Does Your Small Business Need a Mobile App? Probably Not.

If you have a small business, no doubt, you get a call about once a week from a company trying to build a mobile application for you.  And, you probably find yourself wondering whether you actually need one or not.

As of June, 2014, there are over 1.2 million apps in the iOS App Store.  There are another 1.3 million apps in the Android app store.  Before you embark upon investing in a mobile app, I think it is worth taking a look at how you would distinguish your company’s app from the millions of other apps that are out there.

Mobile marketing is certainly on the rise.  Today, there are 7.7 billion mobile devices worldwide.  By 2018, that number will jump to 12.1 billion.  And, the consumers purchasing those devices will increasingly look to those devices as a means of conducting business, finding service providers and purchasing products.  Most major companies now have mobile apps. But, for small companies – millions of these apps now sit in the app store and no one ever downloads them. So, the question you should be asking is:  “if I have an app, how would I attract visitors to that app?”

In the 1989 movie, Field of Dreams, the voice from the corn field famously told Kevin Coster, “if you build it, he will come”. That is the problem with mobile applications. You might have a great idea and work hard to build it, but he may not come.

If you do the following with a desktop site, your site will get traffic:

  • Develop quality content
  • Get some relevant links for your market
  • Have a quality on-page SEO structure.

Not so with mobile applications.  Getting organic downloads from the iOS and Android app stores is a challenging proposition.  There is no mobile app store equivalent to SEO.  Only the top apps win in organic downloads in the app stores.  The rest sit, accumulating costs as they are refined over time.  Or, they sit and die.

You should assess your overall costs with mobile apps:

  • Mobile applications are expensive to build.
  • Mobile applications are expensive to maintain. They require new updates to comply with store requirements and general updates you might want to build in to improve the user experience of the application.
  • But, you must also factor in the amount of time and effort that you are devoting toward the mobile app, versus some other form of marketing.

So does this mean that you should abandon mobile altogether? Is this a form of traffic that you should be focusing on at all?  My answer to this question is:  “you absolutely HAVE to address it”.

If you look at your Google analytics, I would be willing to bet that mobile web is currently around 15 to 30% of your overall traffic. And, I can assure you that that number will continue to rise.

People are looking for your site on mobile late at night when they are putting their kids to bed and their only convenient form of web access that they have is a mobile device.  People are looking for you when they are in the doctors office or waiting to go into their next meeting.

And that mobile usage is only going to continue to grow over the next few years.

So how do you address this growing trend toward mobile usage?  Your mobile strategy should start with a quality mobile optimized site experience. I still see a number of small businesses that try to use their desktop site as a mobile experience. But, that is becoming increasingly challenging. And, it is commonly believed now that Google is favoring sites in mobile rankings that have a better mobile optimized experience.

So, how do you find out if your site has a quality mobile experience?  Go here  and enter your site to find out if it is mobile friendly.

If you are on a platform like WordPress, it is actually very easy to have a mobile optimized experience.  Many WordPress themes today build in a mobile optimized, responsive design experience into the theme.  WooThemes is a great company that builds this mobile optimized experience into their themes.   You can’t go wrong with WooThemes.  I am a huge fan.

And, if your site already has a mobile optimized experience, that just means that you don’t have to do anything. You have an out-of-the-box race car of a mobile site just by installing the theme onto your company’s site.

I highly encourage you to use WordPress with a modern theme because it just makes your life that much easier if you have a small business website that you are maintaining.

If you do not work with a platform like WordPress, getting a mobile optimized site will be a bit more challenging. You will, in all likelihood, have to get a mobile optimized site built and place it in a folder on your side so that the traffic from mobile redirects to this folder and serves up the right version of the site for the device.  HUGE pain.

My recommendation:  Unless you have a compelling reason not to, use a platform like WordPress – or even Joomla or Drupal.  Stepping back and getting the right site structure now will help you to future-proof prepare for the changes that are inevitable in the constantly evolving age of mobile devices.

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