Tuesday, 25 November 2014 16:00

Business website, mobile app or both? How to choose the right solution

Smartphones are everywhere, and as time goes by the number of new mobile phone apps grows exponentially. As new and more useful mobile apps appear on the market, businesses and individuals are now using their smartphones more than ever before.

There are now more tasks that people can complete today with their phone than ever before - such as E-mail, banking, editing documents, creating invoices, etc. People can now take their work wherever they are without having to sit down on full-size computer.

If you’re a small business owner, you might ask yourself the question: “Should I build a regular website and/or build a mobile app”?

The answer to this important business and marketing question depends on the type of business you have, what your online goals are, and of course your time frame and budget.

Developing Websites vs. Mobile Apps

Definitions and Background Details

In order to decide what’s the best option for your business, let’s first explore what the differences are.


A website is a portal on the world wide web (www) that can be accessed from anywhere around the world through a web browser. Today, both computers and smartphones have web browsers, Any device that's connected to the Internet can access the site.

Today’s modern website may be developed in order to be “Responsive”, which means that the layout, size and content of a web page will adapt and change based on the size of the screen it is being viewed at. Visitors will have the best possible user experience on your website regardless of where he/she is accessing it.

Example: Let’s say a person sees a responsive website in full screen and it contains 3 columns of content, which looks good on a normal screen. When the same site is accessed on a mobile phone, those 3 columns will show up stacked on top of each other (instead of next to each other as columns), so that the user can clearly read the contents of each column. Yet, if that same website was “non-responsive” and the user accessed it through a smartphone, the user would see 3 tiny columns on the screen (same layout as the normal screen), which he probably wouldn’t be able to read in his tiny phone screen. In that case, the user would have to zoom-in (pinch the screen) to see each column in detail - which diminishers a positive user experience on the site.

To some degree, today’s responsive websites actually look very similar to mobile apps - when accessed on smartphone - without actually being one. This is a key point to consider when evaluating this as an option.

Mobile Apps

Mobile apps (or Applications) are basically software developed for your mobile phone, including smartphones - which today are more like mini-computers with calling capabilities using one of the built-in Apps used to make phone calls.

Types of Mobile Apps

There are three types of apps: Native, Hybrid and HTML5/Javascript.

  1. Native: Fully built using the native language for the mobile operating system (iOS and Android). These are the best type of apps, as they’re specifically developed to naturally work directly with the phone’s software.
  2. Hybrid: Apps that are built using a combination of native language code along with inserts and embedding of HTML code (The Internet’s native language).
  3. HTML5/Javascript: These are apps that aren’t really apps, as they’re actually built using the same language needed for building a regular website. Yet, the formatting is adapted to fit a smaller screen. Most HTML5 apps are responsive websites, so that they can easily adapt to various decie screens.

How to use and install mobile apps

In order for a user to use a mobile app it must download it to his phone, install it and then open it. This is different from websites, which can simply be accessed (rather than installed) by visiting a URL address on a web browser.

Differences between Native, Hybrid, and HTML5 Apps

There are many variables to consider when choosing what type of app to build, here are a few to consider:

  • Costs
  • Code Reusability & Portability
  • Device Access
  • UI Consistency
  • Distribution
  • Performance
  • Monetization
  • Graphics
  • Connectivity
  • Device Access

Based on the various pros and cons of each one, your company can decide what’s the best solution for them. In the best case scenario,if you’re going to build a professional mobile App, you should build it as a Native App, which works best on your phone and has the greatest number of features. Native Apps are the most expensive to build, so based on the cost factor alone, many small businesses may choose to build a Hybrid or HTML5 app.

For more detailed information of your mobile app development options, checkout this great post. For a full comparison of mobile app types, checkout this blog post.

Comparing Mobile Apps: Native html5 hybrid. Source: Salesforce.com

Image source: Salesforce.com


Choosing between building a website and/or a mobile app

Now that you have a better understanding of the differences between what is a website and a mobile app, it’s time to decide which one to develop for your business.

What to consider

  • Goals: What do you want to achieve when users visit your website or app? What’s the main purpose of a user visiting your site or using your app?
  • Features: Do you just need to provide information to your users, like a digital brochure or catalog? or do you want people to interact with your site or app to provide them with a valuable tool or service? Could your website or app benefit from using a smartphone’s features such as GPS and gyroscope?
  • Monetization: Do you want to generate sales online? or just provide product and contact information so people get in touch with you? Need a secure connection for completing secure sales?
  • User Accounts: Would you like each user to have their own account in order for them to access your website’s or app’s functionality and features?
  • Connectivity: Will your website or app need access to the Internet in order to work?
  • Accessibility: Would you like users to access your site or app from anywhere, regardless of the device and operating system?

Based on the items to consider shown above, your company will be better able to decide what they need to build. Yet, to help you out even further, take a look at the following questions.

Questions to help you pick between a website or a mobile app:

  • Do you mainly want to provide users with information about your products and services? Then build a website.
  • Do you want to offer a tool that will provide value to your users when they access it and use it? Then build a mobile app
  • Do you want to offer both information and tools that offer great and valuable functionality? Then build a mobile app.
  • Do you want users to create an account on your website or app for a personalized experience? You can build either one, as long as you programm custom functionality that allows users to signup and login to your website or app.
  • Do you want to access your users’ phone information such as contacts, photos, geographic location, time, etc and/or send them notifications instantly to provide more functionality? Then build a mobile application.
  • Do you want to offer something without the need of an Internet connection? Then build an app. Website all require an internet connection, but many apps don’t need Internet in order for them to work as they run on your local phone’s OS.
  • Do you want to make money through ADs, subscriptions, downloads, etc? Then build a mobile app. Although you can put ADs on a website, you’ll be much closer to your users if you can access them on their phone which they have with them at all times.
  • We could provide many more scenarios and questions to help you determine what’s the best choice for your company, but we’d be also happy to talk to you and learn more about your specific needs in order to help you decide. Schedule a free strategy session.

Final words - What it really comes down to:

The reality is that your company may need to build either a website, a mobile app, or both based on the goals that you’re trying to achieve. Some companies, especially small businesses, only have a website but other businesses only have an app (that’s just part of their main business model), while others have a combination of a website and a mobile app.

Some businesses offer their main product or service directly through their website (online/cloud apps), in which case the website is the main product with the greatest functionality and an optional mobile app works as a secondary product/service offering with limited functionality for mobile use.

In short, there isn’t a definitive general answer as to whether to choose a website and/or a mobile app. The real answer lies on a company’s business model, goals, budget, time frame, functionality requirements and many of the factors mentioned previously.

Have any questions or comments, feel free to share below.

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Jaime Nacach

Marketing Strategist

I love helping small businesses with their digital marketing and business strategy. I'm a young man with a passion in entrepreneurship and international experience in business development, marketing, sales, and web/graphic design. 

Find me on: Team Page | LinkedIn | Google+Personal Website

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