Oct 8, 2013 1:29:00 PM

The Mobile Web At War: Mobile Apps or Search Engines?

Posted by Matthew Campion

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Mobile Apps Image | The Mobile Web At War: Mobile Apps or Search Engines?

In recent days, much speculation has been made regarding the place of apps and searchengines in the mobile marketing ecosystem. Some have argued that mobile apps from companies like Yelp, Amazon, Kayak and eBay will take a serious bite out of Google’s market share and profits. Others think that’s highly unlikely, pointing to the fact that Google themselves are leveraging apps like YouTube and Google Maps (both of which display their advertisements) to continue to compete.

Among the arguments are fingers pointing at stats like 4/5 minutes on mobile consumption is spent in apps and over 1/3rd of mobile users prefer apps for discovering news stories – though the numbers surrounding mobile search only continue to grow.

In the flurry of debate, business owners are left wondering whether or not they should be investing in mobile apps and whether or not they would benefit from mobile app development.


3 Advantages of Mobile Applications

Mobile apps do offer some unique benefits to users over search engines, including:

  • Where a search engine needs to try and accommodate all manner of queries, apps can focus on doing one thing and doing it very, very well. This makes mobile apps particularly effective for serving niche verticals.

  • The interfaces of apps can also be slicker and more versatile than a search engine because they’re designed for the task at hand, making the pursuit of information simple and straightforward for consumers.

  • Apps can be accessed directly from the home screen of a mobile device, without ever needing to perform a search. For eCommerce apps, that means little to no chance of losing a sale to a competitor unless the user chooses to price compare elsewhere.

  • With a user’s permission, your app can also deliver push notifications and direct-to-customer information that usurps the need to perform a search query and can entice an action.

  • That front-and-center real estate is a novelty you won’t always be able to earn in search engines.

  • Because there’s no query made in a search engine when using an app, there’s a “walled garden” where your app can act like a vertical search engine and users won’t be subjected to advertisements from the competition, keeping your offering center stage.

  • In addition to these advantages, mobile apps do not rely on search engine algorithms and can live happily outside of the ever-changing organic search environment while still earning revenue.


3 Advantages of Mobile Search

Despite the convenience and versatility of mobile apps, mobile search engines continue to have their own advantages:

  • While there are times users want to be “walled in” for their own convenience, search engines offer users a much broader array of information that is much more useful in situations where discovery is the goal or they are without a preferred supplier/brand.

  • The content housed within your app is not “findable” online unless someone chooses to use your application; an indication they already know and trust your brand. Search engines can source more information from more places and deliver it to a much larger audience than an app can, and content can be more widely distributed to new audiences.

  • Apps rely in many ways on using the web to generate awareness and succeed in situations where customers are already loyal. Without promotion and a trusted brand, an app may never be used at all.

  • While apps must be built custom to the mobile device, mobile websites can be accessed without special considerations (ie: Android vs. iOS). This significantly lowers the development costs for mobile websites relative to mobile apps and also helps to ensure that mobile content found through search engines can serve a larger, less specialized audience.

 


Why Not Work Together?

Stepping back for a moment, it becomes a little odd that people view apps and search engines as adversarial or as mutually exclusive to one another. After all, eBay isn’t about to shut down their website and Yelp still devotes budget to SEO.

And while it’s true that apps have begun to chip away fragments of online search and that there are huge opportunities in mobile application development, the reality is that search is still a powerful tool of choice for mobile users. The better question to ask is, when can a mobile app make sense as part of your mobile strategy?


When Mobile Apps Make Sense

Mobile apps can compliment your mobile strategies and make sense in situations when you have an established customer-base who could benefit from a more specialized interface and functionality than a search engine. They work well as compliments to other marketing strategies and as on-the-go touch points for your clients who thrive on convenience.

Further, mobile apps make sense when you’ve already considered your other online content and content distribution needs such that your brand can be found online – serve both markets, don’t hole up in an app and hope for the best!

Do you think apps will eat up more search share over time, or are search engines here to stay? Let us know in the comments!

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