THE SMARTPHONE AGE
Chances are that your business has already done a great job shifting into the digital space. You’ve probably got a decent website, reasonably active social accounts, and a pretty good range of ways for customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders to contact you.
But it’s not enough. While you’ve been busy doing all the things necessary to build your brand, the world has changed around us.
The desktop PC is no longer the dominant piece of hardware –at home or in the office. We live in a mobile world now, We can work wherever there’s connectivity – meaning everywhere. The pandemic cemented the now-widely-accepted notion that we no longer need a desk, or a desktop computer, to get real work done.
Smartphones, started out as an ancillary device for phone calls and text messages – and little else – have evolved into primary workhorses in their own right. They’re easily capable of handling complex workloads no matter where we may be. In fact, our mobile devices are more often than not our first and only gateway into the digital space. Recently released data from Techjury bears that out:
- In 2022, just over 60% of all web traffic was generated by smartphones, compared to just under 40% for desktops and tablets.
- In 2021, 55% of all page views originated on smartphones.
- That same year, over half of all video views were delivered to smartphones.
- On the average day, US adults last year spent over five-and-a-half hours using their smartphones.
For the hybrid workforce who spend a good chunk of their time working from home, smartphones are never more than an arm’s length away. As they move through the house or home office, or work from a local coffee shop as a change of scenery, smartphones are often their primary – and only – means of accessing websites and related online resources.
The same logic applies to in-office work: the smartphone has become a de facto secondary desktop device. Which means websites need to evolve.
In March 2021, Google changed its ranking methodology. Up until then, its crawlers – the software used to scan websites as input to the search giant’s ranking index – prioritized desktop websites instead of their mobile counterparts.
As mobile devices became more prevalent through much of the preceding decade, however, Google’s desktop-first approach was no longer sufficient. Sites that hadn’t been optimized for mobile use often failed to perform adequately when loaded on smartphones or tablets. Google’s ranking change reflected the reversal of fortunes between the desktop and mobile web and was meant to reward website owners for shifting their platforms to mobile-first best practices.
Websites that clung to desktop-first principles without adopting responsive web design principles were understandably punished by the change, as Google deliberately downranked them.
The net effect for organizations that failed to heed the change was significant: their sites, pages, and related content would now rank lower in Google search results than their mobile-optimized competitors. And clients, prospects, and other stakeholders would have a harder time finding them.
SO, WHAT’S A MOBILE-OPTIMIZED WEBSITE?
Websites that are built using responsive design principles are able to adapt to whatever device is being used to view them. Content flows naturally as browser windows are resized, and text and related elements resize naturally across all devices regardless of screen size or portability.
Conventional, non-responsive sites, on the other hand, often “break” when viewed on different devices or browsers. End-users will be forced to deal with glitchy UI and UX, including tiny fonts, inconsistent line breaks, and buttons that are too small to use on a touchscreen.
Google’s updated crawlers recognize the traits of a responsive, mobile-optimized website, and reward the investment with a higher ranking in related search results. Conversely, non-mobile-optimized sites will be downranked – meaning they may never be found in the first place.
WHY NOT JUST BUILD A MOBILE APP?
With millions of apps on offer across both Apple’s and Google’s respective app stores, it’s reasonable to wonder if an organization’s digital presence is best served by an app instead of a mobile-optimized website.
While some use cases – like interactive games, complex financial transactions, or the need for offline access – may merit an app instead of a website, for the majority of organizations, with limited development resources, a mobile-optimized website offers up greater capability and a more efficient use of IT resources. Compared to apps, mobile-optimized websites are:
Instantaneously accessible. Apps require commitment from end-users. They must download and install them. And with limited real estate on most smartphones, many of them will end up gathering dust on an almost-never seen screen. (App Annie, for example, says the average person has 40 apps on their phone, but only uses 18 of them regularly.) A mobile website, however, requires no download or installation, and can be used immediately.
More compatible. Apps are platform-centric, and developers must maintain a specific app for each major platform – namely Apple’s iOS/iPadOS and Google’s Android. Mobile websites work natively on any device and any operating system.
Easier to maintain. Mobile websites are platform-agnostic across all devices and operating systems. Updates are centrally managed, without the need to distribute updates to client devices across multiple platforms.
Easier to find. App-based content doesn’t generally show up in a Google search, whereas content on a mobile-optimized website most likely will.
Easier to share. Sharing a URL is a much simpler process than sharing content from within an app. If you’re using your website for marketing purposes – and who isn’t? – then this form of discoverability is critical.
More cost effective. It is significantly easier on the budget to update just one platform – mobile web – instead of separate iOS apps, Android apps, and web. It’s also easier to staff up a larger, centralized development team instead of subdividing areas of expertise based on platform.
More secure. Patches, updates, and bug fixes can be built, tested, and deployed far more quickly and consistently across a single mobile-first web platform than an environment based on multiple apps – plus the original website.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Going the mobile-web route doesn’t mean you have to give up the ability to install apps on end-user devices. Many apps in the app store are little more than simple shells that point to a mobile web-based back end. This approach can give organizations the best of both worlds as they try to maximize their presence on client and stakeholder devices without busting the IT budget by building and supporting multiple apps.
We’ll be exploring mobile web development in greater detail in future blog articles. In the meantime, if you’re trying to figure out which approach makes the most sense for your organization – or simply want to talk about taking that first or next step, give us a call.