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October 21, 2014

Does Your Business Need an App? Likely Not

The mobile mayhem has hit full force. Fifty-two percent of all local searches now happen on a mobile device, and a whopping nine out of 10 searches on a mobile device end in a sale. If you’re trying to ignore the mobile space as a small business owner, it will indeed ignore you. And so will scads and scads of potential customers.

That said, the mobile app craze is a misunderstood phenomenon, and many small business owners are jumping in without being fully educated. By many estimations, the vast majority of companies that take the time and resources to build a mobile app don’t actually need one. A mobile website, most definitely. But an app might be a colossal waste.

How do you know if a mobile app will propel your business forward? A quick education into the world of mobile sites versus apps should help unravel the mystery.

Lesson 1: Mobile Apps and Mobile Sites are Vastly Different Animals

Many people use “app” and “mobile site” interchangeably, but they’re completely different entities. A mobile site is a website accessible on a small screened device, whereas an app is a standalone program that may or may not connect to a Web experience. An app is software, downloaded onto a hard drive. Just because you have a mobile website (which you absolutely should maintain), it doesn’t mean you need an app. Not even close.

Lesson 2: Apps are Fantastic Marketing Machines – If Used with Subtly and Finesse

Thinking about the different functions that apps and mobile sites perform is integral to deciding if you actually need an app. An app needs to have core functionality that provides a bona fide need in your customer’s world. But it also can be a great place to push new content and information about your company’s goods and services. There’s a million ways to carve out this marketing function with an app – it all depends on your industry.

Here’s a perfect example: Checkout the home design app Houzz. Houzz helps homeowners find inspiration for remodeling and decoration, providing a stellar function. Additionally, users can link directly to goods for sale from the design photos, giving Houzz a fantastic revenue stream, and a whole spectrum of retail partners. And yes, it has a website too.

Tread very, very carefully with the intention of using an app for marketing purposes, though. If the app doesn’t have a very real function that truly fills a need, it won’t be used. And just as critical, if you’re pumping it with too many marketing messages, you’ll get uninstalled in an instant.

Lesson 3: For Many Small Businesses, Apps Don’t Make Sense

If you’re grasping for an idea for an app that gels with your business niche, you’re clearly forcing the issue. The truth is, apps aren’t necessary for most small businesses. If you have a successful website or brick and mortar store, an app will only work to further your expansion if it makes sense for your core business. There’s a lot of apps out there that are downright confusing; either they have no context between functionality and company tie-in, or the functionality itself is completely muddled. For the latter, this is an example of an app built for marketing purposes only, without user consideration. These are epic failures, and often very expensive lessons to learn.

Lesson 4: Apps Work Best When Companies and Users Need the Functionality

Apps are most successful when they utilize the unique features of Smartphones and tablets, as compared to normal websites. Consider a banking app: These use security features, GPS functionality, even camera features for capturing check images. Here’s a solid case for building an app. eCommerce stores that build accompanying apps don’t make a lick of sense, because they’re using the same Web functionality that their websites do. There is not yet a case to be made for targeting app users as a separate audience either. People who download apps also access mobile websites, so there’s no need to segment the audience.

So if you don’t need the unique features of mobile devices, you likely don’t need an app.

Lesson 5: The Easy Way to Make the App Decision

Still confused on which way to turn? Answer this simple question:

Would your idea for your company’s app have unique, useful features not available on your website?

If it’s a no, you unequivocally do not need an app. If it’s a maybe, spec it out, and ask other experts. If it’s a yes, find yourself a developer and get your app out there.

The expression “There’s an app for that!” has become prevalent for a reason: there are simply apps-a-plenty. Don’t crowd iTunes and Google Play with more irrelevant apps that will essentially be ignored. But if you know your company needs to leverage Smartphone functionalities, and it makes good business sense for you and your customers, the app community welcomes you.

Has your small business built an app and a mobile website? If so, how has each offering been received?


Conscious online marketer, web executive, and multi-faceted writer Tina Courtney has been creating and fostering online innovations since 1996. Tina has assisted many clients in maximizing online production and marketing efforts, and is a staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney and JDate, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, influencer marketing, community management, lead generation, and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, and accomplished life coach.  Learn more on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. Visit My Google+ Profile