Villing & Company

Mobile Apps versus Mobile Web: The Key Statistic that Determines Which Is Best For You

There are a lot of opinions when it comes to the question of mobile marketing. Being a relatively new medium to hit the mainstream, mobile marketing is being discussed everywhere you look. Statistics showing exploding user engagement and app download numbers are making many marketers foam at the mouth, and for good reason.

In 2011, smartphone and tablet sales surpassed traditional desktop and laptop sales. Because of this, web browsing on mobile devices is exploding. iPhone traffic alone has grown more than 700% in the last two years. Let’s put it this way: if that trend continues, worldwide iPhone traffic will surpass Mac traffic in less than a year. In other words, it will be more important to make sure your site works well on the iPhone, than on a Macbook.

And if mobile web browsing sounds promising, consider this: as of June of this year, the time mobile users spend using apps surpassed the time they spend browsing the mobile web. App usage grew over 91% from the year before. By comparison, the amount of time users spent browsing the web 'only' increased 16% from last year.

It’s obvious that both the mobile web and mobile apps will be critical for marketers from now into the foreseeable future. But, assuming you’re on a budget, which should you tackle first? Should you optimize your website for mobile users, adjusting your navigation and content to fit the smaller screen? Or should you leave that alone and concentrate on building one or more mobile apps to reach this eager audience?

If you’ll forgive me for trying to make a complex question simplistic, I think that you can usually answer that question by looking at a single statistic of your website: the ratio of your new visitors to your returning visitors.

In my opinion, if your site caters mostly to returning visitors an app makes a lot of sense. People who visit your site frequently might be better served by the convenience of an app. And you might be able to provide better functionality by using the built-in capabilities of the device.

On the other hand, if your web statistics show a greater number of new visitors, your money will be better spent on a mobile website, ensuring that their first impression of your business is as strong as possible. With a few exceptions, these first-time visitors are unlikely to be interested in installing an app, but will be affected by an easy-to-use mobile web experience.

There will of course be exceptions to this general rule, but if you have limited funds, reviewing your new/returning visitors ratio should give you a good idea of where to invest first.

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