Mobile App or Mobile Site? A new thought from IRCE 2013

At IRCE 2013 one of the hottest topic this year was “2013, the year of the mobile”. With the penetration of mobile internet usage peaking over 48%*, and M-Commerce making up 11%* of online retail spend for Q1 of 2013, everyone agrees it’s finally here.

Of those attending the conference there were two camps, those who have a mobile strategy and those who don’t. For those of us that do have a strategy it was great to see the different debates that were taking place such as responsive vs non-responsive, a topic for a future blog, and outsourcing development versus hiring internal resources.

But for those just getting started on their mobile journey or reevaluating their current strategy, the mobile site vs mobile app debate was very interesting. There were the standard pros and cons presentations which I will summarise below, however there was a new thought put forward which was given very little attention and I believe is one of the most important points that you need to think about when getting started on your mobile strategy.

The Pros and Cons
The basic pros and cons of a mobile site and mobile app are well known and widely published however in the interest of completeness I will quickly summarise the main points here.

The main pros of a mobile site include:

  1. It’s easy for customers to access as they just need a web browser
  2. Can be integrated into your site and CMS easily
  3. Provides a cohesive experience for your customer
  4. Your developers only need a single technology skill set.

The pros of a mobile app being:

  1. The ability to access hardware functionality of a smartphone such as cameras and accelerometers
  2. The constant reminder to your customer of your brand as the app icon sits on their phone
  3. The ability for push notifications

With the cons of each of the above being the converse of the others pros.

The new thought, where does your traffic come from?
The new thought briefly touched on at IRCE but I think the most important is where does your traffic come from? Whether you decide to go mobile app or mobile site really should depend on how you are acquiring traffic and how frequently your users are returning to your site.

If your primary traffic acquisition strategy includes organic search or search engine marketing such as Google Adwords and Product Listing Ads then a mobile site is for you. This is because it is easier to direct a customer from these sources to a mobile site then it is to take them through an App Store and hope they download your app. A mobile site can also be optimised for SEO to give you more possible search listings then a single app download.

However, if your site has a high percentage of frequent visitors and could make good use of push notifications then maybe an app would be better. The benefit you get with an app is that it provides a customer with single click to access to your content and provides you with functionality to notify your customers of an event. A good example of a business that would meet this criteria would be a daily deals site which customers like to check daily. The push notifications allow the business to notify their customers of deals as they are released.

At Booktopia we have recently released our mobile site and chose this strategy for all the reasons mentioned above. We were able to develop our mobile site relatively quickly due to the close integration with our website which allowed for reuse of our website’s business logic. We also benefitted from our developers already having knowledge of all the required technologies as they are the same as our site. But most importantly, close to 70% of our traffic comes from search and therefore a mobile site is the best way for us to provide mobile content to our customers coming from these sources.

At Booktopia, we do have an app for both iOS and Android which supports our eBook business allowing our customers a seamless way to read their purchased eBooks, however our primary mobile strategy to provide customers access to purchase product from Booktopia is centred around our mobile site.

I hope this has helped those of you starting on your mobile strategy and would love to hear from others on your strategy and the reasons behind your choices.

*All statistics quoted are for the North American market. Australian usage is slightly lower but it gives us the advantage to see what’s coming.
Mobile App or Mobile Site? A new thought from IRCE 2013

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