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Which comes first: Mobile-optimized website or mobile app?

It's the classic chicken and egg debate: Should a company focus on a mobile-optimized website first or a mobile app? Expert Matthew David walks you through the choices.

A question many chief marketing officers ask is whether to have a mobile-optimized website or a mobile app. The answer is that a mobile app and a mobile-optimized website are not the same experiences. Treat a mobile app and a mobile-optimized website differently.

A website is a top-down/pull experience. By this I mean you actively have to go to a website either from a search page or from typing a Web address. A mobile app is a bottom-up/push experience. Device notifications can be triggered when an app has been installed to direct the app owner to launch the app.

A successful mobile campaign will choose to mobile-optimize a website as the first stage in a mobile plan. This is important for various reasons:

  • Google search results now place preferential ranking on mobile-optimized content
  • A website will still be the first place for information and the number of consumers browsing with their phones is now higher than with laptops or desktop computers
  • A website can enhance content for SEO searches
  • The mobile-optimized website will provide feedback on what can be delivered as an app

The second stage of your mobile campaign is to identify what the goal of an app should be. Do not copy your website for your app. Apple will reject apps that are copies of websites. Look to the business you run and ask yourself: What one action would make my job as a consumer to my business easier? For retailers, digital coupons are a common added feature for mobile apps. Service-based companies, such as Uber, provide apps with information.

Ultimately, a mobile-optimized website and a mobile app will provide different services to your customers.

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Did your company start with a mobile app or a mobile-optimized website?

Having worked as an outsourced testing partner for various web and mobile apps, I would think most of the companies started with a mobile optimized website first. That being said, with API driven architecture, aiming to build both of these seems to be a good idea - especially since a website and an app are better for different things.

As an example, the android play store is full of free flashlight apps which use your camera's LED to produce light. The web equivalent of this would be an online flashlight app (yes, these exist, you can google it); however, they are not really equally illuminating to use.