In my last column, we discussed the dilemma of when to build a mobile web site vs. when to build a native mobile app. I find this question comes up almost daily now in conversation with colleagues — especially with the many talented engineers with whom I’m lucky to work.
Their point of view is that HTML5 can now support so many of the same functions of a native app, that you are better off building a mobile website instead.
Why Bother With The App Store?
In many cases, they are correct — building a mobile site will often be faster and more cost-effective and enable you to avoid the frustrations of dealing with app store approvals and updates.
In fact, there are only a few cases in which a native app is truly the optimal decision: mobile games, which require a high level of animation and detail, and apps that involve intense manipulation of images such as detailed product views, 360 degree spins, and the like.
Even these functions can be achieved with HTML5 — just not quite so efficiently as with the native app code.
So, from a practical perspective, yes, you can opt to build a mobile site instead of an app most of the time.
Be Where Users Are Looking
But I predict we’ll all still be building apps for some time to come for the simple reason that it is what the industry — and users — demand.
App stores, iTunes in particular, have become a critical content discovery channel and if you are a household name brand, your customers will expect to find you there.
Over time, HTML5 web applications may indeed supplant native apps altogether.
In 2-3 years, we may find that app stores have evolved to be destinations where we discover links to mobile web applications and purchase access to and subscriptions for, browser-based mobile content.
For us, the users, it doesn’t matter how the app is built — most of us don’t know or care about the difference between native code and browser code. We just want good content that’s easy to find. Which is why app stores are here to stay.
Unfortunately, this brings about a whole new set of considerations for marketers. With a mobile website, you have simply have to build a great site and direct traffic to it via SEO and SEM (ok, it’s a little harder than it sounds).
Visibility In The App Store
But, with app stores, achieving visibility is much, much more complex whether you’re marketing a native app now or an HTML5 mobile web app in the future. So today, I’ll give you the very high level basics of app store visibility and how to achieve it.
First and foremost, you have to understand that visibility in iTunes and other app stores is largely calculated based on the number of downloads you generate on a consistent daily basis compared to similar apps within the same category.
Say, for example, you are a hotel chain that has just released a booking and loyalty app. Your main goals would probably be to:
- Appear within the top 20 apps in the Travel category, and,
- To outrank your competitors for the keyword “hotel” in that same category.
Your ability to achieve the first goal will be based completely on how many downloads you generate on a daily basis vs. all the other apps in the Travel category.
You ability to achieve the second goal will be based on how many downloads you generate for the keyword “hotel” within the Travel category.
Paid/Bought Media Is The First Step
So, any app marketing strategy has to have a strong focus on generating downloads and that’s where media comes in. Paid or bought media, in the form of display, search marketing, and incentivized downloads and reviews are instrumental in driving the volume of downloads required to float to the top of your chosen category in any given app store.
There’s no doubt that paid/bought media works — spend enough and you’ll generate a high volume of downloads. But bought media only works as long as you pay for it. What’s more, bought media is great at driving downloads but downloads are meaningless without engagement and that’s where owned and earned media come in.
Owned And Earned Media Are Essential
Owned media comes into the equation in the form of awareness elements on your website, email marketing to your customer base and leveraging your branded social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter.
These elements get the word out about your mobile app, driving traffic to its download page in the app store/s and driving ongoing engagement post-download.
Earned media, in form of influencer outreach and other types of PR, enables you to reach a broader audience outside of your current customer base by spreading positive feedback.
Ideally, your bought, earned, and owned campaign elements start together with the launch of your app, and as your owned and earned efforts begin to drive results, the bought can be scaled down to a maintenance level or nothing at all.
You’ll find that as you track your efforts, there will be a direct corollary between your app store rank and the amount of effort you expend on each sphere.
A strong, initial push with paid media at launch can easily propel your app to the 1st page of results — a well curated program of earned and owned media post-launch can keep it there.
Checking your rank daily, both for your chosen keywords and for your overall categorical rank, will show you when you need to step up your efforts in one of these areas and will keep you mindful of the need to keep your content up to date and competitive.
The Missing Metric
It’s a delicate, symbiotic balance, but, properly managed, it can and will generate results, getting your app onto a user’s desktop and keeping it there.
Of course, the ultimate goal is getting your app onto the 1st two screen of the user’s smartphone or tablet — the prime personal real estate we’ve discussed so often before.
That is the missing metric of mobile apps — to date, there’s no automated way to track where your app appears on a user’s device, a place where location truly is everything.
In my next post, we’ll discuss this missing metric and some potential workarounds for figuring out just how valuable and visible you are to your installed user base.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.