March 17, 2015 Last Updated 9:39 am

Are apps are all they’re cracked up to be or should publishers just embrace mobile web?

Ruth Spencer, chief blogger with Kaldor, the producer of the Pugpig digital publishing platform, suggests question a publisher should ask to determine the right approach

Mobile web adoption is growing eight times faster than desktop web adoption did in the 1990s and early 2000s, which just goes to show how important it is to consider mobile experience when providing online content. Having a mobile optimised website, therefore, is no longer an option – unless of course you want to lose a high percentage of your consumer base. In fact, a recent study showed that 57% of mobile users were found to abandon a website if it took more than 3 seconds to load.

So, if having a mobile optimised website is so important, why bother with an app? Well, websites and apps offer different things to users. Here are the questions I would think you should ask to help you decide for yourself.

RW-175It’s all about your audience
Where are your audience coming from? How do they want to consume your content and how would you like them to engage with it? These questions are key to deciding whether you should develop an app. If your audience is large and transient an optimised mobile website could be the answer. On the other hand, if you’re trying to attract a smaller (potentially more valuable) audience, or wanting to have your content available offline, an app would be a better fit. But it’s not all up to you – if developing an app, Newsstands and app stores can help to promote your content to new audiences and ultimately build your customer base. Combine this with engagement features like deep-linking push notifications, ‘Today’ widgets, badges and background loading, you can increase the chances that your audience keep checking the app and coming back for more.

How do you want to publish your content?
Is your content fast moving or more long form? Does it have a long shelf life? Answering these questions will help you see if an app is more suited to your content, or if indeed a mobile optimised website is the right approach. Content that is continually updating is well suited to a website, and edition based content (with a start and finish) is more suited to an app. Having said that, there is a trend within the publishing industry at the moment of creating apps with a continuous style of publishing. Titles such as Retail Week and Health Service Journal publish content as soon as it’s ready, meaning users have access to the latest news and analysis wherever they are.

the-week-overesionsHow will I make my money?
Do you want to offer subscriptions and paid-for single editions, or do you want your content to be available for free? What advertising opportunities do you want to offer? It’s hard to take money for content, so you shouldn’t be surprised when free content online performs better than paid content in apps. But it’s not impossible, The Week for example has over 26,000 fully paid weekly subscribers. And of course, your app could be free, Stylist magazine has more than 29,000 edition downloads per week. Apps also provide new opportunities for advertising. Full-page interactive ads, algorithmic interstitials, and splash screens all offer an alternative to the well understood web-based CPM model.

Do you want to go native?
Are you promoting events and activities? Does your content contain audio and video? Would tapping into the native elements of a mobile device be beneficial to your content? Whether you’re promoting a gig in London, or a conference in Berlin, allowing your users to seamlessly add the event to the native calendar on the device can help to ensure the success of that event. That seamless experience is also important when watching video, listening to audio or writing an email. By tapping into the features of the device, it means you can ensure an excellent user experience whilst they interact with your content.

But won’t an app cost more?
This is a common question amongst publishers and content providers. I think the answer is simple, apps don’t have to be expensive and mobile optimised websites aren’t necessarily cheap. Depending on your in-house talent, you can create an app in under 8 days.

So what’s the answer?
The two models sit well together, but as a content owner you need to be clear about which product does what for your users as well as your advertisers. If your website is powered by a CMS, then there’s not much additional workload required to repurpose your app content for your website, and visa versa. Ultimately comes down to offline reading and native user experience, and if these are things you want, then an app is the way forward.

Ruth Spencer is chief blogger with Kaldor, the producer of the Pugpig digital publishing platform.

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