Mobile solutions have been at the forefront of user demand for several years now, and website owners had to account for a new audience segment involving visitors that place orders, send requests, and view the content solely from their gadgets. With the advent of app stores, mobile applications have also become an inevitable bridge to cross to enhance the user experience, enable advanced features like in-app purchases or push notifications, and ultimately get more exposure and revenue for website-oriented businesses.
Native app development is often associated with significant costs and complex building stages, although it is a viable option for higher-budget projects. The tech world also worked out several cost-effective approaches that offer quality and usability on a par with the applications created specifically for Apple or Android. Progressive web apps (PWAs) or hybrid applications can be used to turn a website to an app, and each of the methods has its advantages and limitations. We will cover all of them in this guide, along with the crucial elements to introduce to your website structure to make a smooth app transition.
Why Should You Turn a Website Into an App
There are several reasons behind wanting to turn your website into a stand-alone mobile application. It is not only a necessity dictated by generational and digital trends but also an opportunity for receiving higher user engagement, introducing new monetization strategies, and reaching a wider target audience. While the adaptation does require initial funding and resources, the investments could easily be justified by the benefits outlined below.
Meet Modern User Expectations
If we look into mobile vs. desktop usage statistics, mobile devices are steadily in the lead, having 68.1% of all website visits against 28.9% originating from PCs (for 2020). The mobile traffic segment dominates the market. There is also an interesting comparison performed for major retail stores that have both a website and a mobile app: for some, almost 5 times more visits are app-driven, while others have the two numbers equal or the website being slightly in the lead.
Source: Statista, performed for March 2019. Bright blue – app traffic, dark blue – website traffic.
The given statistics are not to suggest that website traffic is invaluable and can be overlooked – on the contrary, for some brands, particularly the ones offering a large array of products and services, it remains a crucial instrument in driving sales and attracting users. However, the numbers highlight the existing demand users have – and it is to have the option of using both a website and a mobile application, depending on the feature set, functionality, and even convenience of a certain situation.
Enhance Your Mobile User Experience
Mobile applications can utilize the native functionalities of personal devices that browser-viewed websites won’t have access to, like enabling the smartphone’s camera or microphone, using geolocation, utilizing biometric-based transactions, and sending push notifications. Mobile apps can also work in offline mode, which is something websites are currently unable to offer without the help of service workers or cache API.
Think of your business, and you will most likely come up with several examples where you could offer a richer experience with these advanced features. A user may prefer to scroll down an extensive product feed from their desktop computer, and then add the things they like to favorites and complete the order in an app via Apple or Google Pay – for the simplicity and speed of the transaction. Another customer might want to receive push notifications for goods that come and go out of stock rather than constantly monitoring the website for product availability.
Build More Loyalty and Engagement
Being present among other app icons in a user’s smartphone gives you more ways to engage and interact with them. For one, we are so used to turning to our phones to kill some spare time, that your app just might be the user’s choice for some entertainment and relaxation. Push notifications can also drive engagement: by alerting about discounts, featuring special offers, simply reminding about your product, or sharing order status updates.
As for brand loyalty, the app icon alone can be regarded as a free banner ad for your business. Flashing your logo before the user’s eyes every single day is bound to leave an imprint in their subconscious. When later faced with a choice between competitors, they are likely to favor your brand. And for clients previously familiar with your website, an app offers easier and faster access to their preferred content. In a way, installing a brand’s app has now become similar to following them on social media or subscribing to email newsletters.
Cash In On a Key Source of Revenue
Closely connected to the previous reasons for turning your website to an app, the growth in user engagement and the ability to utilize in-app purchases can lead to an increase in revenue through sales. There are other monetization options you can introduce to a mobile application, like third-party banner or video advertisements, affiliate and referral marketing, collecting and selling anonymized user data, and paid subscriptions. The same can be done on websites – but why not double the effort?
Enable Push Notifications
While we already mentioned the ability to enable push notifications as a benefit in several previous paragraphs, the importance of this instrument deserves to be highlighted additionally. These pop-up or drop-down prompts give you unprecedented access to the daily lives of your users. They also have an upper hand against emails and SMS: they won’t ever go to spam or get buried under other promotional activities.
Push notifications also lower the number of actions users have to perform to follow through with a special offer, review an update, or return to their lost cart. All it takes is a single click on the conveniently delivered message, without having to type in the website address in a mobile browser, log in to their account, or even navigate the app itself. This simplicity and customization of delivery can help further increase sales and engagement.
Establish an App Store Presence
For customers that are not yet familiar with your business and the services you offer, App Store and Google Play can act as excellent sources of organic traffic. The placement fees are not that high ($99 for Apple per year and a one-time $25 for Android), and the internal search algorithms are very powerful, being based on keywords and app categories. Distributing the app through official stores also gives you more credibility and a stronger brand presence.
How does a Mobile App Offer Better Performance than a Website?
On the surface, an app’s interface and a responsive web design can look very similar, but they can highly differ in functionality, speed, and performance. For one, the website UX highly depends on network quality and speed, and content usually cannot be accessed if the device is offline, in airplane mode, or simply has a bad internet connection. These characteristics do not have any influence over mobile apps, which can store data in the device’s internal memory.
Lastly, even a user-friendly website with responsive design may not feel as intuitive and natural to mobile users as the look and placement of elements, the use of screen space, and menu navigation that apps have. The native containers, wrappers, and device dimensions you would use to put together the UI of an app will most likely be updated regularly or at least monitored by each app store, while website upgrades and maintenance are solely the owner’s responsibility.
What are the Options to Convert a Website into an App?
In order to create your app, you can go down three different paths – native application development, PWA creation, or hybrid technologies. Each of them has specific development time expectations, estimated budget, limitations, and advantages that we will consider separately. For cross-platform frameworks, we’ll go into detail about Flutter, React Native, and Ionic.
Progressive Web Apps
Compared to native development, you will be looking at a faster time-to-market and moderate building costs, so PWAs are a good fit for websites with a simple structure or MVPs. They allow for quickly collecting user feedback and staying relevant in the constantly changing digital field. For the end-user, the difference in UI and navigation will likely be unnoticeable, except for existing limitations for certain advanced hardware features and poor performance in older browser or device versions.
Pros of PWAs:
- Lower development and maintenance costs
- No need for installation and update downloads
- Can be found through traditional search engines
- No need for app store validation and the associated placement fees
- A good fit for MVP projects
- Cross-platform distribution and availability
Cons of PWAs:
- Limited offline functionalities
- Limited access to hardware smartphone features
- No push notification support for iOS devices
- Possible performance issues in older browsers and device versions
- Users might not be looking for apps outside of the official app stores
Pros of hybrid apps:
- A unified codebase regardless of the OS
- Moderate development costs and timelines
- Easier scalability
- Access to native device features via cross-platform frameworks
Cons of hybrid apps:
- Harder to match the specific expectations for both iOS and Android
- Limited access to advanced smartphone features
- A longer wait to get access to new OS updates and functionalities
- Possible performance and speed issues
React Native pros:
- Backed up by Facebook
- Responsive UX/UI
- Strong developer community
- Fast development
React Native cons:
- Slower processing time
- Possible device compatibility issues
- Harder to master for beginners
- Possible performance issues compared to native apps
The Ionic framework stands out from other cross-platform tools by targeting hybrid application development based on AngularJS. It uses a library of standard web components that run on a special layer of the device. The resulting apps are very interactive and superior in interface design but require sufficient programming experience and complex debugging.
- Uses common programming languages
- An array of available plugins for native smartphone features
- A wide set of UI components that allow for beautiful interfaces
- Plugins may conflict with each other
- Harder debugging
- Possible performance issues compared to native apps
- Larger application size
Flutter – Google’s Mobile UI Framework
Considered the most popular cross-platform technology of 2021, Flutter is a very popular open-source framework for mobile app development. It is essentially a UI toolkit with a low-code builder and a set of pre-made widgets for advanced smartphone functionalities. Flutter runs on Dart, which is a programming language specifically designed by Google. Flutter is known for high UI customization, with a layered architecture to control practically every pixel on the screen.
- Native-looking appearance
- Facilitates complex UX by access to native features
- Backed up by Google
- Allows for fast development
- No 3D support
- Dart is relatively new and is not among the popular programming languages
- No browser support
- Possible performance issues compared to native apps
Native development implies doing front-end and back-end coding specifically for a chosen OS – meaning, if you want to create an app both for iOS and Android, two separate development cycles will be required. Native applications are built using Objective-C or Swift for iOS and Kotlin or Java for Android, with Swift and Kotlin supported as primary languages by Apple and Google. Both vendors provide extensive guides, tutorials, documentation, and free IDEs with code samples and libraries to facilitate development.
With native development, you will get instant access to all the new features and updates, better device version compatibility, excellent performance stability, and higher data security. All the advanced smartphone functionalities will be available with no limitations. However, this comes at a certain cost. More effort on app maintenance, for one, as well as having to comply with all the guidelines and requirements imposed by Apple and Google, and the need to pay app store placement fees. Native development is also the most time-consuming and expensive option out of the three approaches.
Pros of native apps:
- Specific programming language knowledge and experience required
- Endless possibilities for custom development
- A user-friendly experience with native design elements and functionalities
- Support from Apple and Android, with distribution platforms and regular updates
Cons of native apps:
- Separate development cycles for iOS and Android
- Extended time-to-market and a long wait before the first working prototype is available
- Higher development costs
Crucial Elements to Consider When You Convert A Website to Mobile Application
Once you’ve decided to turn your website to an app, the natural next step would be to assess your current user experience and make out the adaptations required to create a mobile application. In traditional app development, the first few steps are planning the concept, working out the design elements, and putting together wireframes. An existing website works to your advantage as you can utilize a lot of its components.
Complete focus on UX
Your repeat visitors are already used to the look, navigation, and possibilities that your website offers. If your goal is to prompt them to use the newly released application, it has to offer value and even surpass the website experience in certain aspects. For new visitors, the choice will simply be a matter of convenience. User experience, therefore, comes to the forefront of making a mobile-friendly application. Bugs, crashes, and discrepancies in logic in app structure and flow have to constantly be monitored and eliminated, with customer feedback being the main driver of change.
Simplicity can also have a significant influence on UX, especially for users that first install and open the application. The app should be intuitive and easy to use, otherwise, you might risk customer frustration and hinder their first impression about the brand as a whole. While making the app feature-rich may seem like a good thing, be careful with overcrowding the design and functionality with too many confusing elements. It’s okay to leave some advanced features for website use only.
A hamburger menu is an essential navigation element for mobile applications. It usually comes in a form of a button that opens a sidebar with additional website sections. Instead of creating a very long one-pager that the user has to scroll through or take up screen space by constantly displaying the menu, hiding it in a single-click reach has proven to be more effective. Still, make sure to place all the key elements on the main screen and be prepared to move sections around based on user feedback.
Both iOS and Android devices support a certain number of standard gestures that people use to switch between apps, open the notification center, go to the home screen, or go back to the previous page they were on. The general recommendation is to support these system gestures as users expect them to be universal throughout all applications. Ensure your navigation is thumb-friendly: all of the important elements are within the reach of a thumb and not too high or too far aside.
To encourage users to download and interact with your app, they should start seeing value within minutes of use, not days or months. This can mean detailed package tracking, order status updates, app-specific discounts and special offers, extra bonuses, and out-of-app notifications to keep customers engaged. User retention is a key part of the app lifecycle.
In terms of branding, product consistency across different mediums and channels is essential to make it easily recognizable and uniform. The same goes for your app – while some gestures and element placement choices may be different from their website counterparts, the information architecture, logo, color scheme, and core features should translate from your website into the app.
Study every workflow you create or adapt for ambiguity – whether a button, an action, or an element can have more than one interpretation. For example, if a user is expected to fill in their payment details in order to start using the app, they might need to be additionally reassured that no transactions will happen unless they give active consent later on. This might be hard to judge internally and is best worked out by looking into the support team requests, app store reviews, or user feedback during testing.
How to Convert a Website into an App
Depending on the project complexity and budget, development experience, and website purpose specifics, there are five different options for the building and design stages or app creation.
Code it Yourself
If you have previous experience with a programming language or have access to an in-house team of developers, say, the ones who created your website, you can attempt to write the necessary code yourself. Use agile methodologies or rapid application development strategies to speed up the process and make it more flexible. Focus on prototyping core features and design elements first and add extra functionalities once the project becomes profitable.
To bring the app to life, you will need powerful personal computers and a lot of time. Time, perhaps, is the biggest drawback of this method, especially if the app in mind is complex and needs to be developed natively. Each step might take weeks or months to complete, and accounting for new device or feature releases that will inevitably happen might be hard. Use the existing iOS and Android SDKs, their free IDEs, code samples, and documentation, and seek advice for the best practices from the coder community.
Hire a Freelancer
This option is great when you have some knowledge about app creation specifics but do not have the time and resources to do the work yourself. A freelancer expects a clear task and requires attentive guidance throughout the development process. For you to know which specialists to approach, you will also have to decide on the native vs. hybrid technologies to look for a coder with relevant knowledge.
Hire an App Development Agency
Working with a development agency is a good fit for high-end projects where website owners want to keep the focus on the business and marketing side of things. After the initial briefings and meetings, you will be presented with the best strategy for your specific use case and will have to oversee the implementation stages to provide feedback. Other than that, you will get the end mobile product turn-key.
Use a DIY App Builder
App builders usually require no coding experience and provide ready-made templates with features and design elements that you can drag and drop to create the app’s final look. The resulting code will automatically be generated by the program itself, but you might need to continue paying monthly fees to distribute your app via the official stores. This approach only allows for a certain level of customization and feature complexity and works best when applied to simple app concepts or one-pager websites.
If your website is based on Shopify, you can turn it into an app in less than a day with the help of Pocketfied. Unlike standard builders, Pocketfied focuses on automation and has an established track record with official app stores. Your involvement in the process can be as minimal as possible – the service will pull up your logo and description into the resulting app structure and will use API to fetch the necessary data in real-time. Within the hour, the app can already be submitted for approval to the App and Google Play Stores, and a few hours after that, it may already be published.
|Code it yourself
|Hire a freelancer
|Hire an app development agency
|Use an app builder
App development is a complex process where writing code or working out the design is only the tip of the iceberg: there is also ongoing maintenance, OS-related updates, app store publication intricacies, and a ton of decisions to make along the way. What’s certain is that there is no universal formula on how to turn an existing website into an app. Brands should always match the available approaches to their individual situation. But since apps are becoming an integral part of the customer’s lives, businesses might as well cash in on the benefits of having an app, which are increased loyalty, engagement, and revenue.
Having a working website should be seen as an advantage, as there are services that offer direct website-app conversion, as well as many opportunities for self-coding or outsourcing simple app concepts. And even for native or hybrid app development performed by an in-house team or a dedicated agency, the adaptation can rely on existing solutions that work for your website and focus on improving the user experience of the new app even further.