Do We Need a Mobile App for Our Business?

As the never-ending hubbub over mobile device usage rages on, many website owners are being told they must have a mobile app. From claims that mobile has killed web design to unsolicited emails that offer you an amazing mobile app for $99, it's hard to sift through all the fearmongering and empty promises.

So let's make this easy. Do you need a mobile app for your business? Probably not.

For most companies, a mobile app is a waste of time and money. Your customers aren't going to use it, and your potential customers aren't going to find it. In most cases, you're much better off having a great website that's optimized for all devices.

Just What the Heck Is a Mobile App?

We've all heard that clever little saying, "There's an app for that." A mobile app can be many things. When someone says you need a mobile app for your business, they're usually talking about an application for a mobile device that makes it really easy to connect to your company online. In other words, it's a glorified mobile website. Instead of accessing a browser and then typing in your web address or searching for you, a user simply launches the app and instantly connects to your business. Sounds pretty great, right? Well, the data makes it sound even better.

Why You Shouldn't Buy Into the Overhyped Data

On the surface, the data seems to be saying you need a mobile app. Heck, you probably need a couple of them. There's no shortage of data to cherry-pick from here:

Dang, this tells me that I really need a mobile app. I'm not sure what it's going to do, but I really need to get one for my company now!

But we're forgetting one little thing. The vast majority of that app usage is devoted to games, Facebook, other social media, news, and email. Only a tiny sliver of app activity is related to businesses like yours. So while you might think you need one because everyone is using mobile apps nonstop, your mobile app is going to be competing with hundreds of millions of other mobile apps for a tiny sliver of the pie. You'll be lucky to walk away with a crumb.

No One Is Going to Use Your App

Here's another stat that might interest you as you prepare to pursue a mobile app. Of the hundreds of millions of apps now available, as many as 90 percent are deleted after being used just one time. The odds are not in your favor. And that's assuming that someone actually downloads your app. To download it, they have to find it first.

No One Is Going to Find Your App

When people are shopping or doing research on their phones, they aren't looking for apps. Let's say someone wants to buy some clothes. They're not going to grab their phone and search for a mobile app that lets them buy clothes. Sure, if they love Target then they might download the Target app. But they aren't going out of their way to look for an app to buy clothes.

Having an app makes sense for Target. If I want to buy clothes from Target, I can just open my app and buy. But I can only do that if I know I want to buy from Target. It’s probably not going to work for your customers.

If you want customers to find you to make a purchase, having an app won't help. It's not like someone who's looking for the Target app is going to say, "Well, hey, here's an app from a company I've never heard of. Maybe I'll download it and buy stuff from them instead!"

A mobile app is even worse for lead generation. Imagine you have a plumbing business. When someone wants to find a plumber, they don't look for an app. They search for plumbers in their area. The same behavior is true for any lead generation. People don't try to find a service by looking for a service company's app first. They look for websites. If you have a mobile app and not a mobile-friendly website, they will not find you. But they would find that great responsive website. And they'd probably be more likely to convert.

The majority of apps never even get downloaded (other than by relatives and other people connected to your business). The average person has 28 apps on their phone. Almost none of them are for businesses. Just think if every business in the universe had a mobile app and the only way to connect to a company through your phone was via their mobile app. Mobile would become a terribly crowded place.

A Responsive Site Already Does Everything You Need Your Mobile App To Do

Why does Facebook have a mobile app? Couldn't they do all that with responsive design? Sure, they could. At least in theory. But it's in Facebook's best interest to have a mobile app because it makes it easier for people to access Facebook on their phones, and it also keeps people on Facebook longer. That means higher engagement and more ad revenue for Facebook. Privacy issues aside, it's also better for the users. They're on Facebook all the time, so they might as well have an app.

Your company, on the other hand, doesn't need to have users logged in for at least 3 hours every day. You want to make a sale or get a lead. You want to find new customers. An app isn't the way to do that. Your mobile-friendly website is easier to find and offers all the functionality of an app. And no one has to install it on their phone.

There are certainly cases where a mobile app comes in handy. That's why there are so many of them. But the majority of the time, it accomplishes nothing. Just ask the millions of failed app developers. Unless you need very special functionality or easy repeat access, there's no reason even to consider a mobile app.

For most businesses, a mobile app is like trying to kill one bird with two stones. And a lot of times, you end up missing with both. 


This post is part of Internet Marketing Mysteries, a weekly column addressing actual client questions related to SEO, analytics, website best practices, and any other topic connected to internet marketing. Have a question you'd like to see tackled in a future post? Let us know in the comments.

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