Progressive web apps are currently changing the web as we know it. Learn more about it
Progressive web apps are a somewhat new and emerging concept, bridging the gap between what is currently possible with websites and mobile apps. Promising offline capabilities, improved speed and performance compared to both apps and websites as key selling points. We’ll take a look at how PWA’s can be used for businesses.
With both websites and mobile applications commanding large number of users, visitors and potential leads, online businesses stand to gain from implementing these technologies correctly.
By implementing methods which combine the best of both of these worlds, there’s the chance of improved user experience, better visitor engagement & retention as well as increased conversion rates.
Several large companies have already reported on positive results with decreased page load times, bounce rate decrease and conversion rate improvements, to mention some of the more interesting metrics.
- Offline mode
- Improved conversion & bounce rates
- Feels like an app, works like a website
- Improved performance
- Fast install on devices
- Push Notifications
- No app store submission
- Retaining users
In certain situations websites are limited when it comes to internet connectivity. Without it, websites cannot be displayed properly, if at all. On the other hand, mobile apps are often self contained, with the added option of having extra data downloaded once there’s a connection established, allowing users to browse the app when not online, thus increasing the engagement and availability greatly.
Technically, this works by saving the information the visitor has already accessed, meaning the pages already visited are available through the progressive web app at all times, even without internet.
If there’s no internet connection, and the user browses to a page not previously visited, instead of getting an error screen in the browser, it is possible to show a custom offline page, complete with brand logo, information and sometimes even more advanced features designed to keep users on the page, rather than them closing the browser and waiting for online connectivity before continuing their surfing.
This has been one of the major reasons for the substantial growth of apps over these past years, leading to a multi-billion dollar industry, but now Progressive Web Apps are slowly chipping away at that market segment, by allowing ordinary websites to implement offline functionality, for all devices.
For some business models, this might not make sense financially. For instance, sites relying on services like Google AdSense would probably not be interested in showing content without the possibility for their visitors to click on ads, but e-commerce stores are an obvious platform for PWA’s.
By allowing visitors access to the product catalog in offline mode as well, businesses can potentially increase their customer retention & engagement rates dramatically, and in countries where users pay for internet by data usage, allowing people to browse in offline mode can be an extra incentive for visitors to choose the business with a progressive web app, over one that doesn’t.
Improved conversion & bounce rates
Google has released several showcases from prominent businesses like The Washington Post, AliExpress, FlipKart Lite, NET-A-PORTER and many others. Most of these websites have seen improvements in the double digit percentages regarding conversion rates,
Feels like an app, works like a website
A major selling point is the fact that PWA’s are often designed to look and feel like mobile applications, letting users operate in familiar settings while still having the full functionality of websites with dynamic data and database access.
While it’s up to each individual developer how exactly the PWA is designed and programmed, most are taking full advantage of existing frameworks and conventional theory on how mobile apps provide superior user experiences compared to websites.
Like websites, PWA’s can be accessed via URLs and are therefore indexable by search engines, meaning it’s possible to find the pages on Google and Bing for instance. This can be a huge advantage compared to mobile applications where all internal data is just that, internal.
Depending on the project in question, progressive web apps can be designed to look and feel exactly like the existing corporate website or mobile app, or they can be purposely different, to let users know they’re now browsing the PWA. It is even possible to seamlessly integrate the PWA into existing the website/app structure and design.
Without going to into too much detail, suffice it to say that the way that progressive web apps work allows for faster loading times on all types of content.
Technically, this is due to something called service workers, which work separately from the website, only requesting the raw data and not any style or layout information.
While it might be obvious that increased speed leads to improved user experience and retention rates, there’s been numerous reports showing that conversion rates also benefit greatly from optimized performance, adding weight to the worth of progressive web apps from a sales perspective.
This table shows the performance increases to be rather significant, where desktop users on average load a webpage with progressive web app enhancement 30% faster than websites without it.
For mobile users that number is a solid 22%, partly due to the fact that mobile phones are slower than desktop computers, and mobile users connect from less stable and fast internet.
Fast install on devices
Another highly interesting point is that several browsers are automatically prompting users to install the progressive web app when users are visiting the website. This comes in the way of a call to action implemented in the browsers themselves, lending credibility to the PWA and adding values in terms of authority and reliability.
Compared to mobile applications, when users install PWA’s, there are no long download times, and visitors are not routed through Google Play or the App Store, but directly downloading the app onto their device.
This means that the progressive web app gets it’s own icon on phones and tablets, just like a mobile application, but without the need to go through the sometimes tedious and slow App Store submission process.
Progressive web apps have the option of implementing various device specific hardware features, such as push notifications. Publishers and developers have full control over how to implement this option, allowing for creative solutions with regards to advertising new content.
For e-commerce sites, this could mean an entirely new entry channel for sales, since push notifications directly displayed on phones are getting read far more often than either e-mail newsletters, status updates on social media etc.
Add to that the fact that users having installed the PWA also sees the icon on their home screen, getting a reminder of both the brand name and products every time they use their phone, this is not just another sales tactic, but can lead to valuable brand awareness.
Publishing the latest products, blog posts, articles or other relevant information through push notifications can result in a cluttered notification area for users having many apps and PWA’s installed.
One interesting example highlighting the benefits of Push Notifications comes from Jumia, One of Africa’s leading e-commerce websites.
They’ve noticed an improvement in conversion rates of 9 times on abandoned carts when using push notifications to let customers know that their previously added items are still in their cart and ready for checkout.
This has resulted in a conversion rate of 7.85% for website notifications, compared to 4.5% on their mobile app notifications.
No app store submissions
With ever increasing regulatory points to adhere by, having an app published in either Google Play, Windows Phone Apps or Apple’s App Store can be a tedious and time consuming process.
By using progressive web apps, it’s possible for developers to push new updates without waiting for approvals, allowing for regular updates on a level not currently possible with traditional mobile apps.
New updates will be downloaded automatically when users relaunch the progressive app, and with the possibility of push notifications, it’s possible to let users know that an update has arrived, but similarly, it’s not mandatory, allowing the publishers full control over what content and information to show users.
No universal browser support
While there are quite a few advantages to using progressive web apps on websites looking to increase performance and boost conversion rates while lowering bounce rates and page load times, there are a few considerations to keep in mind.
Google Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Samsung Internet are some of the most popular browsers that already support progressive web apps and service workers. There are however a few key browsers missing from this list, namely Microsoft’s Edge, and Apple’s Safari browsers.
Microsoft has published a few blog entries, announcing that they are currently working on implementing the new features into their popular web-browser Edge, but as of October 2016, there haven’t been released anything yet.
Apple,on the other hand, has only briefly touched upon the subject, with its 5-year roadmap indicating the possibility of adding this feature to their popular browser. Whether Apple will bend over to the will of the web, or whether they will focus on other areas remains to be seen.
According to various sources with regards to browser usage, Edge and Safari currently have a combined market share of roughly 23% of all browser users, meaning that a significant portion of the average website’s visitors will not be able to see the progressive web app sections of the website.
However, for browsers not supporting this concept, no error messages or compatibility issues should arise. In fact, these users will simply see the website without the enhanced functionality.
Of course, the percentage of Edge and Safari users will vary from website to website, and will thus require individual consideration, as to the feasibility of implementing a progressive web app.
These days, it’s not enough to have visitors coming to the website, it’s equally important to keep users engaged, and coming back for more. Progressive web apps offers a few different ways of retaining visitors, such as adding the PWA to the home screen, and enabling push notifications to help with re-engagement tactics.
5miles is a mobile marketplace where users can sell and buy almost anything the heart desires. While they had a great success with their mobile application, with more than 7 million downloads, most of their online website visitors showed poor performance.
The company found it difficult to get website visitors to download and install their mobile app, whereas the visitors who found the mobile app via the app stores showed much better engagement and conversion rates.
The solution for 5miles was to develop a progressive web app, so website visitors would be asked automatically to download the app, and skip the visit to the app stores entirely.
Once people had added to app to their home screens, 5miles worked hard on making the push notifications as enticing as possible, resulting in positive improvements such as a 50% decrease in bounce rates, an average of 30% more time spent on the site, and 30% better conversions for visitors using the progressive web app, compared to their other users.
If not for the lack of universal browser support, it would be difficult to come up with reasons why not to at least consider developing a progressive web app to enhance existing websites.
Still, the reported results concerning both performance and conversion increases, as well as bounce rate decreases might very well be enough of an incentive to have a progressive web app developed.
Like all other technologies, not every business will have the need for this, but given the solid results so far, it makes sense to at the very least give the subject some serious consideration.
Do you have experience with a progressive web app project, or are you considering using one for your business or company? Let us know in the comment section below.
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