Why You (Still) Don’t Need a Mobile App That is Separate From Your Website

The Digital Entrepreneur
The Digital Entrepreneur
Why You (Still) Don’t Need a Mobile App That is Separate From Your Website


Do you need a mobile app that is separate from your website? If you’ve built an audience online, you’ve probably pondered this question a time or two. The answer (still) hasn’t changed.

In this 25-minute episode, Brian Clark, Jerod Morris, and Chris Garrett discuss:

  • Whether Brian’s analysis from 2013 still holds true
  • Why the future is without apps
  • How emerging technologies have changed the game (and the outlook for the future)
  • What specific circumstances might dictate the consideration of a separate mobile app

And much more. If you want to hear Brian get unabashedly cantankerous, this is the episode for you 😉


The Show Notes


Voiceover: You are listening to The Digital Entrepreneur, the show for folks who want to discover smarter ways to create and sell profitable digital goods and services. This podcast is a production of Digital Commerce Institute, the place to be for digital entrepreneurs.

DCI features an in-depth, ongoing instructional academy, plus a live education and networking summit where entrepreneurs from across the globe meet in person. For more information, go to Rainmaker.FM/DigitalCommerce.

Jerod Morris: Welcome back to another episode of The Digital Entrepreneur. I am your host today, Jerod Morris, the VP of marketing for Rainmaker Digital. I have two co-hosts with me on this episode. We have Brian Clark here, founder and CEO of Rainmaker Digital, as well as Mr. Chris Garrett, the chief digital officer for Rainmaker Digital.

Brian, Chris, welcome.

Brian Clark: Hey there. I thought we were changing Garrett’s title to chief marketing technologist? I think that’s sexy.

Jerod Morris: Oh, that’s right.

Chris Garrett: Let’s see how my performance review goes first.

Brian Clark: Yeah, let’s put it up to the audience. Leave a comment on this episode, and tell us what Garrett’s title should be. Do you even know what a chief digital officer is? I don’t. But a chief marketing technologist? That’s macho.

Jerod Morris: Okay. I like that. Leave a comment. Let us know.

Today, we want to talk about something that a lot of digital entrepreneurs are thinking about and consider. We know that so much traffic now for the web is done with our mobile devices. It’s a big decision–how you’re going to display your content. Are you going to do it with an app? Are you going to do it with a responsive website? People are kicking these ideas around and have been for awhile.

Whether Brian’s Analysis From 2013 Still Holds True

Jerod Morris: The three of us had an email conversation about this very topic earlier this week that we wanted to basically bring here to the air. Brian, to kick things off, we actually went back and found an article that you wrote in 2013. I want to read a quick excerpt from this article and see if you still agree with this as a way to launch into this discussion. Here’s the excerpt.

“The argument for content apps is the most shockingly wrong. Content of all shades depends on frictionless social sharing, and questions related to problems and desires inherently involve search engines. If your content platform impedes social and search, you’re done.

Don’t believe the hype from the non-practitioner pundits. If apps are where it’s at for content, I’d be using them as a marketer and selling them as a businessman.”

Still agree?

Brian Clark: I do agree, completely. It’s interesting that you focused on the search engine aspect of it. That’s only one argument. The main argument against apps is no one wants to download your damn app.

We’re seeing even more movement three years later into a direction that maybe suggests that the whole mobile app phase is just that–a phase. It’s not an enduring thing. We’ll talk a little bit more about that. But there have been some progress made in interlinking apps and getting some of the functionality that’s just native to the web, and always has been, between apps.

It hasn’t been completely successful. That shows you how hard a problem it is. Even though Google has tried to deal with the app universe, it’s still one of the compelling reasons why, number one, for content marketers, you don’t need an app. Number two, that mobile apps may not be an enduring thing.

Why the Future Is Without Apps

Jerod Morris: Well, that’s what was interesting about this article. We’ll link to this in the show notes. The article is called The Future Is Without Apps written by Donny Reynolds. That’s the big idea of this article is that we are moving toward this future where there will be these really blurred lines between what is an app and what happens on the web, and everything becoming as one.

Brian, how will that impact the decisions that digital entrepreneurs need to be making when it comes to A) how they’re displaying their content, and then B) how they’re building their sites and their membership sites as they move forward?

Brian Clark: Well, the key is that, to a degree, people love apps for certain functions. Now, when we say ‘apps,’ we’re talking about mobile apps. Technically, all software is an application or an app, but this is the lingo that we’re using here. We’re definitely talking about mobile, which is increasingly important.

We talk over and over again about creating an app-like experience or actually creating apps. Look at Unemployable.com. It’s a very simple site at this point, but it is a web app because it’s a membership site. Those were some of the first web apps.

With a combination of that functionality and responsive design, you’ve got an app-like experience. You’re giving people what they like about apps without cluttering up their device with another app. That’s what’s important.

We say over and over, it’s the experience that matters, not necessarily following the advice of people who were like, four years ago, saying, “Got to have an app. Got to have an app.” All these media publications were lemming-like hitting you with a ‘download our app’ as soon as you were trying to read an article … until guess what? Google slapped them down and said, “Don’t do that anymore.” You don’t see it anymore because people are afraid of Google even more than they’re lemming-like.

Jerod Morris: Chris, you are the chief marketing technologist for Rainmaker Digital.

Chris Garrett: You’ve decided, have you?

Jerod Morris: Yeah.

Brian Clark: Early returns are in.

Jerod Morris: Yes, yes. Yeah, they are in. What are your thoughts about this future that Donny’s talking about here without apps?

Chris Garrett: It just makes perfect sense to me. We were talking earlier about how the experience of having an app forced on you makes you look elsewhere. If you looking at restaurants and you want to know where to eat, who are you going to go with? The one that you can just go to their website on your mobile, it’s a responsive site, you can see the menu, looks great or one that says, ‘download our app.’

Now, in Canada, we have these horrible data plans. We don’t want to use our data anyway. We just want a very slimmed-down website experience. We’re certainly not going to download a big app just for your menu, for a place that you’re only going to go once. That’s an extreme example, but just think about the end-user experience of apps.

You have to have something really extra special to make me install an app, something that is going to live on my toolbar–not just something that I’m going to use once and then forget about. It’s taking up space. It’s taking up bandwidth.

How Emerging Technologies Have Changed the Game (and the Outlook for the Future)

Brian Clark: We always talk about with our StudioPress themes and with Rainmaker’s included designs, responsive? Absolutely–but also HTML5, which we really haven’t even begun to exploit the possibilities there, because that is a markup that allows you to create any kind of app functionality on a website.

Is this part of the argument that this guy’s making, that this type of advanced Hypertext Markup Language is actually going to be the thing that kills apps, or is it something bigger than that?

Chris Garrett: I think it already has to a large extent. The fact that we haven’t really had to dig that deep into what the technology can do shows that we haven’t needed to. There’s not been that demand from our customers and users.

Now, the Rainmaker Platform’s getting a lot more advanced. We’re doing a lot of stuff on there that gives the administrator of a site a lot more power. But when it comes to consuming the content, you don’t really need that advanced technology.

For content marketers, it’s nice that we have these features, but 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of what we need to do, we can already do in a normal, responsive website with a content management system. That’s the experience people want. That remaining 20 percent is advanced. You can do a lot of stuff, especially geo-targeting and all those things where you can have a really nice, rich, animated experience.

But a lot of it’s sugarcoating, and a lot of it actually slows down getting the customer to the information they want. You have to be really careful with all that.

Brian Clark: Yeah. It was interesting because the three of us were working on creating an adaptive content funnel this week, which we’ve been talking about a lot, we have a lot of fun doing. We’re about to get together for our company meeting, and there’s going to be whiteboards everywhere because we’re going to be just sitting down, mapping out these things.

I asked a question that said, “Who’s going to change this functionality?” Is this a Garrett thing or a Rafal thing–a tech thing or a design thing? Then I remembered. It is so brain-dead simple to do in Rainmaker that I could have done it myself.

That just shows you that we are using our own technology, and compared to the technology we built, say, for example, on Copyblogger, in order to get to Rainmaker. We can’t wait to move Copyblogger over to Rainmaker because we actually can do more on our Rainmaker sites than on our custom sites, at this point. Even I can do it. That’s the amazing thing. Sometimes I just forget.

Jerod Morris: Yeah. Chris, you mentioned that someone would have to have something pretty great for you to install an app. For people who are listening to this and they’re thinking about what they’re going to do, are there any situations right now where someone in our audience should be thinking about an app?

Or with this future where there aren’t going to be apps and those lines are going to be blurred and what we’ve just been talking about with how much you can do with HTML5 and with an adaptive website, is that something that people really shouldn’t be thinking about, or are there some specific functionalities that lend themselves to it?

What Specific Circumstances Might Dictate the Consideration of a Separate Mobile App

Chris Garrett: If you talk about content marketing, if you talked about using this as promotion or marketing for your business, there aren’t really features that you’re going to gain from an app. What you’re losing is the attraction and retention ability.

If you think about the apps that are one-time use or very seldom used, that on the far right-hand side of your screen, you have to swipe to get to them ,and then you’re not even sure why you downloaded it. I’ve got Snapchat. I don’t use that. That would be an example of something that would be difficult to do in HTML5. But as a content marketer, you need that.

Are you an app developer? You’re creating an experience for your prospects and customers. If it’s an experience, if it’s content marketing, I would say, chances are, you want that attraction ability, that discovery ability, that shareability of your content, that having a walled-garden app would lose for you.

There are features, though, that could be really advanced and cool, but I’m struggling to think of something that can’t be done using the browser experience. A lot of apps out there are just shells for a browser anyway.

Brian Clark: Yeah. That’s what people don’t realize. We could introduce app functionality for Rainmaker users, but it’s really just wrapping up your website in an application. If people ask for that, we might do it. I don’t know if we put that on that on the roadmap or not, but that’s really what you’re dealing with–and probably being overcharged by an app developer.

Again, if your loyal, fanatic audience members want an app, then you should consider it, I suppose. But as Chris said, what are we talking about here? Having to download an app first is a conversion killer. It’s hard enough to get people to convert, and you’re adding another barrier.

It’s a search engine killer. It’s a sharing killer. All of these things we need in order to build more business, yet people rush to a format that actually kills that.

Why the Mobile App Phenomenon Might Just Be a Bad Blip in History

Brian Clark: Let me quote from this article, so you won’t think that this is just us spewing our opinions. The gist of the argument is that web applications will be the new apps. Of course, again, they’re both apps. But compared to a mobile app that is specifically installed on the device, he says, “Web apps don’t need to be installed. They run securely in closed browser environments. They’re web-friendly, meaning they can be indexed and surfaced by search engines. Oh, wait. Isn’t that exactly what we want today?” Right?

It’s almost like this whole mobile app phenomenon is just a bad blip in history. It started out okay because it was cool to download from the App Store and be able to do certain things, but now you look at your phones, and it’s a cluster, a mess. I have so many different folders to try to keep it organized, and I still don’t use half of what’s on there. The web is perfect.

Chris Garrett: And apps drain your battery. If you have the Facebook app, your battery gets drained. The experience of using the web browser actually saves you a resource that might be precious to you or your customer.

I also go back to my latest website that I’ve been working on. For the first time, there’s more Android users than iPhone users. I was shocked by that. I shouldn’t have been because the audience is DIY people. But it means that you have to have a cross-platform developer or development environment, which the web already is. It works on a Blackberry. It works on an old Nokia. You know?

Brian Clark: Yeah. It’s funny. It’s funny how we have everything we need, yet we lose sight of it. It reminds me of people who gave up their websites to build on Facebook. No one saw that coming–what a disaster of a train wreck that would be? It feels like the same phenomenon here–just poor thinking, following trends instead of thinking what’s actually right for your business and your audience.

Jerod Morris: Well, you have a lot of people with big platforms that are saying that kind of thing, and people are listening. I think you’re right. Part of that is a failure of critical thinking. It’s getting caught up in the hype and getting caught up in the excitement of it, to a certain extent–the status of it when it comes to apps. I think people like being in the App Store and just that idea.

Brian Clark: You mean lost in the App Store?

Jerod Morris: That’s right.

Chris Garrett: Yeah. I was just going to say, I’m not sure people do enjoy that because my parents, my in-laws, don’t like going in the App Store. They don’t like it when they’re asked to put in a credit card, even though the download is for free. Is that really true?

With the web, you can sample a lot better. See if something is for you, and then you can go deeper. You can register, you can sign up, and all those things. You can’t really sample apps as easy. It’s a commitment for somebody who’s very non-technical and maybe just giving you a slim chance.

It’s like Brian said, that conversion, there’s a big friction element to apps. There’s the daunting thing of–especially on some other platforms, mentioning no names–you’re not even sure if it’s a legitimate app. You don’t know what it’s going to do. We’ve seen these horror stories of data leaks and all those kinds of things. There is a bit of resistance there mentally of, “What is this going to do to my phone or my device?”

Jerod Morris: Yeah. Well, that’s what I mean. I think people got caught up in just the idea of being in the App Store, having an app, and being able to send that Tweet that says, “Hey, we have an app. Download it,” because it sounds cool–but it’s not really providing a lot of utility to them or to the audience that they’re actually trying to serve.

Chris Garrett: Yeah. The ego of the developer.

Brian Clark: It’s probably one of the worst and most expensive cases of shiny-object syndrome in recent history. It’s one thing to go chase after Ello and then watch it fail. Okay, you wasted a little time, but it wasn’t a big deal. But if you developed an app that really didn’t work out for you, you have my condolences.

Chris Garrett: If you really develop the app instead of just doing the MVP, that’s a lot of cost, time, resource, and energy you’re putting into the thing. You have to then spend more money to get more people to know about it. The chances of you getting on that top 10 table of popular apps in any of the app stores is slim to none now.

Possible Alternatives to the App’s Easy Access to Sites

Jerod Morris: Hey, let me ask you this question. Clearly one of the benefits of having an app and when you install it on your phone–whether it’s an iPhone or an Android–is you get that convenient little logo right there. It’s easy to access. Maybe most people know this. I don’t know. But it’s pretty easy to just create a bookmark for your site or for your web app on your Android home screen or on your iPhone home screen.

Do you think more sites should give people instructions for how to do that or tell people how to create a quick mobile shortcut on their phone or on their device to get to their site? Then you would get the big benefit of having the app, which is the easy-access icon right there on someone’s device.

Brian Clark: That is interesting. I don’t think it can hurt, especially, for example, if you’re web-based and you have people asking for an app. Maybe they just want that easy access. That’s good advice. My problem with it is, unless it’s mission critical, the apps I use every single day, I don’t see anything because I have everything put in folders to reduce clutter.

You have to be the most important thing in my life. Hopefully, for example, Copyblogger is important to people. People read it every day. But I wouldn’t presume to think it was worthy of an app, necessarily, that would be front and center. You would hope so, but think about that. Would there be a critical mass of people who would do that? I doubt it.

Chris Garrett: I think that a social login is more important as part of the experience, which is why we’re introducing it in Rainmaker. The ability to just quickly log in is the main thing that an app can do for most people over and above having that web experience.

If you can smoothly and quickly get people to log in and get the usefulness out of what you’re offering, how they get there I don’t think is as important. They’re going to have their own work flow. But the funny thing about those little icons is, I’ve got them on my phone based on just web pages that are bookmarked that way, and I never look at them. I don’t know if you do gain that much. It should be more visible, but they’re on my second page. I never swipe to them.

Brian Clark: You know what gets me to come back to a site? Email. What are in those emails? Links. Where do those links point? The web.

Chris Garrett: Yeah.

Brian Clark: We’ve come full-circle back to email, as always.

Jerod Morris: Yes.

Chris Garrett: Some perception of future value, and it’s usually indicated by an email coming in.

Jerod Morris: Yep. Good point. Very good point. Well these articles, both the article that I quoted that Brian wrote and this article, The Future Is Without Apps, those will both be in the show notes for the show. You can get those there.

Any final thoughts, guys, on this topic of apps before we close up this episode?

Chris’ and Brian’s Closing Thoughts

Brian Clark: Well, it’s just encouraging news. Over the years, since I wrote that article and even before that, there were people who were thinking very critically. Generally, these were long-time web people. Instead of being biased toward the web, they understood the idea behind the open web, what that meant, and why no walled garden–from AOL to Myspace to Facebook–has ever killed it.

And apps, it’s the same thing. You’re seeing very, very bright people more and more say, “You know, this is probably just a phase we went through. We’re going to return to web apps because it makes so much more sense on so many levels.”

If you’re out there and thinking, “Oh my gosh, we didn’t get an app. We’ve missed the wagon,” no, you didn’t miss anything. That’s the important thing. You’re always safe on the web. Any time a link can be followed, it’s the quickest and easiest way for people to get to you.

Chris Garrett: I’m looking at the potential for us to develop apps, but as yet, I’ve not had a compelling reason to do that. Do let us know if you can think of a compelling reason why we need an app. I’ve yet to find the reason.

That said, if you’ve decided to do an app, you have to support it and maintain it. How are you going to get people to upgrade to the latest version? You’re creating a lot of marketing problems by creating this marketing solution. It’s not a one-and-done deal. You have to then support it and maintain it. You know what it’s like? Having a baby. That baby’s going to become an 18 year old. What are you going to do then?

Brian Clark: Spoken like a true marketing technologist.

Jerod Morris: Yes, yes.

Brian Clark: I’m not biased at all on how you vote on Chris’s title.

Chris Garrett: Make Chris great again.

How to Take Your Digital Commerce Education to the Next Level

Jerod Morris: That’s right. Go vote for Chris’ title. Go, of course, create your mobile shortcut to The Digital Entrepreneur podcast, and for more insight on this and many other topics, go to Rainmaker.FM/DigitalCommerce. That’s where you can activate your free membership to Digital Commerce Institute.

When you do that, you will actually have free access to the courses developed by both of these gentlemen. Brian has a course in there called Build Your Online Training Business the Smarter Way, and Chris was part of the team with Tony Clark that developed a course on building automated marketing funnels that work. You can get free lessons in each one of those courses plus case studies and more when you go to Rainmaker.FM/DigitalCommerce. It is free, so go get your free registration today.

All right, guys. Thank you for being here. We will talk to you next week on another episode of The Digital Entrepreneur.

Brian Clark: Take care, everyone.


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