App or Website?

by Kristen Abell

As college campuses continue to assess their websites, they find that more and more of our users are accessing sites through mobile browsers – smartphones, tablets, etc. (duh). What this calls into question, though, is what direction do we go from here? Do we invest our resources in a mobile app, or do we build a website easily accessible on mobile devices? A few thoughts to consider…

The majority of users on mobile devices access their favorite sites through apps (think Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.). They are used to the speed and ease of use of these apps. Most of these sites have created apps to be used across a variety of platforms – iOS, Android, etc. They highlight the most important aspects of the site for any user, and they turn them into buttons or easily used functions. This sets a fantastic example for universities in what mobile users are looking for when accessing a site on their device.

Quickly becoming more popular than mobile websites these days are responsive design sites – sites that adjust to fit the device on which they’re being viewed. These have a lot of potential for users to continue to be able to access all parts of the site, and once a responsive site has been implemented, it’s much easier to make changes to than a mobile app. In addition, for those users that are less familiar with using apps (believe me, they’re actually out there), this provides a more friendly interface.

One of the biggest challenges to universities is the breadth of audience and user functions required by their sites. They are providing information for students, future students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff and community. They are often large and unwieldy sites branching across a variety of departments and academic units. They also often use tools for registration, data-tracking and other applications that may not have ventured into the realm of mobile-friendliness.

So what is the best path for universities to take? What does your institution do? Do you have other thoughts on the mobile app vs. responsive website debate?

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App or Website?

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