Mobile is fast becoming one of the most important delivery channels for business today. But what's better to have: a mobile website or a mobile application? This is the second in a two-part series on why mobile websites are the correct first step for brands that are just establishing a mobile presence.

Why a Mobile Website Should Come First

In Why Mobile Websites Are Better than Mobile Applications, Part 1, I addressed the following benefits of a mobile website:

  • Remove Barriers of Entry
  • Increase Your Brand’s Reach
  • Graceful Degradation of the User Experience

But there are other reasons you should be aware of. The following are incremental reasons why a mobile website should be the first phase in a multi-phased approach which ultimately includes Web applications.

Optimize for User Experience and Conversions

Once your mobile website has been released into the market, you’ll be able to learn what you did right and what you did wrong fairly quickly (assuming you’re listening and watching).

Launching a mobile website provides the luxury of being able to watch how users are actually using your site -- which as we all know may be very different than the initial vision you had when you launched.

Watch user behavior, measure with analytics and listen to the chatter on social media and other traditional channels such as Voice of the Customer (VOC). This will help you identify areas for optimization and existing adoption hurdles.

Unlike a mobile application, a mobile website enables you, the brand owner, to refine the experience and publish your changes to the entire user base without requiring user action. This means everyone will see the new experience upon their next visit.

With a mobile application, on the other hand, users must download and install an update. And as we all know, there is always a percentage of users who will not do this -- ultimately resulting in a sub-optimal experience for them and a less than desirable adoption rate for you.

Content Management

Operational, organizational and governance optimization is always a concern. Brand owners know the headaches different products on different platforms managed through different tools can bring.

Whenever possible, your mobile website should be managed through your content management system (CMS). This may be easier than you think! In fact, for many WCMS, this could be as simple as a template change.

A content management system will have a real impact in terms of your team’s ability to make changes to the mobile site quickly, and in terms of how many -- or few-- headaches this new channel may cause from a maintenance perspective.

Mobile Website Application Wrappers

Finally, by starting with a mobile website, you can make the jump into device-optimized applications with minimal additional work.

Your mobile website can serve as the foundation that is then wrapped into an application that becomes downloadable from the various app stores.

Longer term, you will want to swap those out for pure apps rather than hybrid products, but if you don’t have the budget for a full application build this can serve as an incremental step to your optimal solution.

Are There Scenarios Where Applications Are Better Than Mobile Websites?

Yes. There are clear arguments for the quality of experience of apps over mobile websites and there are definite advantages to an app experience in specific cases. However, I believe an app should augment the baseline mobile website. It should not be your first step into the mobile space or you risk missing a large percentage of your potential user base.

Of course, all brands and initiatives have different objectives and each user has different needs. The important thing is to work with the variables at hand to determine the right approach for your situation.

To help round-out the equation I will focus on application advocacy in my next post.