In early 2015 Google announced plans to penalize websites that weren't optimized for mobile, making it nearly impossible to rank high on mobile search if your website wasn't mobile responsive. Since mobile traffic drives more searches than desktop, this gave website owners two options: create a mobile optimized website or lose out on potentially valuable traffic.

Fast forward a year later to today, 25% of websites that were not previously optimized for mobile made the switch, leaving a significant amount of desktop-only websites taking the traffic loss. There's a range of reasons why companies haven't created mobile websites, from a lack of certainty on how to start, to not knowing if it's the right decision for their business.

Many businesses also contemplate creating a mobile app in lieu of a mobile website; creating an app, however, can feel like a large investment. For some companies an app is necessary to survive in the mobile era, while others might be able to simply optimize their website for mobile to reach their goals. How do you know which one is right for you? The short answer is it depends on a variety of factors including your business model and your long-term goals. We can, however, explore macro considerations to help inform which strategy aligns best with your needs.

Ease of Adoption

With initial overhead costs starting at $10,000 and average build time at 18 weeks, creating an app isn't an easy task. Mobile websites on the other hand, offer you two options: convert your desktop site to be mobile responsive or create a brand new mobile website. Opting to create a brand new mobile website can result in similar time and money spent similar to developing an app. Converting a website to be optimized for mobile however, can be done in as little as 30 seconds for $5 a month. This works well if you simply want your content to be legible on mobile, but in some instances it's important to build a different experiences for mobile. Like, if you're a commerce company a desktop shopping cart probably won't convert as well as one built specifically for mobile.

If ease and speed are top priorities, then transitioning a desktop website to be mobile responsive is your best option, at least to start.

Long-Term Value

While it may be easier to create a mobile website instead of an app, you run the risk of capturing users on a medium that has low engagement and conversion rates. If you serve content, then it's important to capture user's engagement, but of daily time spent on mobile, only an average of 15% of it is spent on mobile web, with the remaining 85% spent in mobile apps. Additionally, if you have a product or service you're selling, mobile apps are proven to convert at rates 120% higher than mobile web conversion rates.

This doesn't necessarily mean mobile websites aren't valuable, rather they serve better as a channel to initially attract users. Considering search is the most common starting point for mobile research, with 48% of users starting on mobile search engines, it is important to have a presence here and capture these user's attention by introducing them to your brand. But, by also having a mobile app, you can then funnel mobile website visitors to download it and continue engaging. It goes beyond the install though, make sure you're optimizing your chances of creating loyal users by considering these 5 mobile app tips.


It's increasingly plausible to introduce mobile web users to your brand because although there's less time spent, there's more overall traffic; two times more to be exact— and it's only growing. The average mobile phone user visits anywhere from 10 to 30 times more unique websites in any given month compared to the 24 unique apps they use each month.

With 75 billion iOS and Android app downloads in 2015, the reach of mobile apps should not be discounted. Though it should be noted that while there's a higher raw volume of app downloads than mobile web views, the top <1% of apps are responsible for 80% to 90% of all app usage. This means it's more difficult to generate a high volume of app installs if you're not in this top minority.

People spend .42 in mobile apps to every $1 spent on mobile websites, yet there are far more transactions in mobile apps for people who are frequent shoppers. It is a bigger commitment to install an app compared to loading a mobile web page, so if you do manage to acquire users on mobile, expect to acquire their loyalty.

What Does It All Mean?

It's time to stop comparing mobile apps and mobile websites against each other and understand that both have a time and a place in the user's journey of discovering your product. If you think about a consumer's journey from initial brand discovery down to purchasing, you most commonly see first touch points on mobile web, as that's where a user lands from search, email, social media, links, and more. This is great for scaling reach, but if you want those users to stick around and actively engage, mobile apps come into play.

As Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson points out, getting a user to download your app is like getting them to walk into your store, it provides an opportunity for deep engagement. Having both a mobile website and a mobile app will set you up to be present for all tigger moments user's might have, from discovery to purchase.

And, when you're ready to begin to grow your customers on mobile, or to monetize an audience, we have two reports that help explain the channels to use and the benchmark data to compare against, to inform your strategy.