In today’s mobile-first era, with the steady growth of mobile users and mobile digital media time, businesses need to know if they really need a mobile app – or if a mobile-optimized website is enough.

Are mobile apps required?

The short answer is: Mobile apps are not yet required in the mobile era; Mobile-optimized websites are. However, a mobile app will increase your overall mobile presence, driving brand loyalty and conversions.

With mobile activity overtaking desktop activity and Google penalizing non-mobile-friendly websites, businesses must at least offer a mobile-optimized website to meet customer expectations and rank well in mobile search results. With a mobile app, businesses can increase revenue, reach more customers, and showcase its products.

The Business Website

In the late 90s and into the early 2000s, businesses fought the need for a desktop website.

Do I need a website if I don’t sell products online?

What if my business is small, only 2 or 3 employees? 

The answer became clear that yes, every business needed a website, regardless of its e-commerce status or company size. Businesses and online marketers quickly understood that “future business revenues would be derived from online transactions or from offline transactions that were the result of online marketing efforts.” (Forbes)

Fast-forward to April 21, 2015: #Mobilegeddon. Despite being an “over-hyped non-event” with regard to actual traffic decline across mobile-friendly versus non-mobile-friendly websites, the shift toward penalizing non-mobile-friendly websites and using mobile-friendliness as a search results ranking signal made mobile-optimized websites a digital business necessity.

(In defense of its “non-event” status, it’s been theorized that Google’s algorithm change was “tuned down” in an effort to lessen the impact on small businesses without mobile websites that still offered trustworthy content that users wanted to see – predicting that as Google tweaks the impact of its algorithm, businesses that did not “go mobile” will start to see more noticeable deviations.)

Just as desktop and mobile-optimized websites have become necessary for businesses, mobile apps are well on their way to the same status.

Acknowledging the importance of mobile apps, Google introduced app indexing earlier this year:

“App Indexing helps you engage your app users and increase app installs directly from Google Search. This means that mobile users who have your app installed will be able to open content deep in your app directly from Search results, and Android users who do not yet have your app installed will be given an opportunity to do so…Finally, you can also take advantage of the App Indexing API to enable query auto completion for your Android app, so that the Google app can drive re-engagement to your app through automatic query completions. This means that a mobile user who types a query into the Google app will see your app appear in the auto completion drop-down when that query matches content in your app.” (Google)

Consumers and businesses alike are also recognizing the significance of mobile apps with 89% of consumer media time currently spent in mobile apps and the availability of millions across iOS and Android. With mobile app builders (like Advice Mobile) making the process easier and more affordable than ever, businesses can fluently build, edit and deploy their own mobile app within minutes to stay ahead of prevailing trends… and the competition.

Mobile-Friendly Website Vs. Mobile App

There are several events only possible through a mobile app. For example, can your mobile-optimized website notify a customer entering your store of an ongoing sale? Can it build brand loyalty through reward programs? Alter the price of a product based on a user’s social media influence? Take a picture of your product?

Can it personalize a customer’s experience through the use of data? Unlike mobile websites, mobile apps collect customer data about online habits to tailor content for a smoother, quicker, and more relevant user experience. This data, combined with profile information, helps determine the types push notifications, suggested content, product recommendations, and even pricing most appropriate for the specific user. This personalization enables the business to engage with its most engaged customers in real-time, by location and by preference.

The bottom line.

If your company can afford it, both in time and resources, it is highly recommended that you offer both a mobile-optimized website and mobile app.

If this is not possible, it is important to understand and believe that the mobile web is here to stay; therefore, all businesses must at least provide a mobile-optimized website to their customers and search engines.

To stay ahead of the competition, businesses should consider the benefits of a mobile app and how they can correctly leverage app events to create a successful and effective mobile app environment.

Often expensive and time-consuming, mobile app builders can expedite the mobile app development process at a more cost-effective rate.