Mobile Apps Vs. Mobile Sites: Which Are Better for Engagement?

Creating a mobile app is a significant investment of time, money, and resources. Companies might be tempted to skip a mobile app and simply create a mobile optimized website, because they make the mistake of thinking mobile apps and mobile sites reach the same audience, and have the same level of engagement. But it turns out mobile apps are proving to be more popular with users than mobile web sites, according to a number of recent studies.

Adobe, for example, found that both tablet and smartphone users spend much more time on app sessions than they do on mobile websites. How much more?

    • Tablet users spend four times as long in mobile app sessions as they do on mobile website sessions: 23.9 minutes per average session versus 5.8 minutes per average session
    • Smartphone users spend almost three times as long in mobile app sessions as they do on mobile website sessions: 12.7 minutes per average session versus 4.5 minutes per average session


It’s interesting that the data shows that users are more drawn to mobile apps, because companies are showing the opposite trend. According to a 2013 Forrester report, 59 percent of companies stated that creating a mobile web experience for their customers was a priority, while only 44 percent of companies reported that they were focusing on creating a mobile app for customers.

But does the greater customer engagement of mobile apps mean that companies shouldn’t bother with mobile websites?

Not necessarily. Mobile sites still make a good entry point for new mobile users. Mobile websites are great for quickly referencing information about a site or company, without needing to navigate additional functionality. It’s being predicted that in 2014, more people than ever will be able to afford to buy their first smartphone or other connected device, which means there will likely be an influx of new mobile users.

But for experienced mobile users, mobile apps are more engaging because they utilize more of the built-in capabilities of your average smartphone or other connected device. Mobile financial apps are a great example of this; many of the app features like being able to log in and stay logged in for easy access to your financial info, having a screen code to keep it secure, and being able to deposit checks by taking a picture of it with your smartphone’s camera, are only possible because of the smartphone’s native features.

For the moment, it’s important to offer both options to users, because mobile apps and mobile sites are different tools for different tasks. But as more and more mobile device options become available, it will be interesting to see how these numbers change.

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