For some time now, Google has been emphasizing the importance of responsive websites. According to Statista, 48.9% of all website traffic comes from smartphones alone, and that number is expected to grow as developing nations get online using affordable and accessible smartphones, and as more people ditch desktop computers and laptops in favor of the convenience their tablets and smartphones offer.
Back in 2015, Google announced that it would start to favor responsive sites, and we've certainly seen search results reflect this preference, and will continue to do so. Not only did it put new measures in place for monitoring and tracking the optimization of sites, but it also provided site owners with the necessary tools to do so as well.
But technology progresses quickly, and now there is a new way to engage with your website visitors in a more effective and engaging way, which is through the use of progressive web apps.
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What are progressive web apps?
Take the best aspects of a native mobile app and a minimalist responsive website, and you've got a progressive web app (PWA).
First announced by Google four years ago, the format has already been adopted by many big brands, including Twitter, Forbes and Housing.com. However, thanks to the maturity of the tech required for their creation, PWAs are now becoming accessible to all, including small businesses – even those that could not have afforded to have their own app developed from scratch, which is a big part of their appeal.
As a format, PWA is designed to offer a perfect user experience; they are as reliable as a website (no apps crashing here), load as quickly as a downloaded offline app (since downloaded content is cached locally), and increase re-engagement fourfold. And again, just as Google provided tools and reference guides for site owners on how to make sure their sites are compliant and mobile responsive, it's done it for everything relating to PWAs as well.
In other words, a PWA offers the best mobile apps and responsive websites have to offer, packaged neatly with a launcher button on a user's smartphone home screen. They are compelling, engaging, and bringing users back time and time again.
Why develop a progressive web app?
Essentially, it comes down to user experience. It is now possible for even the smallest businesses to give their website visitors a great experience, thanks to recent advancements with reliable hosting solutions, PWA builders, and code frameworks like Polymer, Duda and Webpack.
Many businesses understand the power of a native app but don't have the know-how or budget to bring one to life and provide ongoing support for their users. PWAs bridge the gap between the ease of a great website and the difficulty of building and supporting an amazing app.
A PWA provides an app-like user interface, almost instantaneous page load speeds, the reliability of an offline app and many of those offline capabilities, telephony features (geolocation and notifications) and the key real estate for businesses – a button on a smartphone or tablet home screen. This button gives you the opportunity to stay at the forefront of your user's mind and even become a part of their daily routine, without requiring any installations via app stores.
How are progressive web apps more affordable?
While an app built from the ground up will set you back thousands of dollars, PWAs can be added to your website's current functionality. While this feature will take some time to spread to all website design platforms, Duda has already added PWA functionality for their customers to use on top of the websites they manage, and it really only takes a few clicks and some customization – a far cry from the months of development many apps take.
The benefits of finding a site builder or hosting solution that provides easy access and set up for PWA also eliminates the need for excess costs and resources to create one on your own. As the demand for such solutions continues to increase, it's only a matter of time before we see more implementation across the board from other site builders and web solutions.
In fact, the cost associated with creating a progressive web app for businesses and brands was recently a discussion on Quora, where several members weighed in. The common theme of this discussion was that the price can range widely based on the needs, skills and customization that a brand might be looking for – though participants also agreed that a PWA will have much lower associated costs than that of attempting to create a new mobile application from scratch.
How is a PWA different from and better than my website?
In 2017, Comscore's U.S. Mobile App Report found that although users do much of their web browsing from their devices, they spend the majority of time on their smartphones using apps. Most of us would be able to agree: While we are more than happy to ask Siri or Google to help us with a query, we'll open a social media, shopping or gaming app when we're simply spending time on our smartphones.
While responsive websites are vital to every business's online presence, an app is conducive to a longer period of browsing and an overall better experience for mobile users. A website is for information, while a PWA is for connecting with other people, brands, relaxing and being productive.
When a member of your audience creates a home screen shortcut to your PWA, they are not only showing an interest in what you have to offer but are making a commitment – much like joining an email list. It's then up to the company or brand to continue to provide that same value and engagement that one would expect as if they were joining a mailing list to get updates, deals or exclusive opportunities that others might not.
With a PWA, you can immediately show users exactly what you can offer them using personalized push notifications. For Android users, website visitors will be notified that they'll have a better experience if they install your PWA, so pushing people toward your PWA will not require you to prompt them or hope they stumble on it while browsing Google Play and, likely in the future, the iOS App Store.
Why do I need a PWA?
While a PWA is not a necessity, it is a key way to deepen your relationship with current and future customers while also overcoming the difficult hurdle of getting website visitors to return. Many people become numb to the prompts to join an email list and often don't take the next step to open and read the emails, but if you can get a customer to integrate a PWA into their life, you'll create true brand loyalty.
Lastly, as referenced throughout the article, you should also remember the preference Google has expressed for responsive websites, as it is reasonable to suspect it will feel the same way about PWAs in the future. So, if SEO is a key strategy in your marketing, as it should be, adopting a PWA for your business, or influencing your clients to do so, will likely be a smart move that pays dividends in the future.