Mobile Website Versus Mobile App: Why Your School Needs Both

Published: January 12, 2018

Today, there’s an app for almost everything.
Just by downloading an app, you can make certain aspects of your everyday life easier: it may help you plan your schedule, track your fitness, do your weekly shopping, keep up to date with your social media profiles, or countless other tasks.
The explosion of apps is just part of the ongoing reign of the mobile device. Smartphones and tablets (though primarily the former) are essential companions for millions of us, helping us get through our professional and personal lives. Businesses and organisations are consistently recommended to invest in mobile advertising, and to ensure their websites are optimised to be mobile-friendly.
Your school can benefit from embracing the mobile market too, across both your website and an app – but why do you need both?

The Benefits of a Mobile Website

Mobile websites are basically similar to any other site: they revolve around connected HTML pages, incorporating numerous features and media.
However, what makes a mobile website different from those we tend to explore on our computers is that they are designed for smaller screens and touch-screen interaction. Google’s search algorithm now gives greater prominence to websites which are mobile-friendly, and this is only going to increase in years to come.
Mobile websites can present any form of media, just as standard domains do: images, video, text, animations, and submission forms can all be incorporated into your mobile website. Whereas accessing websites on mobile phones may have led to clumsy, monochromatic visuals once upon a time, you can now expect the same performance as you would on a high-end PC.
Mobile websites are immediately available, unlike apps which need to be downloaded. Why does this matter? Well, for example, let’s say you send an email to parents inviting them to check important resources on your site, and include a link to the relevant pages.
Parents will then be able to click the link and go directly to the information they need to see; if they do this on their mobile phone or tablet (as many of them will, especially if on the move or if they have no desktop computer at home), your mobile website will present the key information in a clear, accessible way.
If the same resources were available only via your app, parents would then either have to go to the effort of downloading it before they could access it. Alternatively, they may prefer to contact your school to get the details – taking more time out of their busy day.
Another reason your mobile website is an essential complement to an app is that they are compatible across multiple devices. Your app may only be available on, say, Android and iOS, meaning parents with a Windows phone would be unable to use it, but they would be able to reach your mobile website with no trouble.
Mobile websites have broader reach, too, as not every parent, grandparent, or guardian will feel comfortable downloading an app; they may even not understand how to. You need to ensure your online presence is as accessible to everyone as possible.
With all this in mind, it’s easy to think a mobile website alone is enough, but apps are equally important.

The Benefits of a Mobile App

Your school should invest in setting up an app for various reasons. First and foremost, mobile apps enable you to send push notifications or alerts to parents and other key users; these allow you to keep them informed of details either instead of, or alongside, emails and letters.

These notifications can be used for less-important information or to remind them of upcoming events. Notifications can either be clicked on to go to the relevant page of the app, or cleared from the screen if they are irrelevant. These are much less hassle for the recipient than a letter or phone call.
Another key difference between apps and mobile websites is that the former can be used offline. Not all functions of the app may be accessible without an internet connection, but others will be: parents and guardians can check on school calendars, reports, and more whilst offline.
A school app may also include maps of your grounds, the location of upcoming sports events, and destinations for field trips. Parents can even explore what homework has been set, take part in surveys, and more. Mobile apps do consume storage space on users’ mobile devices, so it’s vital to keep them down to a manageable size; if your school app demands too much storage space, parents may be reluctant to download it.
Your app typically requires more time and attention to manage than a mobile website, but giving your students’ parents a portal to your school they can carry with them at all times is an effective way to build bonds.
Mobile apps typically require access to certain functions in a user’s phone, such as finding their location, accessing contacts, and others. You need to make them aware of this before they download the app.
Offering an app also demonstrates that your school is on the cutting edge and able to meet the demands of modern life. If you want to give parents and guardians access to complex data on your school – such as Ofsted reports, visual information through graphs and charts – an app can process this a little more efficiently than a mobile website.
You can include certain features across both mobile sites and apps, of course. Communication options, such as email submission forms and click-to-call buttons, may be integrated into both with minimal effort; these provide users with a choice of contact methods in the palm of their hand, without having to dial a number, drop into the school, or even worry about typing email addresses properly.

The Bottom Line

Optimising your website for mobile devices and releasing an app will empower your school to build stronger relationships with parents and guardians, catering to all types of mobile device and preferences. Those who would rather download an app than navigate their phone’s browser will be satisfied, while anyone reluctant to add your school’s app to their device can just hop online instead.
Both school mobile websites and mobile apps allow you to customise their look and feel, reinforcing your institution’s ‘brand’ with your school’s colours and logo. Putting your school at the forefront of mobile technology is key to to maximize engagement and build strong bonds for years to come.