When an App Might Be a Mistake

Content marketers have long been using apps like Facebook and Instagram to share their content. In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in businesses developing their own apps to distribute their content to their audience. From games to blogging platforms, companies of all kinds are looking to apps to be the next face of their brand. There’s just one problem — how many apps are on your phone, right now, that you haven’t used in over a month?

We know that mobile traffic is now higher than desktop and that the majority of digital media consumption now takes place on apps. The push to develop solutions for mobile users in response to changes in traffic patterns, supported by industry leaders, has resulted in over 5 million apps now available in the App Store and on Google Play.

Businesses of all kinds are jumping on the bandwagon to develop an app of their own, but should they? Developing an app — especially a worthwhile one — isn’t easy. Apps also aren’t right for every business.

If any of the following situations apply to your would-be app, it might be time to think twice.

When you’re not thinking of an app as a tool for the user

If you’re planning on developing an app, you need to have a good reason to do so. How do you know if you have a good reason? It pays to think about user intent. Who is your target, and how do they use your site?

An app shouldn’t be thought of as marketing material. Apps should be considered standalone pieces of software. Would you download and use an ad on your computer? Not unless it had value to you outside of advertising.

Apps exist to solve a problem that isn’t easily fixed with the resources and capabilities available on mobile websites — they’re tools. “[Native apps] have access to certain features which web browsers either do not have, or have limited access to, such as Bluetooth, more advanced camera features and (when permitted by the user) access to user data, such as their contacts or calendar events,” explains developer Makan Houston.

Your customers value their storage on their phone. Downloading and setting up an app takes time, which mobile users are not generous with — they want fast, easy results. Mobile users are busy, so the faster you can solve their problems, the better.

More than just annoying users, bad UX can also do some serious damage to your bottom line and your reputation.

Content powerhouse Snapchat has faced criticism for a feature that allows users to view the location of their friends who use Snapchat on a map. Amazon recently came under fire for a UX issue that allowed kids to make purchases in-app on their parents’ dime, with their parents often none the wiser until it was too late. Unhappy users took it to court. “The federal judge ruled against Amazon before the case even made it to trial, granting a request for summary judgment in favor of the FTC and against Amazon,” according to AGI. These cases show just how important it is to ensure your UX is exceptional before releasing an app.

When it’s a substitute for developing your mobile site

A major mistake that many businesses make is choosing to develop an app instead of their mobile site. Unless your app serves a unique purpose, and if the majority of your traffic is through search, you’ll reach the largest proportion of your target audience through a mobile site. Your goal should always be meeting your customers where they are. Don’t make your customers work for you.

Tech giants like Apple and Google have framed apps as essential because they are essential — to them. When we see data about the majority of digital consumption taking place through apps, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s time to start investing in developing one. Look closer: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are among the most popular digital media platforms — and websites in general — on the web today. All of these platforms truly benefit from offering users an app. Users visit these sites often, even daily, and actively seek out engagement on these platforms — if these companies didn’t offer an app, they would still bring in traffic and be the major hubs of digital media consumption.

But they do offer apps, because the apps serve a purpose: improving user experience, beyond what can be offered on a mobile site. Apps allow these companies to meet customer demands for new features and improve UX. If you compare the app and website UX for any of these popular sites, the increase in value to users is clear.

An app alone will not help you gain more users. Users will not download their app because you’re prompting them to when they arrive at your barely functioning mobile site — they will just leave, especially if they can find what they need on the next site in the SERP.

“Google says 61 percent of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site they had trouble accessing. And, even worse, 40 percent visit a competitor’s site instead,” explains McKinsey & Company. Landing on a mobile site with limited features and a prompt to download an app that the user has no intention of installing on their phone? Sounds a lot like “trouble accessing.”

When you don’t have the budget

If you don’t have the budget or resources to develop a great app, don’t bother.

You app needs to not only be purposeful, it has to best meet the needs of your target audience — better than the competition. Unless you’ve developed a super innovative concept for a new tool, or your app is tied to a service that your customers already use (think mobile banking apps), your goal is going to be improving on tools that already exist. To move users from the apps they’re already using and gain attention from those that are just now looking for an app, you’ll need to outperform what already exists on the market. This likely won’t be cheap.

Imagine walking into a store to buy a tool, but the majority of products stocked on the shelves have no value — broken tools, ones that are hard to use, ones that seem like they’ll do the job but don’t quite cut it. Tools that you take home, then realize you still have to pay more for in order to actually use them. It’s not too hard to find the tool you actually need, but it’s also not a great experience.

That’s what it’s like in app marketplaces right now, and it has led to app fatigue. Customers are overwhelmed with choices in the app store.

When it comes down to it, the amount of apps on the market that don’t have much value to users is far greater than the ones they’re actually using. “Research firm comScore (SCOR, +0.03%) finds that among mobile users surveyed, most spend 85% of their time using just five apps,” notes Barb Darrow, discussing app fatigue. The market is highly congested, and users are quick to ditch apps that don’t perform the way the need them to.

There are much more effective ways to spend the money you’d be using to create a mediocre native app. Consider leveraging existing apps if you’re looking for new ways for your target market to interact with your brand, particularly if your marketing plan is content heavy. Investing more time into creating great content and optimizing UX on your website and social media platforms will likely be far more effective than investing in app development.