With Apple boasting of over 50 billion downloaded apps[1] and Starbucks processing over 10% of their U.S. transactions[2] through their mobile apps, it should come as no surprise that one of the leading GMOOT (Get Me One Of Those) buzzwords across all of the industries is mobile apps. Contrary to this bridge-jumping-party-train, mobile apps are not always the best solution for many outreach campaigns and organizational goals. Mobile websites can also offer an effective avenue for Marketing Managers to reach out to their consumers, but they too have their drawbacks. Planning strategically and implementing tactically with mobile apps and mobile websites require an understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of both.

In this blog we define mobile apps and mobile websites and then compare and contrast them.

Before We Begin What is a Mobile App?

A mobile application (mobile app) is a software application designed to run on smartphones and/or tablets. They are usually available through application distribution stores, which are generally operated by the creator of the mobile device’s operating system. To name a few of these stores, there is the Apple App Store (iOS), Google Play (Android), Windows Phone Store (Windows Phone), and BlackBerry App World (Blackberry). It is also worth mentioning that Amazon.com, the manufacturers, and the carriers also offer third-party app stores. Typically apps are downloaded from the consumers’ preferred app store directly to the device and installed. These native apps can be granted special permissions by the consumer, granting the app access to the built-in functions and storage on the phone. Foursquare for example needs permission to access your phone’s built-in location-based services (LBS) to help determine where you are, as well as your contact list to help you find more friends. Because of these additional functions, mobile apps can generate the greatest potential for a good user experience, but also cost the most in time and investment.

Mobile Website example - visitthejerseyshore.com / .mobi

visitthejerseyshore.com and visitthejerseyshore .mobi

What Makes a Website a Mobile Website?

Mobile web, like “desktop” web, is browser-based access to the content on the Internet, except that a mobile website’s content displays for maximum readability on mobile devices, whether that device be a feature phone, smart phone, tablet, or something in-between. All of the content is displayed so that the user does not have to pinch, zoom, or scroll horizontally for information, as they would when faced with a “desktop” website. Since mobile websites are built on many of the same functions and programming languages that desktop sites use, they are typically easy & fast to deploy and have low up-front costs. However mobile web is not without its disadvantages. The disadvantages include needing a data connection, lack of OS integration/access, and cookie cutter interfaces which might not take advantage of a screen’s size.

Mobile Apps

Mobile Websites


Have access to functions, information, and other applications on the device, such as geo-location (LBS), call history, contact lists, email accounts, phone storage, and photos.Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and priority search engine ranking placement (SERP); when a mobile phone user uses Google or Bing to search the internet for a topic, both search engines will rank content that is mobile friendly higher than that of content which is not.
Access to customers’ social media apps that are already installed on the device, allowing customers to easily share content, and for brands to more easily track shares.Low development costs; developers can develop mobile websites on Content Management Systems (CMS) with very little programming.
Offline support for many functions and content that don’t require an active data connection.Able to render content across all feature phones, smart phones, and tablets, with no call-to-action to download an app.
Already robust analytics on engagement, can be improved even further with heat-mapped and precise geo-location reporting.Bookmark to dashboard (desktop), to help drive customers to your mobile site as if they were loading an app.
Well supported Software Development Kits and Developer Ecosystems, ensures access to documentation and community-based help.Able to use existing web design talent pool, numerous individuals and firms of all maturity and experience backgrounds which can design websites, can also create mobile websites.


App development barriers; in order Google, Apple, Blackberry, and Microsoft are the companies with the largest share of the mobile operating systems, 52.0%, 39.2%, 5.1%, and 3.0% respectively[3]. That said Google’s 52.0% is then split between roughly 8 different versions of its operating system, with countless variations in hardware and UI design.Mobile websites are usually designed to load the same way on all devices, therefore a mobile device with a 3” screen will display the same content in the same way as it would on a 5” screen. In both cases there are draw backs, condensed text and buttons on the 3” screen, and stretched images and over-sized text on the 5” screen.
High development costs; apps are not a once and done project. Once a platform(s) is chosen customers expect regular updates, new functions, and new compelling content. This means constant development and maintenance, as well as support for older devices as well as new devices.Each time a mobile website is accessed from a phone an internet connection is required, limiting when consumers can access an organization’s content.
Downloading the app itself can be a barrier; marketing plans have to outline how to drive customers to the app so that they can download it, and then how to get them to use it.Social sharing buttons can be added to any website but when utilizing them in mobile browsers, the site may request the user to log into their social media account increasing the likelihood of drop offs.
Lack of usage; a study by Localytics, as reported on by ReadWriteWeb, found that 26% of downloaded apps are never used again[4].Limited access to a mobile device’s location-based system is possible on some mobile browsers but has not been widely adopted by either consumers or organizations.
Increasing customer concerns over app access to their information; upwards of 54% of users have either not downloaded an app or deleted an app relating to privacy concerns[5].Mobile browsers do not grant mobile websites access to a mobile devices core functions, limiting a consumer’s experience.
No SEO and no SERP; currently the only way to make you app stand out above the rest is to build a lot of marketing hype, and hope that the app reaches the top of the charts in the app store. Otherwise that great QR code reader you just made, is barely competing with the 800 others in the store for users.Confusing URL structures; mobile sites are typically a different domain than a organizations “desktop” website, examples include mobile sites which use a sub-domain (m.yourdomain.com) or which use a different top level domain (www.yourdomain.mobi).


Given the inherent differences between mobile apps and mobile websites there are different strategies and tactical goals for both. Neither should be used alone, but rather both should be integrated into many organizational mobile marketing plans to compliment and support each other’s short comings.

As always, please feel free to comment below as it is my hope that discussing these points and the new points which others may bring up, can help us all establish the best marketing strategies for our organizations.

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