iphone4There’s a big shift in how people are shopping these days. “Let me Google that and see where I can buy it,” or “let me find a discount on Coupon Sherpa” are showing up in everyday conversation.

And people are searching for these things on their smart phones. If you want a chance at capturing these potential customers, you need to cater to their on-the-go search habits. That means you need a mobile website or application for your company — or both.

If you’re wondering about the difference, a mobile website is a condensed version of your site, optimized for viewing on a smart phone. The content and navigation are simplified and the images are minimized.

A mobile application is a self-contained program that runs on a smart phone. For example, Starbucks offers an app that lets users find a store using GPS. Chipotle has an app that lets you build, order, and pay for a burrito right on your phone.

If you haven’t thought about what kind of mobile presence your business needs, it might be time. Here are some questions to get you started.

  • Who’s your audience? Are they new customers, who might need to find you using search? Are they loyal customers who might appreciate a special app?
  • What are your goals? Sites and apps can have radically different purposes. Are you trying to build brand awareness? Provide information? Encourage a call or a purchase?
  • What functionality do you need? Based on your goal, what functionality is required? For example, do you need to track and store a user’s GPS info? Does the app need to be usable if there’s no Wi-Fi or network signal? Does it need to run heavy animation?
  • What device do you want to run on? iPhone? Android? Blackberry? Unfortunately, each platform has a unique language and process for pushing out applications, and its own internet browser. That means a site can look great on an iPhone but awful on a Blackberry. On the other hand, a site that works well on all platforms may need to have a generic look and feel.
  • What’s your budget? As always, you may need to balance your goals and budget. Maybe there’s a strong business case for moving your company into the mobile space – so it’s worth it to stretch your budget. Or maybe mobile access isn’t critical for your business. In that case, scaling back on both budget and goals makes sense.

As with everything in business, there’s no cookie-cutter solution. Mobile apps and sites have awesome potential — but you want to think about what’s right for your business before you take action.

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