I recently watched an interview with John Egan, former growth hacker at Shopkick and now software engineer at Pinterest, where he discussed his experience at Shopkick and trying to master the art of earning user engagement, acquisition, and retention on the mobile-only app. One of the core concepts that struck me was his point on reducing the friction of customer acquisition and retention by tackling the “web-to-mobile” conversion problem. SEOs are typically dedicated towards improving on-site content and even some high-level aspects of user experience, but for those whose clients have both apps and mobile experience versions of the site, bridging the gap between the two is often overlooked. Why? Because we never truly think about how one can actually benefit the other.
A brand that has released an app has no doubt spent countless time, energy, money and resources pushing out a product that requires special development skills, backend construction and unique features. Releasing an app is no easy feat, so how can we simply ignore our client’s existing app as part of our optimization strategy? We are often so focused on the site itself that we fail to see that a strategy towards a smooth transition between the two mobile experiences may not only lead to customer acquisition, but also retention in the long run.
This post focuses on brands that have both a mobile site and a native app. However, for the businesses out there that are debating whether to choose one or the other, here are some two-cents on implementing both. The Next Web published an article recently about which one works best, with a consensus that ideally both should be available to your customers in order to capture the complete mobile audience. Mobile sites are good for old visitors, as well as users discovering your brand for the first time, while native apps provide a “mobile-centric” experience for your most loyal users. However, both have their strengths and weaknesses. For example, building a mobile responsive site is generally less expensive, and can be universally accessed. A mobile site also doesn’t require as much production time, or following extensive guidelines from Google and Apple. Building and rolling out content is also easier on a responsive or mobile site, and 67% of users say they are more likely to purchase from a mobile-friendly site.
On the other hand, Google recently rolled out indexing capabilities for Android apps as well, giving webmasters full control of which URLs will be deep-link enabled to display in search results. Native mobile apps also have an advantage of extra features built into their design that mobile sites don’t have, such as push notifications and geo-fencing. Native apps also provide faster speed and a unique mobile experience specific to the operating system it resides on.
Either way, if you have to choose and are still struggling with which one to go for, digging into your analytics platform is the best way to gauge mobile device and operating system engagement.
For brands with both experiences, one of the most important reasons for connection the mobile web and app experiences together is a concept Egan shares of “show, don’t tell”. In other words, the mobile site can be positioned as a valuable resource on product and service information, as well as a hub that communicates the value of the app to the user before they download it. There are, of course, acquisition channels such as PR networking, social media and display ads, and getting placements on high-profile blogs. However, a strong mobile site established with valuable content is an owned asset that can be leveraged as an acquisition channel as well.
How can we suggest a bridge between the two as SEOs?
One way is by integrating smart app banners strategically into your mobile site like the one below. Smart app banners are unobtrusive banners shown at the top of web pages, which prompt mobile users to install or visit an app. The feature is available in the Safari browser and can be applied to iOS and Android apps. For configuration instructions on iOS, check out the Smart App Banners section of the Safari Web Content Guide, and this neat plugin to configure the banner on Android.
Update: Recently, Google came out with two new functionalities to allow users to 1. Set web apps to a user's home screen on an android device and 2. Allowing webmasters the ability to set up install app banners on their site and showing up for users after they have visited your site twice over two separate days during the course of two weeks.
For android app owners, I strongly encourage reading the article above to install native app banners on your site.
Smart app banners can also be configured to provide navigational context to your app, which is the main feature that will help your web-to-mobile conversion strategy. Using the special parameter tag ‘app-argument’ and including an additional method in the app delegate, data is passed from the site to the app once launched to send the user directly to the page on the app they were looking at on the site. This allows the transition from the site to the app to be as smooth as possible, while providing valuable context for the user to engage with the app.
If your client or product has a mobile experience site and an app, start by noting down the key features of each, and seeing which pages of the app has a stronger user experience to map out smart app banner opportunities. If possible, dig into your app analytics to get a better idea of which pages perform the strongest in conversions compared to similar conversions on the mobile site, as well as points in the app that don’t perform as well to leverage content on the mobile site.
If used properly, implementing smart app banners will create a seamless mobile experience that may not only lead to new app users but also leave your loyal customers happy, appreciative, and satisfied.
For more info on John Egan and his insights on mobile growth, check out his site.