One of the most intensely discussed topics in SEO and digital marketing today is the usefulness of mobile apps, particularly those that serve similar functions as existing mobile ecommerce sites.
These days, it seems that all the biggest brands spend a lot of effort encouraging you to download a special mobile app. In most cases, however, these businesses also have a desktop or mobile website that already provides the same functionality as the app.
So what gives? Why do these companies want us to download a separate mobile app when you can buy the same things on their desktop and mobile sites?
Apart from FOMO, which is a terrible affliction that affects even the best of us, these businesses usually have a separate mobile app for the purpose of improving the customer experience.
Theoretically, a better baseline customer experience means improved conversion rates and increased customer lifetime value.
However, it’s a mistake to assume that simply having a mobile app will reap you these benefits.
To know why, we must understand the general UX differences between the web and mobile app experience as well as the potential benefits and very real caveats of having a mobile ecommerce application.
Comparing the Web and Mobile App Experience
Imagine this situation:
Let’s say a customer wants to purchase a new pair of Nikes online. They want to make sure they don’t get counterfeits, so they’ll try to get their fresh kicks from an official Nike sales channel. To do this, they generally have two options.
The first option is to open a browser on their phone or a desktop, use a search engine to find the correct website (making extra sure they’re not on a scam site), create an account, find the pair they want, put the item in the virtual shopping basket, enter their personal details, then make the purchase after a few more confirmation steps.
The second option is to open the official app on their phone, search for the pair they want, add the item to the basket, confirm or change prefilled forms on personal details, and make a purchase with a few taps.
What’s the Difference?
While the first option is fine for most people, it usually involves more steps. Each time a step is added, the greater the chance that a customer will drop out of the purchase. This is especially true if they are required to type or tap in their personal details each time they buy something. Additionally, the web experience can be uneven for different customers, especially when they’re on mobile.
The second option, by contrast, usually has fewer steps. In most cases, there is no need to manually enter a password to access one’s account through an app. Two-factor authentication is also generally more convenient on phones, as the OTPs via SMS and fingerprint authentication can usually be done on the same device. Apps can also deliver a more customized UX, ensuring that customers are encouraged to keep purchasing more items.
Benefits of Mobile Apps
Here are some of the potential benefits of having a mobile app:
1) They Can Ramp Up Your Conversion Rates
As in the example, mobile apps can serve to reduce the number of steps customers need to make a purchase. Reducing the complexity of each purchase will almost always increase conversion rates.
2) Mobile Apps Can Be a Powerful Customer Retention Tool
Mobile apps can also do much more than merely facilitate purchases. When they are developed with the customer’s needs in mind, they can be an extremely powerful customer retention tool.
They could be used to deliver targeted content that closely matches an individual user’s preferences, including suggestions for their next purchases. They can also be used to facilitate service requests as well as other perks and features demanded by today’s customers.
3) Mobile Apps Can Be Used for Highly-Effective Remarketing
With the proper permissions, mobile apps can be used to collect important data on customer preferences, locations, and demographic information. This data can be used to improve R&D, market more relevant items, and bring down the cost of advertising and facilitating each purchase.
4) Mobile is Now the Dominant Mode of Internet Use
Mobile internet already counts for a handy majority of all web traffic. If you want to provide the best possible experience on the most dominant internet platform, a mobile app will be necessary.
5) An App Lets You Fine-Tune the Mobile Experience
If an app is designed properly, it will almost certainly be faster than an equivalent mobile website. While you can do a lot to make your mobile site load faster, it is generally easier to create a universally faster and more elevated mobile experience through an app than through browsers.
Caveats of Mobile Apps
You must be thinking: “Great! There are no downsides to mobile apps!”
If so, you’ve made the same mistake countless businesses did when they developed and launched their mobile applications. While they can be an incredible marketing channel, business owners and developers have to think about several things before they set their creations loose on Google Play and the Apple App Store.
Here are some very important caveats to consider:
1) Mobile Apps Do Not Help with Web Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization (SEO) is important, as many of your customers will search for your product through a major search engine, with about a third of all product searches starting on Google.
If, for some reason, your product could only be found within your app, it will be invisible to the users of the most popular search platforms. This means the only way these customers will find your product is by doing a direct search on Google Play or the Apple App Store for your app and running another direct search for the item on the app itself. Not exactly ideal.
Likewise, listings on your app are not usually able to give an SEO boost to the listings on your desktop and mobile sites. This can be a major missed opportunity as these remain vital marketing channels for most businesses.
2) You Cannot Ignore or Replace Your Mobile Web Browsing Experience
Jumping off the last point, if you want your products to be visible, you cannot replace your mobile or desktop site with an app. Additionally, there are always going to be people who are unwilling to download an app for a one-time purchase. There is also a small but not insignificant number of people who won’t download mobile apps at all due to security concerns or a lack of technical know-how.
This makes it important to keep investing in your websites to ensure a uniformly pleasant UX regardless of where your customers come from.
3.) You Need to Address Both Android and iOS Customers
If you want a wider reach with your app, you’ll essentially need to develop it twice, once for each of the major mobile platforms. Having your apps exclusive to only one set of mobile customers can severely limit your potential market.
4.) Mobile Apps Have to Be Developed Purposefully
For your mobile app to succeed, you have to make sure it works in the wider context of your marketing strategy.
Just developing an app isn’t enough — there has to be a specific set of goals for the app that not only fit within your wider marketing strategy but your business’s goals as well.
Not considering these factors can mean that the app may be affected by scope creep, where it’s expected to do several things at once for no good reason. This usually results in sub-par applications.
Unfortunately, poorly developed apps can result in annoyance, frustration, and a loss of trust that can damage brands. This means that if you’re going to develop an app, you have to do it the right way.
5.) You Have to Market Mobile App Itself
Apart from developing the app properly, you’ll also need to make sure that potential customers can easily find your app and are incentivized to download it.
In other words, you will need to market your app just like you would any other product. In most cases, this means healthy investments in SEO, content marketing, paid search ads, and even traditional media.
So… Does Your Site Really Need a Mobile App?
It depends. When they are developed thoughtfully and supported appropriately, they can be a potent tool for increasing conversions and boosting repeat business.
Of course, we know that not all mobile apps are developed purposefully or given the support they need. When an app is rushed or not given enough support after launch, it can easily become a distraction and a liability.
Before you give in to FOMO and have an app developed just for the sake of it, first ask yourself what you want your app to achieve. Next, ask if you can develop a solid, enjoyable platform that meets those goals. Lastly, ask how you will support the app after it is launched.
If you can’t answer these questions confidently, maybe it’s not yet time for your website to have a mobile app.