The World Wide Web was born in 1991.
If it were a person, it would be a millennial. In a lot of ways, the web has come of age right alongside its human peers. And now it’s 26 years old and fully immersed itself into the way businesses are able to market themselves alongside how they operate. I’m not talking about the internet—I’m talking about the web itself.
The list of things that are possible inside a web browser has grown exponentially over the years. In 1997, you could read things and buy stuff with your web browser. In the present day though virtually anything is possible – from games that are highly visual and exciting to programs that can be used everyday like Google Docs that run straight from the browser, these are often refereed to as web apps (WA).
As in-the-browser capabilities have progressed significantly across mobile and desktop, developers started to look to them as a new avenue to deliver new experiences. In the past, native mobile apps that had been developed for iOS or Android were the only way to really tap into the potential of mobile.
But there is another way to create that experience, without a mobile app.
What’s known as a progressive web app (PWA) could be the very next best thing for mobile. Imagine being able to create a compelling tailored app-like experience for mobile specifically, without the need to install anything to your mobile? Today’s PWA is next year’s WA. There’s no shame in that: a good web app will be lightweight and portable, enhancing the user experience without bogging their device down with bloated software.
Today’s web apps, whether they are progressive or not, present a unique opportunity for businesses. As a marketing tool, these apps are going to have all the upside of being web-based:
No installation required. Just type in the link and you’re running. The link can even be “installed” on a user’s home screen for faster access.
– Deliver an app-like experience. By “app-like,” we mean you wouldn’t know you were in a browser. The app takes up the whole screen, navigates like an app, and responds like an app. That’s because it is an app.
– Bypass the app stores. Getting your app onto on any of the major apps stores can be a real headache. There are all kinds of arcane guidelines to follow. Once submitted, your app is reviewed, and then sometimes rejected for weird reasons. Web apps require exactly zero of this frustration.
– Set up push notifications. As we like to remind people, push notifications are an incredibly effective tool for marketers, a proposition we can prove in three words: 97% read rate. That might be four words.
– Use GPS features. People need direction in life. Apps can help with that.
Of course, you didn’t come to this blog post for a tech lesson. You’re interested in more practical information: Who can benefit? What’s a good use case? Those are good questions, and they come with some good answers.
This is a natural fit. If you’ve ever tried to buy something on a website using your phone or tablet, you know it’s not as easy sitting at your desktop. If the site isn’t optimized for mobile, the whole thing can pretty tough to even read, let alone filling out all your purchase information.
Even if the site is designed responsively—meaning you’ll see a version of the site that’s been formatted to fit your device—the traditional way of navigating through an e-commerce site isn’t as elegant on a mobile device. And it isn’t that great on desktop, either.
Turn your store into a web app, though, and you’re greatly enhancing the experience. If you’ve ever purchased something through Amazon’s website and through its app, you’ll understand the difference I’m talking about. It’s much quicker and easier to manage the shopping experience through a web app versus a straight web page. And the app works no matter where customers log in. It looks and acts the same on their laptop, phone, and tablet, the only difference being how much you can fit on the screen.
Local Brick-and-Mortar Businesses
For businesses doing their thing in the real world, a PWA can open up new ways to acquire and retain customers. Many shops and restaurants are found by people doing local searches—if the URL you list with any directories (like Google Business or Yelp), you can use this to your competitive advantage.
– Someone looking for lunch nearby finds you and taps through to your website. Instantly, he’s using a full-screen app. When he starts browsing the menu, the app can flash a pop-up, informing him he can order ahead from the app—and you can offer an incentive for doing so (like a discount or free side). Once the order is placed, you’ll have two things: a customer your competitors didn’t get, and some basic identifying information on this customer that you can use for future marketing. Did he buy a cheeseburger? Send him a push notification next time you’re featuring a special burger on the menu.
– Someone looking for a clothing boutique nearby finds you and taps through to your website. Instantly, she’s using a full-screen app. Your app offers an incentive for allowing push notifications—a 10% discount on her next purchase. Her first push notification arrives with a link to featured items in the shop. The more she shops, the more targeted the pushes become.
These are just two examples, and there’s more to what PWAs can do, but you can at least see how having this instant app experience lines you up for more conversions. And once you’ve got them as customers, your app can act as a loyalty card, accruing points with purchases and redeemable for some reward. And all it takes to get customers using your app is getting them to your website.
Knowing this, you can see why people are getting excited about PWAs. Lots of people are asking if progressive web apps are the future of mobile. Others are declaring that they already are. We wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the future of mobile. But it definitely is a future of mobile—just one way that mobile becomes part of our lives.
The way we live and work and shop is evolving. Technology is as much a cause as it is a response to our changing culture. We’ve become used to instant access—to information, and media, to shopping, to family and friends. For better or worse, that expectation was set long ago and business owners who don’t play along in some way will find themselves falling behind. Even the small family-owned shop is expected to offer more than just a basic online presence if they want to attract customers.
Convinced? If you’re interested in getting started with your progressive web app, there’s no shortage of resources on the internet to help orient you.
– This Beginner’s Guide to Progressive Web Apps tells you how to get started. Note that this guide classifies a beginner who’s totally fluent in web coding, except PWAs.
– Google’s developer resources has an excellent, in-depth guide to putting together your first PWA. It’s heavy on code and web concepts, but it can help you get a feel for what’s possible.
– If those first two resources seem like too much, you could always take a hands-on class.
Unfortunately, and unlike native apps, progressive web apps have a bigger barrier to entry for the businesses that want to provide them. There are all kinds of services that enable the non-coders among us to build our own native apps from templates—we can fill in the blanks and change the colors and get something looking pretty professional using a visual editor. You can’t do that with progressive web apps. They still have to be coded by hand, because there aren’t any DIY services for them. Or, at least, there didn’t used to be. That’s all changed now.
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