Oct. 18, 2017 by Sara Jabbari

Should I Really Build a Native App for My Website?

As media consumption and internet usage shifts to mobile, companies are rethinking and re-adapting their mobile strategies. Most media time, 85% to be exact, is spent in mobile apps, however, these apps are largely dominated by social networks, music and games. That leaves publishers with a hotly debated question: should I build a mobile responsive website, a native mobile app, or both?

Mobile-responsive websites and native mobile apps have their unique advantages, as well as challenges.

Mobile-responsive websites

A mobile-responsive site will self-adapt in order to deliver a consistent and intuitive experience on any particular mobile operating system, web browser or device. Unlike an adaptive mobile site which selects the best pre-developed layout most appropriate for the screen, a responsive site will adjust and rearrange design elements in order to fit content on the available space. Because of this, a responsive design has become the preferred, and standard method, for creating a mobile site.

The main advantage of building a mobile-responsive site is that the development process is less expensive and time-consuming than that of a native application. Mobile-responsive sites are also easier to maintain and more flexible to upgrade than apps. Publishers also benefit from the advertising opportunities presented by the mobile web, especially as mobile ad spending is on an upward trend.

Another advantage of having a mobile website is that social and search can bring traffic to your websites, maximizing your discoverability and ability to reach a broader mobile audience. However, mobile websites require users to have an internet connection, as well as remember to visit your site again and again which can be much more difficult than with a one-tap app if your site is not well indexed in search engines.

Native mobile apps

Ever since the release of the first iPhone, mobile apps have entered our world and  fundamentally transformed the way we socialize, shop and consume media. Native mobile apps are developed for a specific operating system and therefore provide the best performance and user experience in relation to mobile websites. The convenience and simplicity of mobile apps have opened up a unique opportunity for companies, however one that comes at a steep price. They are expensive and time-consuming  to both develop and maintain, preventing smaller publishers with limited budgets to explore this option.

Though costly, mobile apps have several advantages. First and foremost, they provide a very rich user experience. This is due to the fact that they enable functionality not available via the mobile web - access to location, microphone, camera, photos, push notifications etc, give users a fast and interactive experience. This also allows companies to unlock new and valuable data-driven opportunities, such as more personalization, which cannot be easily replicated on a mobile website.

While mobile websites benefit from ad revenue, the collection of data give mobile apps a better ability to increase app engagement, providing a unique long-term advantage. Of course, getting the app discovered and downloaded is not as easy as browsing the web, but the user base of apps is typically the most loyal and engaged users.

So which should you build?

Mobile responsive sites and native apps should be seen as complementary, given that they result in a different customer experience and have their own objectives.

Most media companies today offer both experiences for consumers. For example, New York Times created a mobile app and focuses on marketing and converting its mobile web and social media consumers to install its app. According to AdExchanger, NYT reported that “readers who install the app are 60% more likely than the Times’ most active web readers to subscribe within the next 60 days.”

Another publisher, Tasty, which rose to social media fame thanks to its viral food recipes, launched an app which features all its social videos, and more, noticing that its users wanted another destination to engage with its content. Despite these successes, publishers recognize that discovery and installation are the first hurdles when it comes to mobile apps - in fact, about half of smartphone users download zero apps per month now - and retention can be just as difficult. Getting users to reopen your app in an already-saturated app space dominated by a select few is a challenging task, and these struggles can discourage some publishers from venturing into app development.

nyt

        NYT Mobile Website                                                        NYT Mobile App


Ultimately, it will depend on the power of your media brand, your resources, and the loyalty of your users to evaluate whether the development of a mobile app is the right way to go.

As video consumption continues to dominate mobile, a separate app for Tasty’s snackable food recipe videos seemed like a logical choice. Typically, publishers will develop a mobile-responsive site as an initial step to attract new and old users, and then decide to expand their mobile audience with an app for their most loyal users. While the examples mentioned above may be seen as breakthroughs in the crowded app ecosystem, as Google introduces its new ad blocker on Chrome in 2018 and social media continues to grapple with fake news and clickbait, maybe the future of mobile apps for high quality news will look a little more promising than in previous years. 

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