Last updated: How to Make an App

Website to App

In this post we’re going to discuss how to convert your website to a mobile app and:

  • if it makes sense
  • what the benefits are
  • tools to get it done with some estimates for cost and the amount of effort required

Maybe you’ve seen Rand Fishkin talk about mobile apps on Moz.com’s Whiteboard Friday.

Popular VC and blogger Fred Wilson of avc.com penned a viral post about websites being the new top of the funnel (awareness), mobile apps as the bottom of the funnel (more valuable than an email).

There is no better deck explaining mobile, the web and tech in general right now than what Benedict Evans has been sharing and updating in his “Mobile Ate the World“.

But do you really need a mobile app? And is converting your website to an app the best approach?

Turning a website into an app should produce a measurable ROI, but how?

By the end of this post you will know:

  • how a mobile app is likely to impact your business (traffic, leads, revenues)
  • if turning your website into an app is a good starting point for testing the value of a mobile app for your business
  • how to convert your WordPress site to a mobile app, or use your website content in a mobile app

Let’s talk about your website

If your business is lead driven – your website probably functions as:

  • a hub for written content
  • the primary source of new email subscribers
  • the preferred destination of the audience you’ve built on “rented land” like social networks

Your marketing funnel looks something like this:

content marketing funnel

Greater awareness of your content > leads to more emails collected > leads to more engagement with your content > leads to revenue.

Web search and optimizing content for web search (SEO) is still a huge channel – but it is no longer the biggest.

Most traffic to posts, videos and images these days is generated from social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

google-v-facebook-referral-traffic

Publishing content on channels you don’t own (iTunes, Facebook, Medium, Twitter, Instagram) provides reach and exposure, and ideally adds more potential customers to the top of your funnel by routing followers to your website.

They can change the rules at any time, but they can provide heaps of traffic to your website.

One of the main drawbacks of not owning the platform (like you do a website or mobile app) is that there is no way to communicate outside of the platform – severely restricting acquisition, engagement and conversion.

For example, you can create posts or buy ads on Twitter targeting your Twitter followers, but you can’t target Twitter followers with Facebook ads.

Offering shownotes seems to be the best way to bring Podcast subscribers to your website, but even the most avid podcast listener can’t be reached via email, Twitter or Instagram unless they also subscribe or follow you on those platforms.

Listeners may subscribe to your podcast via iTunes, but you want them on your site to:

Your website is what enables the 1:1 communication.

Publishing on a “Rented” Platform

Around the middle of 2015, it was reported that Facebook drives more traffic to major news and content sites than does Google.

People are discovering content by what is in their social feeds.

Discovery has become passive.

Content marketing strategies have adjusted as well. Brian Dean of Backlinko regularly shares data-driven articles on why publishing valuable content monthly beats daily, 500 word posts in most cases.

Further, because the reliance on SEO and rankings has decreased, actively and aggressively promoting your content is often the difference between showing an ROI on your content marketing investments and no-one seeing or reading your posts.

Content for SEO has been replaced by content that adds value and deserves and requires amplification and promotion.

And that’s the role of the unowned platforms/rented land – a channel for amplifying your content to help potential clients discover and get to know your business.

Here’s where a mobile app can play a unique role.

A mobile app provides the opportunity to use your website content, social media posts, podcasts and videos on a platform you own and control. That means email collection, pixels, post cross-promotion and any new features you care to add are all possible.

Mobile App vs Responsive Website

Before we really jump in, let’s make sure the next 10 minutes of reading are worth your time.

If you want your website to look good on a mobile device – that is generally referred to as having a responsive website, or mobile-friendly website.

What “responsive” refers to is the design responding to the size of the screen that the website is being viewed on.

Desktops often have large, attached monitors, laptop screens are 13″ to 15″ inches or larger, smartphones there is a wide range of smartphone screen sizes but the most modern are around 5″-6″ inches.

content-is-like-water

Since web search, social traffic, reading, listening and viewing is now mostly-mobile – your website needs to be mobile-friendly.

(surprised by those stats?  We’ll cover some surprising mobile stats in just a bit!)

Not only will Google penalize your site in relevant search rankings, but visitors will likely bounce quickly.

If you are not sure if your website is mobile-friendly – Google has a simple tool to tell you if your site passes or not.

A mobile app, on the other hand, means:

  • an app in the app stores
  • an icon on a user’s device
  • mobile app content is indexed across Google, Apple, Facebook and Bing

This post is not about converting your website to be mobile-friendly. This post is about how to convert your website or use your website’s content to create a mobile app that you own and control, and that serves to amplify and compliment your existing marketing efforts.

Ok? Let’s get going.

To help us evaluate the benefit of converting your website to a mobile app, we’ll look at how a mobile app can impact the funnel we started to define above:Website to App

  • Awareness – how many potential customers are exposed to my content
  • Lead/Email acquisition – how my content is converting readers into email subscribers
  • Engagement – are leads opening my emails, reading my posts, visiting my site
  • Revenue – are leads converting into buyers of my products and services

You know your revenues.

You likely have a decent idea or range for the value of a new lead. A general rule of thumb is an email is worth $12-20/year.

Conversions from website visits or social follows to lead likely varies widely by channel, you likely have some idea.

And finally, using the Rule of 7 – the more engagement the better.  As a general rule, you should be aiming to get different pieces of content in front of your target market at least 7 times before expecting them to convert to a paying customer.

For example: 1,000 visits to a blog post with an email conversion rate of 10% = 100 new email subscribers, converting into clients at a rate of 2% = 2 new clients. Just to close out the example – with a lifetime value of $1,000 – a visitor would be worth $2 and an email subscriber worth $20.

Engagement – defined here as how many experiences with your content a potential client has – likely plays a large role but is harder to measure.  It is safely assumed that more exposure to your brand and content is better.

How does a mobile app impact each of these metrics…?

Will a mobile app help my business? Maybe….

It’s helpful to recognize that each business is different. The investment in content is different and the goals are different.

Facebook pages and groups or a weekly Podcast may not be part of your current marketing strategy. Maybe regular blog posts and efforts around content amplification are.

Maybe you are super active on Instagram, or have found Youtube is a better channel for you.

Or you use ads to generate traffic, pixel the traffic and retarget them for email collection and sales.

What really matters is do the unique benefits of a mobile app help improve the metrics you are tracking as important to the growth of your business.

A mobile app provides two main benefits that a website doesn’t:

  1. Notifications – which are opened at a rate much more frequent than email, and require very little action from the recipient
  2. A hub for all of your channels – social, podcast, blog and videos – in one place in the format most people are consuming digital content
Note:  Websites can send notifications via the browser by using tools like pushcrew, but does not compare to how mobile users interact with notifications on their devices.

And since you own the platform, you have access to the same tools you use on your website including:

  • pixeling users of your app for retargeting or creating lookalike audiences
  • cross-promotion of content (Instagram followers see your Podcasts)
  • top rankings in relevant search (similar to how people or businesses you followed on G+ showed up higher in your search results)

For many mobile-first companies like Instagram and Uber – the web is just another channel to get users to their app.

Businesses that started on the web like Yelp, OpenTable, Redfin and Twitter are now mostly mobile.

In fact, they aggressively try to convert website visits from smartphones to their mobile app as they have determined a mobile user is far more valuable than a web visitor.

The 2015 holiday season was the first that major retailers like Target and Macy’s actively pushed web visitors to their mobile apps as data showed their mobile app users shopped more frequently and spent more per visit than did non-app users.

Examples from mobile first, web first and retail help demonstrate the variety of businesses that stands to benefit from a mobile app.

To determine if building a mobile app makes sense for your business – answer the following questions:

  • Will engagement in my content increase when mobile users are exposed to all of the content I publish across platforms?
  • Will sending automatic notifications when I publish new content to everyone who has my mobile app installed increase engagement and website visits?
  • Will both the cross-marketing and the automated promotion of new content increase leads, help develop leads or improve lead to sale conversion rates?

A mobile app for your business, using the content you are already creating for your blog, podcast and social channels – has the potential to impact every step of the funnel.

In just a moment I am going to add each benefit of an app to our hypothetical funnel – from features with only a small impact to those that have the potential for a large impact.

Before we get there, let’s look at the current state of smartphones, mobile and mobile apps.

State of Mobile

The mass, global migration from desktops and the web to smartphones and apps has happened fast. If you have not reviewed stats like these before – they may be jarring or surprising. All are accurate and linked to the original source so you can read in greater detail.

Digital consumption is mostly mobile

More video, audio, text and images are “consumed” via mobile apps than the web.  Much of this is in apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube – but the point is the market is using apps, not their browsers on their mobile devices.

mobile-app-stats

Among the top 1000 media companies in the US, monthly visitor growth is up 36% since December of 2013 – all coming from mobile. While traffic increased from 12.3 million to 16.8 million monthly visitors over the last 24 months, Desktop visits actually decreased while Mobile doubled.

comscore-digital-audience-growth

YoutubeMore than half of YouTube views come from mobile devices.  This stat has not been updated from Google or Youtube since mid-2015.  Based on the other networks and media properties, video views are likely up to almost 2/3 of total Youtube traffic.

Facebook: 82% of ad revenues come from mobile (image below) and half of Facebook’s monthly active users are mobile-only. With Facebook owning mobile-first companies Instagram and WhatsApp, Facebook is basically a mobile company.

Facebook ad revenues

Sharing your blog posts on Twitter and Facebook?  The vast majority of click throughs likely come from the Twitter and Facebook mobile apps.

Same with video views and links in podcast show notes.

Here are the top social networks and the Desktop vs Mobile App split:

social-mobile-traffic

Links from emails to your website (promoting your latest post for example)?

Check your traffic to see for yourself – as more email is first opened in mobile apps than desktop computers.

In Google Analytics you select “Audience” >  “Mobile” to see a basic overview of your Desktop/Mobile traffic split.

More search comes from Smartphones

Google reported last year that not only had local search predominantly come from mobile devices, but the majority of all web search in 10 countries including the US was from mobile devices.

Combine increased search from mobile with App Indexing, Deep Linking, App Packs and contextual results, and carving out space in mobile search has never been more important.

 

google-deep-link-types-serps

source: searchengineland.com

 

For a detailed introduction to mobile search and what Google and Apple are doing – check out this 3 part series “App Indexing & The New Frontier Of SEO” from Emily Grossman on SearchEngineLand.com:

Part 1:  Apple Search + iOS App Indexing

Part 2:  Google Search + Deep Linking

Part 3:  App Packs & App Store Search

Time spent on Mobile Devices has surpassed TV

Not only has time spent on smartphones surpassed TV, but the smartphone often serves as a second screen during TV viewing.

From finance to health, gaming, communications and socializing – our smartphones are the hubs of our digital lives.

Increasingly, the web is just another channel for acquiring users to the new preferred platform and medium – smartphones and mobile apps.

How a Mobile App Impacts the Funnel

As promised, let’s see how a mobile app using your existing web content might impact various parts of the sales/marketing funnel.

Notifications for new posts

Every time you publish new content for your blog or release a new Podcast episode – your mobile app automatically sends push notifications to your app’s users. Think of it like an automated email blast.

Notifications on new posts are only sent to fans who have installed your new app and opted into receiving notifications. Expect engagement rates at least as strong as your click-thru rates from emails sent promoting new content.

Metrics worth knowing:

  • overall, only about half of mobile app users allow notifications (accepted on an app by app basis).  This can be improved significantly by asking for permission based on usage, or with a good explanation of what a user can expect (not unlike collecting emails)
  • notifications are opened at roughly twice the rate of emails

Areas of the funnel affected:

  • Awareness – moderate impact.

Podcast listeners who have never read your blog posts, or Facebook fans who never listen to your podcast are now notified when a new blog post or podcast episode is published.

  • Engagement – significant impact.

Notifications are different than emails in a very important way – we access them when we are at some stopping point or break in our daily action. Alerting your mobile app users of new content as it is released without having to have their email, or for them to even be aware of your blog is pure gravy.

Hub for digital content across platforms

The argument against investing in content for Facebook or Medium (for example) is that you don’t control the platform.

You share your latest blog post on Facebook to the followers of your page and only 5% see it.

Tools like Buffer and MeetEdgar help with scheduling and reposting your own content and curated content.

But with the lifespan of a Facebook post or Tweet – you could share your new blog post twice a day for a week and only appear in the news feeds of your followers once – with 30% never seeing it.

Your mobile app users would not only see every post from you by visiting your social feed, but also see your posts across social platforms.

A mobile app provides a powerful way to connect with your social networks without trying to route them from the network to your website and then capture their email. Almost every major social network has app install links and direct routing from mobile app to mobile app.

This creates much less friction, and it keeps users who are almost certainly using a mobile app on the social network moving seamlessly to another mobile app without typing emails or navigating websites on a mobile device.

A mobile app is an opportunity to own the platform, even for content published on borrowed platforms.

Areas of the funnel affected:

  • Awareness – significant impact.

Your mobile app would serve as your digital hub, with all of your customer-facing content from multiple feeds consolidated for easy consumption.

  • Acquisition – alternative to email as lead source for mobile users.

Higher rankings in “traditional” search

If your content is indexed on both the web and in a mobile app, Google says you get a slight rankings boost.

That’s not very exciting.

Here is where the real benefit comes in.

If a mobile user searches the web for content your app is indexed for, your content shows higher in their results because Google assumes your content is more relevant for the user.

app-indexing-example

Note that the default is to open in the app.

It is kinda like how Google knows what you have clicked on in the past, or who you follow(ed) on G+ (it is almost dead right?) – and ranked those sites higher.

Having an app installed is a significant signal that you view content from the source as very relevant and trustworthy.

Mobile has opened a new level of context for search engines – where Google, Bing, Spotlight and digital assistants like Siri and Google M aim to return the most relevant results to you.

You are the context.  

Here is my favorite example of the power of having your app installed.

Consider of all the different recipe websites and even mobile apps that would likely be competing for a top ranking for this recipe search.

Since I have the “AlltheCooks” mobile app installed – the top result is from AlltheCooks with a direct link to the content in the app.

allthecooks-app-indexing

source: branch.io

Here’s what that same search using Chrome looks like from a mobile device that does not have the AlltheCooks mobile app installed:

 

IMG_0542

I just kept scrolling and never found the recipe from AlltheCooks.

With an app installed – top result.  Without – not on the first page.

Information worth knowing:

  • having your app installed does not guarantee the top result – but it is obviously a huge ranking factor
  • Apple states in their guide to indexing app content that the actions users take play a significant role in future search results.  Translation: if you have the top result and no one is clicking on it – it will be dropped down the rankings.
  • this is all very new – app indexing, deep links, web/mobile content parity. Mobile is complicated and moves fast, so big brands have jumped in with great success. Content marketers and lead-driven businesses are just starting to experiment.

Areas of the funnel affected:

  • Awareness – minimal impact.

Your website’s content including blog posts and podcasts can be indexed, but posts from the social feed still reside in somewhat of a silo. The likelihood of a Facebook fan or Podcast listener suddenly discovering your blog from a search rather than from your app is small.  The likely impact from your new mobile app is large, but the specific benefit of higher rankings in search probably has a small impact.

  • Engagement – significant impact.

Here is where it gets interesting.

Let’s say you offer English lessons and you have an active Facebook page and community, a weekly podcast and weekly blog.  You are selling various products from a 12-part, self-guided course to intensive 1:1 tutoring.

A podcast listener could download your app, not listen to an episode for 90 days, search the web for “common American slang” and your blog post on “Popular Slang in the US” comes up as the first result.

Huge.

Smaller but growing impact on your funnel

App Store listing – with a mobile app, you are going to have your app listed on the Google Play and Apple app stores. The app stores host significant search traffic – but tapping into organic app store search traffic is extremely competitive.

Facebook Tools – announced at f8 2016, Facebook is tripling down on their mobile success and providing amazing resources to app developers including the best mobile ad network (monetize your app!) and new push notifications that just are not offered by anyone else.

facebook-push

Tools for Turning your Website into an App

By now you should have a good handle on why it could make sense to convert your website or WordPress site into a mobile app.

The web to app idea has been around since the early days of the app stores – so you will find there are several mobile app builders with all sorts of templates that will help you build a basic app.

Aside from the available designs and cost – some other things to consider when evaluating the options for turning a website into an app are:

  • Building the app – Does the service build my app for me or do they provide a framework and templates similar to building a website on Weebly or Squarespace?
  • Flexibility and customization – Can I add features or am I locked into their templates?
  • Submitting the app – Who submits my app to Google Play and the Apple App Store?  An Apple developer account costs $99 annually, Google Play costs $30 annually.  The process is not very intuitive and there are several steps along the way to get stuck.
  • Help with App listing required elements – Google Play requires screenshots, a featured image, an app name, short description and long description. Apple requires much of the same plus screenshots for every device supported by the app.  We are talking in excess of 40 images. Who creates the graphics and drafts and submits the app metadata?
  • Native app or website wrapper using PhoneGap – Many of these tools use a service called PhoneGap that takes code for building websites (HTML, CSS and JavaScript) and wraps it into a mobile app format.  What you gain in ease of building, you lose in user experience. Many PhoneGap based apps look like websites in app form – lacking the native animations, UI elements and overall look and feel of native iOS or Android apps.
  • Software Updates – mobile moves insanely fast. Buying an app without ongoing updates and support can add significant expense down the road, and miss significant opportunities that are developing around app indexing, deep links, push notifications and more.

Here are the contenders:

AppPresser – AppPresser helps website builders make iOS/Android mobile apps out of WordPress sites simply and quickly.

WordPress plug-in that converts your WordPress site to a PhoneGap file for you to submit to Google Play and Apple.

apppresser

Pros:

  • Use WordPress to design and modify your mobile app
  • Send push notifications from inside WordPress

Cons:

  • You receive a PhoneGap file that you then need to submit to the app stores
  • No app store listing support or graphics supplied
  • Apple and Google developer account required – adding $130 annually to cost of maintaining this app.
  • Content and feeds do not update.  Change a price – have to resubmit. New blog post – resubmit. Huge drawback.

Analysis

There are better options for testing the value of mobile, and the hidden costs outweigh the low upfront cost.


MobiLoud – The fastest and easiest way to convert your site into native mobile apps.

A done-for-you service that starts with your WordPress site and is then converted to native files using the Mobiloud app templates.

mobiloud

Pros:

  • Content feeds automatically update
  • Send push notifications from inside WordPress
  • Apple and Google Play store submission
  • Offer submitting under their developer accounts so you save $130/year
  • Mobile ads to monetize content in your app

Cons:

  • Limited to WordPress content – no social channels or content hosted on Youtube or Libsyn (for example)
  • Pricing tiers have limits on number of monthly app installs – highest tier is unlimited.

Analysis

Attractive designs, customizable from WordPress, great features – good option worth a look. Content marketers miss some of the opportunities that a mobile app provides by not having cross-platform content available, and no feeds.  There is also no mention of deep links for indexing app content, which means even with your app installed, your relevant content does not receive a boost in mobile search.


App Builders – BiznessApps, GoodBarber, BuildFire

If you have ever researched building a basic mobile app, you have likely come across one or all of these similar offerings. These mobile app builders can pull content from WordPress or other website platforms, and generally of lots of useful modules to build several kinds of apps.

They remind me of bit of building a website using Weebly (or other website builder) – as they provide templates and modules that can get a basic app up quickly.

app-builders

Pros:

  • Templates for any type of business – from Dentists to Vets to Bars to Schools and Churches
  • Complete control to build the app yourself (also a Con)
  • Forms, Maps, Calendars, Web Views
  • Integrations with RSS, social accounts, many third party services

Cons:

  • Have to build it yourself
  • Need your own Google and Apple developer accounts
  • One size fits all approach
  • Most of these services are using PhoneGap – they look and behave like websites in app form.

Analysis

For Dentists, Vets and other more “static” businesses – these app builders are awesome.  If you would run your website using Weebly or Squarespace – apps from GoodBarber or BuildFire will be perfect.  

If you are like most lead-driven businesses that I know, invested in content, social media and conversion rate optimization – these app builders are not going to be what you want.  They tend to have 80% of the features that every business needs while missing the 20% critical to your business – like building your email list, automated notifications to increase engagement, no deep linking, no Facebook logins. The same challenges you would face building your site using Weebly, you would face with these app builders.


Contenta.io – Smart Mobile Apps for Content Marketers & Lead Driven Businesses

That’s us – mobile apps built specifically for driving new leads, creating awareness, increasing engagement across all of your content and platforms – owned or otherwise.

AdrewHScreenShot (1)

Pros:

  • Content feeds automatically update
  • Automatic push notifications when new content is published (Blog, Podcast or Medium)
  • Apple and Google Play store submission
  • Offer submitting under their developer accounts so you save $130/year
  • Free software/app updates
  • Content published on your website or podcast feed is automatically indexed for mobile search discovery

Cons:

  • Narrow focus on content and lead driven businesses. Businesses without an investment in content marketing will not be able to tap the benefits of the platform
  • Customization limited to colors, social feeds and fonts.  No customizations to theme or templates are being offered at this time

Analysis

We built this platform to address the specific opportunities in mobile for content marketers.  If your business has invested in content marketing and social channels, and don’t want to invest your time in building an app from scratch – an app from Contenta Mobile is probably a great fit.  If you want lots of customization or additional features not currently offered, or are not producing content on a regular basis to support your business – some of the above options may be a better fit.


In Closing…

No matter which direction you choose – the opportunity to significantly impact various parts of your funnel using your existing content should not be ignored.

Many of the above “web to app” options have very low-cost ways to experiment with an app for your business for well under $1,000.  Contenta Mobile starts at $2400/year, others are even lower.