Mobile-Optimize your Website or Web-Optimize your Mobile App?

It’s happening sooner than you think: when a business looks to launch, they’ll always think about their mobile presence before they think about their website. In the startup world, many companies are building their business on mobile before the plain old web. For those of us deeply entrenched in the mobile business, this is a big “duh”. But for the vast majority of businesses, this realization has not yet struck. Let’s take a look at why:

Deep Investment in the Web
Most companies have spent an exhaustive amount of time, and in most cases money, building their web presence. Until now, your website has been your primary digital landmark (for some their social media presence has taken the throne). Through a website, you can present yourself and your branding as you want unlike the constantly changing social web.  Websites are still valuable yet with each passing year they seem to have a diminishing return. At least, websites are becoming more affordable and streamlined thanks to blogging platforms like WordPress and simple-yet-sophisticated publishing platforms like Squarespace.

Incomplete Data
Since websites are where everyone starts their digital presence, businesses are just getting around to turning on those limited sites halfheartedly provided by their CMS. At least now they can start to see their mobile traffic and engagement patterns—but it’s an incomplete picture. Without a proper mobile UX, there’s no way to gather good data about user engagement with your brand in a mobile context. Which means companies don’t even know what they’re missing.

Natural Reluctance
Let’s face it. Time and money are always limited. And the cost of a professionally developed app can be prohibitive. So even if a company has mobile website and wants a mobile app, they’re probably thinking: “Oy. I have yet another thing to build and manage. I just don’t have time and can’t afford it. The website is good enough.” And just like that, many opportunities fall by the wayside.

Reality check: complete mobile solutions are here, they’re affordable, easy to set up, and integrate with your existing content management tools. On top of that, some new data (thank you, Mary Meeker and Flurry) says in the very near future, the medium through which customers will find you the most often is mobile. And engagement in a native mobile app is twice that of a mobile website.

The debate about whether you need a mobile website or a mobile app is a dead one. You need both. But a mobile website is only the first step to customer acquisition—the mobile app is really what you need to keep them. So the debate should really be about where your starting point is. Until now, we’ve been building the web first, and then translating that experience into mobile. But we say you should reverse the process.

Websites can’t initiate engagement with your customers the way an app can. Start with the right UX of a native mobile app and build your mobile site from that rather than a website built for a wholly different purpose. Now you’re introducing customers to a complete experience on a device they have with them at all times. Once they’re in the door, you can engage them with targeted notifications right to their phones. And as a bonus, you’re getting a complete picture of their geographic and usage patterns.

So why spend your time updating your websites? Start with mobile first and build everything else from there.

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John Garbarino