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The argument for investing in a website first (instead of an app)

Do you have an app? Apple or Android store? I often hear my startup and new business clients get this question when talking about their companies–whether it be from prospective users, friends, investors and customers. That being said, over the past year, this question has come up less often than it used to. This is no surprise to me, and at the risk of being contrarian, below I will share seven reasons why investing (time and money) in a website is more important than an app (when you’re just starting off).

1. Google 

Whether we like it or not, Google is not only here to stay, but has become a vital tool in our daily life. Google this, Google that, any question that comes to mind, just ask Google (or Siri or Alexa). Google processes over 3.5 billion searches a day and this number keeps on growing day by day. Over time, with RankBrain, Googles’ algorithm learning artificial intelligence system, search results are getting more pertinent. 75% of searches happen on Google vs. other search engines. How does this compare to downloads on the Apple store? Approximately 40 billion downloads a year, which is “only” over 100 million downloads a day and this trend is slowing down. Users will go on the Apple store already knowing what they want and often after searching on Google. To be found amongst your competitors or ranking for keywords people use to refer to you, you not only need to have a website, but most importantly one that is SEO and mobile friendly. Which brings me to my next two points.

2. The magic word: SEO 

The holy grail of any tech startup. For the newbies out there, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), is the foundation and success of any website. It comes in multiple shapes and forms and would require a whole blog post on itself, but to get to know more (and I not only encourage but strongly advise you to) read this 26 point SEO checklist. From day one, and up to today, we constantly thrive to improve our SEO, making sure that we appear in Google searches for anything our potential customers search us for. And it is for this reason that more than 75% of our conversions are organic or direct, bringing our CAC lower. Needless to say, this kind of conversions cannot happen with an app.

3. Mobile friendly websites and push notifications 

A couple of years ago, apps had some great advantages over websites, and understandably, were the rave due to smartphone penetration being on the rise, easy to use, gamified, and having push notifications. Their quality (or innovative aspects) is not the same anymore as apps have now become commoditized, whereas web browsers have been evolving with great extensions, push notifications, location tracking, and being mobile friendly, making it more natural for people to go on their web browsers to find things and remain on them longer. We are at a tipping point where just over 50% of the searches happen over mobile (surpassing desktop for the first time), with in 2017, for the first time, just over 50% of total web traffic happening over mobile.

4. Content creation 

If there is one thing you should take out of this post, it is the importance of content creation, without which, having a website will be pointless. Content creation is what will make or break you. The more original and useful content you create, the more you will be “catalogued” on the web and therefore appear at the top of search rankings. With RankBrain, beware of malpractices (black hat SEO, keyword stuffing, etc) that will penalize you. You need to make sure you create relevant content, organized in a manner that once Google ranks you and users validate that ranking, it stays on your page and doesn’t bounce. We create a monthly calendar of content, with specific keywords we want to rank for, depending on the season. For example, in November we write about XX best ideas to host a Christmas dinner, and so on. We also check with the help of Google Keyword planner, monthly searches for specific keywords in order to know during which month of the year to use them. A blog is primordial and over time will become your biggest source of traffic.

5. Consumers getting tired of apps 

I most probably was one of the last Blackberry users, and therefore, barely had any apps on my phone. When I made the switch to an iPhone, I still didn’t use many apps. Eventually, I started downloading only the most critical ones, the ones I would use on a daily basis. Unless you are a Facebook, Uber or Deliveroo, which provide a service that users need on a daily basis, your app will barely be opened but pushed in the background, and you will forget about it and still go to your web browser to find what you’re looking for. All you need is to make sure the UX on your website is as good as the one of an app (and it is getting easier to do this).

6. Acquisition versus retention 

This might be the only point that in my view gives a small advantage to an app over website, but again only if the above-mentioned point about the type of service you offer is applicable. In general, a website is better for user acquisition and an app for user retention.

7. Apps need constant updates and maintenance  

A few years back, native apps where the name of the game. So, you needed both an Android and an Apple app developer, i.e. twice the amount of resources that you need for a website. Eventually, a hybrid version took over, but despite that being said, you still require more tech resources to maintain and push updates to an app than you need for a website.

To recap, I strongly advise investing the time, very little money (comparatively) and effort in building a robust website before considering an app. Take your time, acquire customer feedback, follow SEO rules religiously, and especially when you create a new landing page or add a service.

Once you are satisfied with your mobile responsive site and have created great and useful content on your blog that brings you traffic, only then build that app (and this is if you have received good funding to build that tech team and push updates and maintenance, as well as if you are building a company that provides a service that people will use frequently).