If you are thinking to establish a digital presence for your food business, where you can introduce yourself to potential customers and pop up in Google searches, one of the decisions, that you will have to make, is whether to build a website or just an app.
Having worked in digital marketing for more than 10 years, I’ve met businesses that wouldn’t build an app just because it’s a trendy thing to do. They needed a real reason for it, and I respected that. I’ve also worked with small businesses, that didn’t have the budgets for building a website, and since an app was cheaper, they were tempted to go for it.
Your choice shouldn’t be defined by your budget. In choosing a website vs an app, you need to look at your business model and see what you’d like people to do, what success means to you, and how you’d like to grow in the years to follow.
Main business goal: broader outreach. You would like people to find you on the Internet, when they look for places to eat, or best cupcakes, or freshly baked bread. Maybe you will also like people to order online, or read more about an event.
First impressions: they always count, so a website proves a strong business model and integrated message. It is the place where new customers find out about your business, then decide to check your Facebook account to get to know you better. This is a common online behaviour: Facebook page, websites, independent reviews sites, booking. If they land on your website first, people will check your website second.
Searchability: a website is searchable. It can pop up in searches, when people look for where to eat. An app won’t do that. An app sits in an app store, ready to be downloaded, when somebody tells people about it via social media or websites.
Mobile websites: in today’s world, a responsive website means that its version on mobile is identical with the desktop version. The mobile format is easy to navigate and scales down to fit any mobile devices. In this way, it ensures a smooth customer experience. I have worked with clients that actually built a specific version with a simplified structured just for mobile. They also had a more detailed version for laptops and desktops. This mobile version can look very much like an app, and it makes sense to have one, if you have the budget.
Instant presence across all platforms – when you build your responsive website, it gives you an instant presence on desktops, laptops, iPads, phones. With an app, you will only have a mobile presence (phone and iPads) with no use on the other devices.
Shelf-life – think about how many apps you have downloaded, since you got your phone. Now think about how many you are still using, and why. Research shows that the average shelf life for an app is 30 days, then the app gets forgotten or deleted. A website will always be there for the customers to come back to.
Support, upgrades and development – after being online for a year or two, you’ll notice that your business model has slightly changed. Maybe you want to be an online delicatessen shop or you actually only want to run a cafe. If you have a website, this will be easily adjusted to suit your new needs. For the app, your developer will have to re-build some areas, re-test, integrate updates etc which could be costly.
This is the time for the app to shine.
Main business goal: to share knowledge, to help people getting around places, cook or be aware of what they eat. You can sell the app, so it’s just one product that people will buy; or you can offer it for free but you will have to charge other businesses for advertising.
No internet connection required to access the information – if your product is downloaded, people will have access to all the information that is in there, even without internet connection. However, for any updates, they will need to be online.
Higher personalisation – no matter how good a mobile website is, it will never be able to customise the information like an app. If you download a city guide app, you will be able to instantly filter buy cafes, French bistros or British pubs. If you are a cookery book, your readers can filter by ingredients or type of meal. A mobile website, although could offer filters, is not that good without further investment.
Data driven – although mobile websites are increasingly good at collecting data, an app would be the easiest way. You will actually get the data of every single person who downloads the app. If you want to send them special offers, deals for just one day, then an app is more likely to do the job than a website.
Loyalty points – now here you are in the app-only land. It is extremely easy to collect loyalty points, if all you need to do is to take your phone out, open your app and scan your code. It is a great way to reward your friends and get more return business.
Support – you don’t necessarily need a website in order to promote an app. You can have a Facebook page where you can promote an app; the Facebook page is searchable, people can stumble across it and it’s free.
The most important thing to remember is that websites and apps do not exclude each other. On the contrary. I would say that if you have the budget, is good to have both. If you are a restaurant, a responsive website should be a priority, but a loyalty card and exclusive members club app could do wonders to the business.
If you are more data based and driven, an app will be your priority but bear in mind that you will have to promote it…regularly. Social media and Tripadvisor pages can be really helpful.
If you don’t have a budget at all for websites or apps, I would personally start with a strong Facebook page and an excellent page on Tripadvisor. They are both free, not without challenges, but a very good way to gauge how your business can benefit from a website or an app.
If you are not sure, please get in touch and we’ll explore the possibilities together firstname.lastname@example.org