In 2015, the ratio of those who access online services via mobile devices compared to desktop users continues to swing ever more in favour of mobile. Brands are scrambling to provide mobile access points for customers to interact with these services, but just as important as being a part of this arms race is taking a moment, assessing best practice and doing it right.
Above all else, you need to get some numbers to back up your decision. How many of your customers are visiting on desktop PCs? How many on tablets and smartphones? Implementing Google Analytics is a straightforward way to collect this data, as well as numerous other helpful tidbits concerning the demographic you're reaching.
Sites vs apps
Are you considering going with a dedicated smartphone app, or a responsive website to cater to tablet and mobile customers? Think which might be best for your business. Responsive websites mirror the desktop version of your website, usually with a slightly streamlined set of content or certain elements removed entirely. This produces a user experience which is as consistent as possible overall.
Mobile apps, on the other hand, offer huge amounts of scope for customisation and a service which is fully built around a mobile experience. Like websites or conventional ads they're entirely their own realm of influence when it comes to crafting a unique experience, with a good app developer on board you can explore a great many possibilities, but just as responsive websites sacrifice variety for cohesion, with an app you need avoid getting carried away at the expense of a coherent experience for users.
Entrepreneur Magazine advocates having both a responsive website and traffic to cast as wide a net as possible. You can catch users at the right time and in the right mood to engage with the right aspects of your service. Making your website responsive covers both desktop traffic and that which is produced by those browsing on the tube or train. Meanwhile, an app provides deeper and more tailored engagement for mobile users to keep them coming back for more.
Pros and cons
This doesn't just secure a coherent user experience but also ensures continuity between desktop and mobile. Users who bookmark content on the desktop site can return later using the mobile app and instantly pick up where they left off as the same site is responsive to either medium. It makes it so much easier for users to get invested in their journey through your site.
Apps lack this continuity but the ease of access to information from your brand straight from the homescreen is beneficial in its own way. Additionally, if the app sells a range of products which the customer buys regularly, they're far more likely to buy from you again rather than beginning the whole search process from scratch and possibly finding it cheaper or more easily from a competitor.
It's also incredibly important to stay on top of your data and track mobile conversions. Many online advertising platforms such as Google AdWords allow you to target mobile users exclusively, in the same way as you can choose to run your ad in certain locations or only during certain times of day.
This lets you target users with specially tailored ads across both device categories. If you're running both a desktop website and a smartphone app (or mobile-specific landing pages) you can promote the main website to desktop users and your mobile content separately to those on smartphones or tablets. However, bear in mind that mobile search introducing HTTPS and SSL referrals combined with apps can make source traffic data increasingly hard to break down.
It's interesting to note that the way trends are progressing into 2015 are not making certain platforms obsolete as much as they are promoting integration with one another. By branching out and giving your customers the best of both worlds, it's possible to provide a unified and immersive experience which promotes but engagement and retention at the same time.
By Jonny Rowntree, freelance writer working with Elanders UK.
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