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Does your small business need a mobile app to stay competitive?

If you listen to the growing chorus of small-business owners, going mobile is becoming a necessity

By Christopher Null, PC World
December 12, 2012 12:41 PM ET

PC World - With more than 750,000 apps in the iOS App Store and 700,000 available in Google Play, it can seem at times that absolutely everyone has an appexcept you.

As a small-business owner, choosing whether to join the app-development club can be a difficult decision. You may feel like you have to build an app and go mobile to stay competitive, but youve probably heard that apps are expensive and time-consuming to develop. More and more users are dumping desktops and laptops for tablets and cell phones, so it makes sense to optimize the online experience for them. But is it really worth the effort? Cant they just use their smartphones to access the website you already have?

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Its a tricky problem with no single cut-and-dried solution, but increasingly even the smallest businesses are saying yes to the mobile question. Ill take you through the challengesand the potential payoffsin a moment.

For those who do go forward with a mobile strategy, two approaches are commonplace: You can build a mobile-optimized website, or develop a full-blown, stand-alone app.

Is a mobile website better for your business?

Building a mobile-friendly website isnt complex, so typically you can commission one fairly cheap. In todays world, most Web developers can build a mobile-optimized version of your site without much trouble, presuming that you already use a modern, CSS-based design. If your site was built on older protocols, well, you have bigger challenges than whether to develop an app. (And you can expect to pay more for a mobile website in that scenario, accordingly.)

Some Web hosts even offer free or low-cost mobile websites if you're maintaining a full-blown website with the host. GoDaddy, for example, utilizes an automatic website-conversion tool from DudaMobile to transform the websites it hosts into basic mobile sites when they're visited on a tablet or smartphone, free of charge. Alternatively, if your website runs on the popular WordPress platform, several plug-ins, such as WPTouch, can likewise create a mobile version of your existing website. Automatically generated mobile websites sometimes run into conversion problems, however, and rarely look as polished as a developer-honed creation.

Another thing to consider: Mobile websites work universally, while apps do not. One phone's Internet browser opens a Web page as reliably as another's, but an Android app simply won't work on an iPhone or a BlackBerry. You'll need to create separate apps for each specific platform, or pick and choose your platform support.

Boldly going forward

That said, the argument for building an app is compelling. Mainly it relates to the way todays phones are designed. An app gives you much more presence on the phone than a bookmark on that phones browser does. Rather than forcing the user to launch the browser and find your URL, an app is always there, front and center on the mobile desktop. Your business is constantly in mind, whether the person is using the app or not. The goal, of course, is that eventually that user will hit your icon (even if by accident). That kind of thing just doesnt happen with mobile websites. A ComScore study recently confirmed that 82 percent of mobile media minutes are spent with apps instead of with the browser.

Originally published on www.pcworld.com. Click here to read the original story.

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