This post discusses the differences between responsive and web friendly websites, app development methodologies and everything you need to know about sub-domains and whether you should publish your mobile website on one.
What you need to know about domains
A domain name is the string displayed before the last period in a web address which then is followed by the so-called TLD (top level domain) which can be distinguished in six groups as illustrated below:
- Country code top-level domains (ccTLD)
- Generic top-level domains (gTLD)
- Infrastructure top-level domain (ARPA)
- Restricted generic top-level domains (grTLD)
- Sponsored top-level domains (sTLD)
- Test top-level domains (tTLD)
For most web users the two TLDs of interests are Generic TLDs (gTLD) which include .com, .edu and .gov; and Country TLDs (ccTLD) including .fr for France and .se for Sweden.
A sub-domain is a prefix that can be used to differentiate segments of web content and common use cases and examples on sub-domains are:
- Different language versions of a website
- Country-specific webshops
- Mobile adapted versions of primary content
While the decision to use sub-domains to differentiate language- and country-specific versions of web content are
self-explanatory, sub-domains sometimes also are used to distinguish mobile- and desktop versions of a website as illustrated in the last point in the above list.
One typical instance when such strategy is used is content-rich websites including news- or governments sites where part of the content is hidden for mobile users to simplify the mobile UX. This is perfectly legitimate if an organisations web analytics clearly show that mobile users rarely consume explicit parts of the web content and where a technical audit also attest that hiding parts of the content will increase loading speed and lead to a more user-friendly UX. A mobile optimised website can then be published on a sub-domain to indicate for users what version of the site they are visiting. In all instances where content visible for users on a desktop version of a website are hidden for mobile users, there is, however, important to always include a link to the desktop counterpart as users who first have visited the site using a desktop computer might be confused if they later re-visit the site from a mobile device looking for the same content.
Content published on a sub-domain is by Google and most other search engines recognised as separate websites and to avoid duplicate content in the search results, Google, therefore, will include only one reference; either the primary domain or the sub-domain (Support.google.com, 2017a). To keep control of which domain that should be displayed in the SERP (usually the primary domain), it is, therefore, important to indicate pages that should not be indexed either in the htaccess file, a robot.txt or by using a ‘no-index meta tag’ on the duplicate pages.
It should also be noted that many CMS’s lacks multi-domain support and that a sub-domain strategy, depending on the CMS used by the organisation, might result in the need for two separate databases with two non-synced back-ends as a result. While this is not a major problem for smaller websites not frequently updated, this for larger sites can lead to substantially more work in keeping both databases in sync and up-to-date.
Responsive vs. Web-friendly
In most cases, a better way of adapting a website to the limitations of the mobile eco-system is to make it web-friendly and using a single domain for both the desktop- and the mobile experience.
While a responsive website adapts to the size of the visiting device accomplished by structural elements defined with relative values such as EMS or percent instead of fixed pixels and by the implementation of media queries (W3schools.com, 2017); a web friendly website accounts for much more than just the visual experience including:
- A design that adapts to any screen size.
- A page load of maximum 2 seconds, also on slow connections (Kissmetrics, 2017).
- A response rate of 0.1 seconds (Nielsen, 2017).
Mobile Apps, simplified, can be described as stand-alone applications usually created to solve a particular task in a more efficient manner than what can be achieved by a typical mobile-friendly website.
Apps can be the sole reason why a company exist as with Snapchat (2017); they can be created as a way for an organisation to gain an additional source of income; and/or being created to offer a better user experience for mobile visitors. Apps also have become an important alternative for organisations which suffered as the result of ‘ad-blockers’ which, according to Harvard Business Review (2017) for some companies has led to a net loss of advertising income as high as 50%. To bring back some of this lost revenue, many of these companies, especially within publishing, have pursued to create apps to make sure that adverts are not blocked.
The decision to create an app, however, need to be carefully assessed. Every app needs monetary recourses and staff; not only for the initial development but also for content production and on-going management. From a marketing perspective apps also are no different from any commercial product and will need a separate marketing plan and funds for advertising. Companies with no experience from running apps also need to set-aside resources for educating their marketing staff in the specifics of app marketing, which include building a thorough understanding of App Store Optimization (Kissmetrics, 2017).
The four principal methodologies of app development
The following section discusses the four principal methodologies of app development. Technical and practical differences of each method also are presented together with potential advantages and disadvantages from a digital marketing perspective.
device-specific languages and, thereby, have a much better performance which is explained in Appendix 5.
From a production and marketing perspective, web-apps have both advantages and disadvantages.
The fact that web apps technically are websites, they are cheap to develop and also need no special back-end services, allowing for the use of any CMS including WordPress or Joomla. On the negative side, web apps offer less performance compared to native apps and have less access to device hardware features than a native app.
From a sales- and marketing perspective web apps do not differ from regular websites and a marketing team can use the same traditional marketing tactics (on-site and off-site) as in traditional web marketing; including SEO, link building and optimisation of content and code. It should be noted, though, that web-apps are not installed on user devices, nor can not be sold or marketed through the app stores. Whether this is an issue or not, of course depends on the organisations underlying business goals of creating the app.
In 2011 Financial Times (2017) after previously offering their readers a native app, withdrew this from the Apple’s store and instead published a new web app. Difficult to distinguish from a native app with no visible browser buttons, horizontal swipe functionality and the utilisation of the web worker API making content also available offline; the app is built using normal HTML5 and, in essence, is a normal web page. (Nngroup.com, 2015)
Native apps are written in the language of the hardware platform of the device that runs it. They utilise data processing capacity more efficiently than web-apps and offer a faster and more “smooth” experience, in addition to also having access to almost all hardware features of the running device. Contrary to the beliefs of many marketers, though, “going native” is not necessary to gain access to basic device functions like the camera, speedometer or the GPS, nor to create apps that function in the same manner as a native app in offline mode without an internet connection something which can be achieved through the ServerWorker API (mobiForge, 2017). Native apps, however, handle offline behaviour and hardware access much more efficient than web apps and for many data-intensive applications including graphic intensive games, native apps are the only viable alternative.
Computationally intensive applications such as games which need optimal performance often need to be developed as native apps. One example of is Walking Dead (App Store, 2017) which pushing the boundaries of what is graphically possible on a mobile device.
Considerations when developing native apps
As noted above; for computationally intensive applications there might be no other alternative than to “go native.” Native app development, however, is very different from the development of web apps and the primary concern for many organisations with a native app strategy is cost. A true native app strategy with maximum device compatibility (IOS and Android) need to be developed in two versions. This means two separate apps often developed by two different teams with different coding skills and with high development costs as a result. This is also is why many organisations with a native app strategy often choose to develop their apps in only one version; either for IOS or Android. With two different apps in two different languages, a custom back-end also has to be developed, which depending on the complexity of the app, can cost more to develop than the actual app.
The best way for an organisation to look at a native app strategy is to treat a native app project as any other type of product and not only as a tool for marketing which often is the case with websites and web apps. A native app strategy, like any app strategy, also need to include a plan and resources for content production and marketing which include ASO (app store optimisation), SEO, advertising and PR. One of the main reasons to why many app ventures fail is not because the product is bad or doesn’t have a place in the marketplace, but because of a weak market strategy and inadequate resources to inform the market that the app exists. With 6.503.500 apps published in the major app marketplaces (Statista.com, 2017) all fighting for the customer’s attention, the old maxim “build it and they will come” can’t be further from the truth. One of the most important roles for a marketer working with a client with no previous experience of app projects, therefore, is to make sure that this is clearly understood and that sufficient resources are invested in the project.
Hybrid apps, however, do not have the performance of a well coded native app.
It should be noted that Hybrid apps, though, not only is used by organisations as a way to save money. One interesting feature of Hybrid apps is that they like web pages can be updated remote without any input from an end user which can be compared to
native apps which rely on end users to manually update an app when a new version is released. For development- and marketing teams this brings some significant advantages such as the possibility to perform A/B testing and changes to the UX at any time and frequency without the need for action by the user.
To many native proponents surprise, the Instagram app, in fact, are a hybrid app. By utilising the UIWebview (Developer.apple.com, 2017), Instagram runs the full web application from a server and with their hybrid app acting as a container. This allows Instagram to perform instant updates, A/B-testing and changes of the UX without any action from the users of the app. (Ormandy, 2015)
The golden middle way: native scripting.
There is a fourth app development strategy that organisations should consider;
With the objective to give an overview of some of the main considerations of app development, this report has discussed different types of web domains and the four central methodologies of app development; web apps, native apps, hybrid apps and native scripting. Advantages and disadvantages of each app methodology also have been discussed, both from a technical and digital marketing perspective.
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