Comparing Responsive Websites and Mobile Apps

By Austin Paley

In an online world increasingly driven by users on mobile devices, most companies know they need to extend their online presence beyond a Website that works well only on desktops. This means taking a hard look at the benefits of a responsive Website compared with a mobile app.

Larger businesses are often willing to splash the cash on both. However, businesses that need be more strategic with their finances should balance the benefits and shortcomings of the two platforms before making a decision.

A decision on where to invest your business’s money to maximize your mobile presence should not be made lightly. Since more than 17 percent of online users now access the Internet from their mobile devices, a significant amount of mobile traffic could be coming to your business. But, if you choose the wrong platform, you could miss out on many potential sales.

To help you decide which platform is right for you, here are five questions to consider.

1. What is the development cost?

This question should be the main focus for any business trying to get the most out of its money. By and large, mobile apps are more expensive than responsive Websites because the cost of hiring mobile developers is substantially higher than using developers who are proficient in coding responsive sites.

If your business needs a mobile presence quickly but can’t afford to spend large amounts of money, a responsive Website is the way to go. Such sites can quickly and easily be tied into your company’s existing Website sales funnel to track results quickly and efficiently.

Although mobile apps are more expensive, they do provide great ROI and shouldn’t be written off as a waste of money. The initial investment, however, will be much higher, and this can make them too risky for small businesses that need immediate ROI. But if your business wants better long-term ROI, a mobile app can be a great investment that will pay for itself in a matter of months.

It is worth noting that you get what you pay for. While responsive Websites are generally cheaper than mobile apps, trying to cut costs too much will lead to products that are inefficient at getting what your business needs from them.

2. What types of users are you targeting?

Understanding the types of users you are targeting—and what you want them to do when they connect with you on mobile devices—is one of the most important things you need to identify when deciding between a mobile app and a responsive Website. Each platform performs better with certain types of users, so understanding that will help you get the most ROI from your mobile presence.

If you’re targeting shoppers or people searching for your products, or you’re trying to entertain users in an effort to build brand loyalty, a mobile app is the way to go. As this infographic points out, 73 percent of shoppers, 63 percent of searchers and 60 percent of people looking to be entertained prefer mobile apps.

However, if you’re looking to inform users about your business, products or services, a mobile browser is the way to go. The same is true if you want to provide users with easy navigation to your business.

Interestingly, if you want to manage your users or use mobile as an internal tool, both mobile apps and responsive sites are fairly evenly matched—with a slight advantage to responsive Websites (54 percent versus 46 percent for mobile apps). However, when you factor cost into this comparison, the clear choice is a responsive site for audience and employee management.

3. Do you want users to be online when interacting with your business?

When it comes to user interactions, many businesses (particularly B2B companies) want their audiences connected to the Internet so they can go directly to a product or service page and purchase the item while on their mobile device. However, when it comes to building brand recognition and loyalty, offline interactions are sometimes preferable because they allow the business to stay connected to its audience even when the potential buyers aren’t online.

This affects your decision substantially. If you want users to interact with your Website while connected to the Internet, a responsive site makes more sense because it allows direct integration into your existing Website and sales funnel. This lets you use analytics to track conversions and conversion rates.