Business Essentials – Responsive Website or Mobile App?

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Mark Dabbs

18 Feb 2019 - 5 min read

It can be confusing to sort through the tech options your business needs in an increasingly mobile world. You might be debating whether you should build a mobile-friendly, responsive website or a mobile application. To start this off, I’ll state upfront that it’s difficult to think of a business that would not benefit from a mobile-friendly website, especially one with responsive design. We can simplify the question to, “Do you need a mobile application for your business?” That’s a harder question to answer, but you are in the right place for a due diligence process to help answer that question and formulate a long-term mobile strategy.

If you are already happy with your existing website but want to know more about mobile apps:

Why is Everything so… Mobile?

According to BrightEdge, smartphones and tablets are responsible for 57% of all US online traffic. But, using apps accounts for a whopping 89% of the time consumers spend on their mobile devices, and just 11% is spent in a browser. BrightEdge also indicates that 69% of mobile users are likely to recommend brands with which they’ve had a positive mobile experience. From another angle, Formstack shows 57% wouldn’t recommend a business providing a poor mobile experience. These are just a few noteworthy mobile usage statistics – many more have been compiled by Blue Corona.

Mobile-Friendly and Responsive Websites

Most businesses today have a traditional website. Traditional websites were built for desktop computers with large screens. Screens for most mobile devices are a fraction of the size of a regular monitor and as LifeWire explains, this impacts many design points. Mobile-friendly websites tend to simplify everything (navigation menus, smaller pictures, form elements, etc.) so they can be handled the same way across all electronic devices. “Responsive websites,” on the other hand, are usually more sophisticated and automatically adjust to the end user’s electronic device, browser, and settings, while optimizing the overall user experience. A responsive website is by definition a mobile-friendly website – but keeps more of the look-n-feel UI/UX of a traditional website.

It is universal good business sense to have a website, but the same cannot be said for every business needing a mobile application. Mobile usage has overtaken desktop usage since 2015. Everything considered it is worth the effort to make your site easy for people on smartphones to use. The cost-benefit of being accessible to 4 billion internet users is overwhelming.

Responsive Website Design, Development, and Costs

Today, just about anyone can rapidly set up a basic but responsive website with a nominal budget. Today’s hosting services like GoDaddy, A2Hosting, Bluehost and countless others, make it really easy for anyone to set up a website. Hosting accounts start at just ~$150 a year for space on a shared server  or ~$1200 a year for higher performance with a dedicated server. Extra features, bandwidth, and service plans can increase the costs, but for most businesses, this is a mere pittance. With domain name registrations (your “” address) running ~$15 a year, a responsive website should be the #1 priority for your business.

The only real question here is whether you assign someone in your company to develop the site for you, or you hire a website specialist. Your provider’s control panel makes it easy to install WordPress, Drupal, Joomla and other content management systems. They also have thousands of free and commercial templates, along with dozens of basic web applications like forums or real-time customer service chat boxes.  In cost/benefit, a website is like having a 24/7/365 customer service representative and sales rep to help everyone visiting your site.

Rule of Thumb Priorities

Corporations often spend millions of dollars on fancy websites, but we’re talking about what’s best for your business. To quote our CEO, Artem Petrov, in 9 Common Pitfalls of Startup Founders, “I generally recommend having at least 2x your MVP budget to either get to the next funding round or start generating revenue to sustain your operations.” In our experience, a quality mobile app MVP will run $50-100k depending on its features and complexity.

  • Is your total website or mobile app, marketing, and advertising budget is less than $100,000? Focus frugally on getting the most functionality you can on creating a website with a mobile-friendly and responsive design. With this budget, you might also look at participating in an accelerator program – they aren’t just for startups.
  • If your total budget exceeds $100,000 but you believe your MVP will end up costing more than $50k, you might consider developing a web app, as discussed in Web vs Cross-Platform vs Native Apps – Pros and Cons.
  • Alternatively, instead of an MVP, opt for a “proof of concept” to show potential investors that what you have planned can be done. Their money could then be used to accelerate your development plans. We’ve had clients successfully utilize this approach to get clients and funding, but it is situational.

Building a great app without having the means to promote it or maintain your operations can kill a business almost as fast as it gets out of the starting gate, and potentially before.

Demographics and Market Research

Your market research is the one thing that will tell you, more or less conclusively, whether your business needs a mobile app. We discuss this in some detail in Web vs Cross-Platform vs Native Apps – Pros and Cons. Your goal in researching market demographics is to acquire enough data to answer all your questions about your target market and user groups. If done right, the numbers will tell you if you need an app or not, and if so, validate your best options.

  • Who will use your app?
  • What’s your target market and what user groups does it include?
  • Are you going to focus exclusively on the North American market (favoring iOS or Apple devices)?
  • Maybe you plan to go international?
  • What’s your product pricing like and how does that fit to mobile spending patterns by platform and user group?

There are a lot of questions to ask, but if you do the research, you’ll be able to answer with a high degree of confidence what your best and second-best options are – and formulate a marketing and monetization strategy around them. With that information, you can begin to look at the potential return on investment (ROI) scenarios to determine your break-even point.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Native Mobile Apps

Merely having the means to invest in a mobile app is an advantage 90% of the USA’s 28 million businesses don’t even have the means to invest in a mobile app. Almost no one discusses that. We do – one-stop shops being just one variant of how a mobile app can be used to your advantage. A good mobile app realistically starts at $100,000 or more. Again, most businesses cannot afford one. It stands to note that there are millions of apps that have seen very little to no use.

Mobile apps have a number of advantages over mobile websites:

  • Unparalleled scalability in the ability to “do business.”
  • More functionality – they can do more than serve content.
  • Accessible even when users are offline.
  • If you have an app, you have a product that you can license out in a variety of ways (SaaS, White Label, etc.)
  • Works like a “speed-dial” to your business on the customer’s mobile device for one-tap access – especially useful for Mobile Wallets and Customer Loyalty Programs.
  • Capable of generating more useful data than websites, Data Monetization can be more valuable than some product and subscription services.
  • Enable more strategic marketing options than websites by working with mobile app stores.

The disadvantages of a mobile app are that they cost more, take specialists to create and take more time to create. Unlike a website, mobile apps require end-users to download and register the app before it can be used.

Unparalleled Scalability?

The cost of a mobile app is comparable or less than the cost to open, staff and operate one new office or storefront. The overwhelming difference is that a mobile app can make it possible for you to do business in dozens, if not hundreds, of cities. Of course, it depends on the nature of what your business does and its model. This is what propelled Uber from a mere startup to a $70+ billion juggernaut within one decade.  Uber, and services like it, threaten to put conventional taxi services out of business.

To varying extents, Amazon, Airbnb, Spotify, and others have all applied to the dynamics of the Shared Economy and On-Demand business model. Mobile apps are the easiest way to tap into that potential.

Continued Development is a Constant

Formulating a long-term strategy requires and deserves a lot of thought. It also requires thinking beyond your launch. With websites and mobile apps marketing is needed to drive people to your site or download your app. Otherwise, very few people will actually see it. Both also require a program of continuous development to steadily improve their performance.

Any business engaged in online or mobile commerce worth their salt is always looking at ways to increase the following metrics:

  • User registration conversion rate
  • Cost per acquisition
  • Newsletter mailing list opt-in rate
  • Site/App usage frequency
  • Average user time on site or in their app
  • Site/App store conversion rate
  • Average value of purchases
  • Social sharing frequency
  • Social sharing conversion rate

In almost every case, these performance metrics are significantly influenced by UI and UX design. Many online retailers are fixated on reducing shopping cart abandonment rates where even a single percentage point can make a big difference. The real goal is to improve all of these metrics in a structured and efficient way. In this approach, you’ll realize continuous improvements over time for all that compounded percentage rate goodness. At scale, UI and UX design can lead to a 10,000% ROI.

Recapping – What Your Business Needs

Ultimately, there’s no reason for your business to not have a mobile-friendly, responsive website. It should be your first priority regardless of anything else you decide to do – even if it’s just a placeholder for your startup. Because of the cost to develop a mobile app is so much greater, it’s harder to answer whether you need one. No one can answer that question for you, so it is up to you to do the market research. Together with your monetization options, you can get a feel for how many users you will need in order to at least break even. The final question then is whether your budget can cover the cost to develop your app while continuing to grow your business.

As there’s so much involved in mobile app development talking to a specialist would be a good idea. Actually, you’ll want to talk to several – to choose the mobile agency that’s perfect for your project. You’ll likely have questions about what features, costs and ways to launch an MVP that fit your budget. It’s also important for you to understand how they’ll be able to work with you after your launch – whether they just want to develop apps or work with you as a long-term technology partner. If you’d like to talk now, we’d love to help answer any questions you may have!

There's a Better Way to Manage Your Mobile Business

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