By Devin Morrissey

The key to creating a truly accessible website is to remove as many barriers to entry as possible. However, web developers sometimes make a critical mistake when it comes to accessibility: Some sites require that mobile users download an app in order to access the full range of content from the business, redirecting these visitors to a download page for the necessary software.

While this may make sense to a developer, it represents additional commitments — cellular data, time spent waiting for the download to finish, phone storage space — for the audience. It creates a value proposition for visitors: Is it worth the effort to download the application in order to access your services/content?  In short, despite the good intentions behind the software, it’s an unnecessary barrier to entry. You will inevitably lose a percentage of potential users at this stage.

Customers are moving away from downloading apps for website access and opting for adaptive design on sites. Although companies used to create a separate app for essential tasks connected to their services, company websites are now expected to be adaptive, efficient, and user-friendly — regardless of user platform/device.

Over 3.6 million apps are available on the Google App Store, and approximately 2 million are on Apple’s App Store; in order to shine, you need to provide a compelling reason for users to download your app. However, you need to do so without unnecessarily restricting functions on your website. The solution to this conundrum is to fully embrace adaptive, responsive web design to optimize your user experience.

Use Prototyping to Streamline Your Design

In order to make your website more user friendly, you need to evaluate how users will be using it. In addition to web design basics — such as creating consistent navigation tools, using a clean layout, and using easy-to-read fonts — you need to create prototypes to get a hands-on feel for your site prior to publishing it.

Tools like InVision and Adobe Edge Reflow can be used to create prototypes of your website, allowing you to test multiple iterations quickly. This will give you a strong idea if your current design layout is responsive and if it could be streamlined. If you will be using JavaScript or other programming languages for certain services, be sure to create prototypes for those functions as well.

Going forward, a mobile-first content strategy will be necessary to maximize both user experience and search engine optimization. Test your site on a wide variety of devices, including desktops, tablets, mobile phones, and so on. Is all of the content accessible? Take advantage of media queries to customize your screen width to match the resolution of any common device that visitors may use. HTML5 introduced the ability to take control of the viewport (the visible area) of a page, so don’t forget to include the viewport <meta> tag in each page on your site.

While it may not be an optimal experience for users, ensure that users are able to access your full range of services/content without downloading an application. You can test if your site is mobile-friendly by using this handy tool from Google. However, you’ll need to let your customers know that they can find a streamlined, more customizable experience in your mobile app.

Getting Users to Download Your App

Even if you can create an adaptable website that can allow users to access your full range of services, this doesn’t change the fact that, for some purposes, a mobile app is far more usable than a website. For instance:

  • If your service requires the use of a customer’s GPS or phone, an app is more efficient for utilizing these tools.
  • If your service consists of user profiles that can be personalized, an app can be more practical.
  • If you want to provide offline content to users that can be referred back to at any time, a dedicated app is a good solution.

Like your website, your mobile app should be optimized for a wide range of devices. Furthermore, you’ll want to avoid complaints by updating your app description to accurately reflect which devices your app supports, using standard input elements, and avoiding using too much user battery power (this is often due to unnecessary network/data usage). As more users react to your app favorably, positive app store reviews can serve as effective advertising.

Ideally, your stellar blog content and products/services will influence consumers to seek out your app. Realistically, you’ll need to do some marketing to drive users to make this choice. Try the following to spread awareness about your app:

  • Write regular, share-worthy blog content, offering users actionable advice related to your industry. When relevant, highlight the advantages of downloading your app.
  • Provide feedback to users and spread awareness about the app through social media, focusing particularly on networks whose demographics overlap most with your target audience.
  • Create a mobile app pop-up. When users visit your site, inform them about the availability of your mobile app. A word of caution, though: This can be grating — perhaps even intrusive — if overdone.

Finding a Balance

If you want to succeed with both your website and your own dedicated app, you need to strike a balance. Success in both worlds requires regular content updates to your website, responsive customer service to users on either platform, and prompt fixes to issues.  

Develop a maintenance plan that encompasses both your app and website. Google algorithmic of the past have demanded changes to optimize visibility, and going forward, this trend will continue.It behooves web developers to regularly make plausibility checks to ensure that all parts of a site are working correctly. Apps will need to be updated as new devices and OS updates are released. Scheduling time to care for both your site and your app will ensure that users have an optimized experience regardless of which venue they choose.

Don’t drive users away with mandatory app downloads. When it comes to web design, be sure to open as many doors as possible for potential users. While it’s a fine practice to offer your own dedicated app, you need to create a website that enables users to access your full range of content and services without creating additional barriers. When offering a dedicated app, attract users by marketing it appropriately, touting how it offers a streamlined experience. By finding this balance, you’ll achieve success.

Devin Morrissey prides himself on being a jack of all trades; his career trajectory is more a zig zag than an obvious trend, just the way he likes it. He pops up across the Pacific Northwest, though never in one place for long. You can follow him more reliably on @DevMorrissey.

Stock photo by