As mobile browsing
continues to grow in popularity amongst consumers, travel brands looking to capitalize on shifting consumer behavior have one major decision: native app or optimized mobile site?
Some brands, like Visit Denver
, have chosen to develop both a native app and a mobile site; others, like VEGAS.com
, went with a mobile site over an app.
Each has their own advantages and disadvantages, and so we've brought together a few resources that explain these trade-offs in the decision making process.
Peter Matthews, Managing Director of digital marketing agency Nucelus, explains the primary reasoning behind choosing one over the other: functionality.
Mobile apps are great once users are ‘acquired’ by brands, but are a blunt instrument for acquiring new customers. In order to tap-in to the new behaviours of browsing websites with a mobile device – did you watch the Olympics on your smartphone or iPad? - you need a mobile-friendly website. If you want to deliver rich content to an existing customer on their mobile – destination guides, etc – you need to offer an app. They serve different purposes.
User experience is also a key consideration, as providing a simple, seamless experience is essential to customer satisfaction.
Dan Hippler, VP of Marketing VEGAS.com:
The mobile site we developed, the top priority was ease of use. Obviously on a much smaller screen, users need something that provides what they are looking for in a format that can quickly be accessed. The fine line that we had to walk was also providing the full array of Vegas travel and entertainment products that we are known for offering. Through the mobile site, customers can book over 80 hotels, over 100 different shows, over 100 tours, nightclubs, and even air & hotel packages.
Other importnat functionality to note is that native apps are available offline, and can store data without needing to ping a server - this makes them faster and more efficient for apps that want to provide an information-rich user experience without sacrificing speed.
Dan Hippler offers this advice when considering the speed and ease of use of their mobile site:
Don’t forget that people still can use a Smartphone as a Phone. Users may still do research via the mobile site but you should always give them the ability to call if they would rather complete and order in that manner. There is a toll-free number throughout the site if users want to speak directly with our agents who have a great view of the Strip out of their office window. They are the most highly trained Vegas experts out there and since waiting on hold with a mobile phone is never fun, the line will ring right through to one of them.
With nearly 1 billion downloads projected by 2014, the Apple App Store is a beast of a marketing opportunity. Add in the robust Android marketplace, and the opportunity for discovery is ripe: Smartphone users are browsing and discovering new apps every day.
With a mobile site, brands have to get the customer to their site in the first place and do not benefit from the centralized resource of app stores.
However, most stores take a substantial cut of both app prices and in-app sales for this aggregation, which can substantially erode profit potential.
It's important to determine what the required return on investment is, and develop a solution that works within those parameters.
Dan Hippler of VEGAS.com shared a bit of the return they are seeing on the mobile site investment:
The mobile site receives a significant amount of traffic in the hundreds of thousands of sessions each month. Our primary goal with the site was ease of use and we are currently seeing less than a 20% bounce rate from the main areas of the site, which is very strong in the industry. We have also seen over a 110% growth in usage, 250% growth in revenue and 70% growth in revenue per site visit.
App stores have an often rigorous approval process, leading to some highly-publicized months-long delays for approval (read about OnLive's here). This can lead to frustations, and an unpredicatable development cycle.
In addition, new versions of the app have to be approved by the app overlords, which leads to more potential headaches.
There's been a lot of buzz about HTML5's capabilities, offering a flexible compromise to creating a native app.
What it comes down to is: Where does your traffic come from?
Sites that receive most of their traffic from search engines, or other links, should consider a mobile app first as that's how users will likely land on the page - whether HTML5 or optimized for mobile users.
Those with a brand that user access directly and regularly via typing in the URL should consider a native app, as the users are more loyal and likely to use the app - thus legitimizing the higher costs.
Dan Hippler, VP of Marketing VEGAS.com:
Before our mobile site was even developed, we saw that customers were already accessing our desktop site on smart phones. Hundreds of thousands of users were going to the site and booking their Vegas travel and entertainment needs. Our main focus became to give these customers a streamlined experience for their device.
Once the mobile site was developed, we began acquiring special, limited-time and same-day promotions and offers for those users. At that time, we also began a push in-market through outdoor and print magazines to reach users that had already arrived in Las Vegas but still needed lodging, show tickets, etc. This was based on seeing that over 60% of people visiting our site on a smart phone were booking for the next few days and were likely already in market.
This is a lot of information to digest, so check out MDG Advertising's useful infographic that lays out the various considerations when making this crucial decision.
Whatever path is chosen, be sure to revisit it periodically to ensure that the mobile strategy is still serving the interests and goals of the user.