By Sonja Keerl, product marketing manager at SDL Web Content Management Solutions

At first glance, mobile applications are the cool kid in the schoolyard. Often dressed in the latest graphic design fashion and decked out with hottest functionality, applications can look like tomorrow’s most promising prospects. The mobile web, on the other hand, offers a lot more device compatibility, lower development costs and easier access. It’s the nerdier older brother with different possibilities.

When choosing a marketing tactic, your choice really depends on your goals, organisation, products, customer base and more. Rather than focusing on the tactic (web versus app), it’s more important to take a look at your goals and to the customers you want to serve. It could be that you don’t have to choose, just prioritise. Like brothers, you don’t have to have a favourite, you can just choose who you’ll go to the party with and who is a great study partner.

Who do you want to reach?

Different customers have different preferences. This is complicated by the fact that people’s preferences change with the latest and greatest developments. When choosing your mobile investment, consider how different customer segments want to engage with your brand using mobile. What do they do and what do they want to achieve?

Browse first, download later

In general, people browse first, and then download apps later. By focusing on apps only, you may miss the opportunity to connect with potential customers. Apps may be a great follow-up to expand customer loyalty by providing a rich media experience to clients.

Why mobile sites are a priority for business

How does your website look on a mobile device? Chances are, if you haven’t designed for mobile, you have to pinch, scroll and manoeuvre your screens to get to the information you’re looking for.

Part of the reason why mobile websites seem so unappealing is that we’ve all been frustrated by their ugliness and poor usability. They need a makeover—badly—since visitors will still often attempt to access your mobile site first. Modern mobile websites are taking on a lot of the characteristics of apps, offering similar functionality and design elements. This further narrows the division between mobile site and mobile app capabilities.

What works?

Good mobile sites present content relevant for mobile users, optimising it for mobile phone screens and capabilities (cameras, GPS etc). They allow visitors to access the content from any mobile device easily. Without adaptations to the template, mobile visitors will often get badly formatted content that downloads slowly.

Sites, which may be viewed by any web-enabled device, are best designed to help visitors accomplish a goal—such as finding and purchasing a product—as easily as possible. It is now much easier to create device-specific templates that automatically optimise how sites are rendered.

App experience

On the other hand, apps can be used to enhance your existing customers’ experience and provide value-added to users who expect additional media-rich engagement. Apps serve interactive content, such as games, very effectively.

If you look a little deeper, apps seem to target very specific users. Keynote Systems polled mobile users to identify how users use mobile apps as opposed to the mobile web. Their study revealed that games, music and social media were the only categories for which users would rather use a downloaded app than browse the mobile web.

Things to watch for

An integrated strategy, whether mobile web or app or both, should support your overall business objectives.

Make sure your website is usable on mobile devices.

Apps should provide some sort of value added that isn’t available on your web site.

Respond to analytics: the market is always changing. As new trends emerge and technology is developed, new advances change how people use the web.

Trend watch - hybrid apps

New hybrid apps are gaining ground, offering the best of both worlds. These apps serve web content within an app environment. This combination offers the functionality and user interaction of a native app that is updated with web content.