more movement in this space in years to come.

Content is still king

I find it interesting from a public relations perspective that the emergence of apps as a competitor to websites only emphasises the importance, yet again, of content and writing, not to mention customisation of content for platforms.

This brings into play two fundamental PR skills:

  • Getting the strategy right so your stakeholders are targeted in the right way using the most effective content
  • Writing!

Summary

A website will be the first ‘port of call’ that most people with a digital communication mechanism or preference go to. An app will be, for the majority, a second tier preference, no matter whether it is free of not as there is still the barrier of making the effort to actually download it.

What comes first for you – mobile web or apps? Why? What do you personally prefer interacting with as a medium through your smartphone – web or apps? What are the pros and cons of each that haven’t been IDed above? Do you have a case study tale to tell to help us better understand issues noted in this post?

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