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App or mobile site?

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It’s probably the most asked question in mobile. So, in a hopeful bid to stop being asked, Mark gives his opinion to Brand Republic.

app vs mobi

The ‘experts’ say mobile is a more mature channel now, which makes us agency types wonder why the first question most brands ask us is still ‘can we have a cool iPhone app, please?’
It doesn’t seem to matter that SMS, now celebrating its 20th birthday, is still a brilliant tool. It doesn’t appear to matter that the mobile site might get forgotten in the rush towards using the shiny new tech. It doesn’t matter that the first question should always be, ‘what exactly are we trying to achieve?’
Instead, let’s not forget that a mobile site is what people searching for your brand will encounter first, and in May 2012 Google reported that mobile search had grown 500% since 2010. That’s a lot of potential customers to ignore in favour of those who might download an app.
Some searches will take place on the app store, no question, but they tend to be for brands with a well-known name already or for a tool people need – and lots of brands are trying that already. That being so, surely the default thinking for any mobile strategy should be to first get the mobile site right? It’s what customers will find when they search, and only if that site works will they think to hunt down your app as well.
So sites need to be the first consideration and be effective on all smartphones, whether it’s just a desktop site optimised for mobile or a dedicated mobile site. And if you want to be sure you’re taking the right approach on mobile, look at the SEO data and see how, when and why people are searching for your brand on their phones – and take a look at how many of those searches use Google as opposed to the app store.
Plus, in my opinion most branded apps are, frankly, a waste of both time and money; it’s rare to get enough downloads to justify the initial expense and they require far more upkeep and ongoing investment than a mobile site (making them work for different platforms, offering regular updates updating them every time a new operating system comes out etc.)
In essence, by making the app the priority, brands are simply adding yet another product line – pushing it into a hugely crowded marketplace and assuming customers will find it and come begging for more.

Of course apps can work. Of course they can be popular. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that they’re what mobile is all about. They’re just one element of the channel, and for the vast majority of brands they shouldn’t be at the top of the wish list. An effective mobile site, on the other hand, certainly should be.

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