What should you build first - mobile website or native app?

Posted By: Thomas Shaw, 7:57am Thursday 24 March 2011

All 3 major job boards here in Australia are dabbling in mobile, and there are 2 distinct strategies adopted. Only 1 site has won. It should be a no brainer, but should you be building a mobile optimised website or native application for your recruitment website?

SEEK built an easy to use mobile website allowing users most of the functionality of their existing website on the phone. Whereas, CareerOne & MyCareer have ventured on the app path, having build native iPhone/iPad applications. (see related articles)

Who won?

SEEK has clearly won the first round. Why?

You can't underestimate the effort required to find, purchase (doubt FXJ/News would go down that path, but who knows), download and use an app. Add on the need to download updates and the feature rich app experience doesn't look so fantastic after all.

Update 5pm
, Shortlist reported the following: Visits to SEEK via mobile devices are currently running at more than 1 million visits per month with almost 900,000 of those visits opting to directly use the SEEK optimised mobile site.

Build for the majority, not for the minority

The first thing to consider when choosing to create a mobile website or native app for your website is your audience. Take the time to analyse your website statistics to find out where your traffic is coming from and on what devices. Don't forget about search traffic. This is an important factor to consider when choosing to replicate existing URL paths on mobile devices.

The future of mobile is likely to be dominated by cross platform browser based mobile web sites rather than native apps.

Although native apps can be a richer experience with more integrated functionality on the users mobile device. Will the user actually need this to interact with your site?

The cost for building & maintaining native apps for many platforms (and versions thereof) is expensive and very hard to justify ROI. If the required features can be delivered by a web app, it should be the first choice. Let's face it. There are only a few screens needed - search form, search results, job details and some sort of save/shortlist/application form and all these can be served via the browser.