February 19, 2013

Predicting the future: Will apps still be a “big deal” in 2 years?

With the prevalence of smart phones, apps are everywhere.  Need a suggestion on your next tattoo?  “There’s an app for that.”  Need to see if your kids made it home from school?  “There’s an app for that.”   Need to predict if you will have a good hair day…no kidding…there’s even an app for that too.  There are apps for nearly everything you can imagine.

The big question on the minds of business owners is “How can I use an app to my advantage?”  I’m often approached about apps and this is usually how the conversation goes:

Business Owner:   “Steve, can you guys build an app for my company?”

Steve:   “Absolutely we can (my answer is always ‘absolutely we can’). What do you want it to do?”

Business Owner:  “Um….I don’t know.”

Steve:  “OK, what are the goals you’re trying to accomplish with an app?”

Business Owner:  “I don’t know.”

Steve: “What are the business challenges you’re trying to solve with an app.”

Business Owner:  “I haven’t thought of any.”

Steve: “Why do you think you need or want an app?”

Business Owner:  “Because everyone else has one.”

Steve: “Sigh….”

While it would be easy to just build useless apps for everyone who asks for one (and there are a lot of local companies that will do this), we don’t believe in doing anything that won’t add value for our clients.  So, I often talk more clients out of apps than the other way around.  Even more importantly, I don’t believe apps will be as “big a deal” in 2 years.  Here is why:

Problem Number 1 - Apps can be expensive to build – There are 2 major flavors of apps today: Apple and Android.  Each has its own OS (Operating System) and thus apps need to be built for each platform. This means at least twice the development cost as building an app just once.

Problem Number 2 – Apple’s App Store is restrictive – As a developer, I have to admit that I’m frustrated with Apple and I’m glad to see them losing their iron-death-grip on the app development industry.  Currently, they control everything that goes into their app store and can deny an app for any reason they choose.    This does not sit well with developers and their clients who invest in an app, only to have it rejected by Apple.  (Note: the Android Play Store allows all apps). 

Solution - New Technology is (nearly) here- There’s a new “Sheriff in town” and his name is HTML5.  This is a new version of the web-page language which is designed to include all of the things that apps do well: animations, video, user interface enhancements, gaming, connectivity, 3d graphics etc.   HTML5 will allow developers to build an application once (solving problem number 1) and post it to the web (solving problem number 2).  This could cut development costs and circumvent the Apple dictatorship known as the ‘app store’.  HTML5 will simply run in a web browser on your phone rather than requiring you to launch a specific app.

In the end, as with all things in business, it will all come down to the “bottom line”.  The economic advantages of HTML5 will drive its usage as a development choice.

If you have questions or need some direction on apps, web development, search or social strategy, send an email to: steve@encorewebworks.com.

January 21, 2013

The High Cost of Free Web Sites

A few years ago there was a funny commercial on TV featuring the owner of a small barber shop. Across the street from his shop, a large chain “super cheap cuts” was moving in and offering $6 haircuts. Naturally, the barber was concerned because he could not compete with such low-pricing. However, being a small-business “survivor”, he got the idea to print a banner which read “We Fix $6 Hair Cuts”. Eventually, the “super cheap cuts” went out of business.

It was a funny commercial with a happy ending. However, the TV commercial highlighted a common strategy used by big-business. Large companies will often underprice a product or service with the goal of grabbing other related business at full-price (or higher than average cost).

I’ve seen this same trend with web development. Large technology companies are offering free (or nearly free) web sites in order to grab related services such as hosting, SEO, domain names, software sales, tax services, and a variety of other things.

Unfortunately, there is a high cost to these “free” web sites. We’re now seeing new clients come to us as refugees from the “free web site” world. Here are some of the damaging effects of turning your web presence over to a “freebie” web provider:

1. No Identity: A free web site is a “template” site which will look exactly like the 10,000 other businesses that have used the same template. There will be no brand identity.

2. No Service or Support: A free web site often has little or no customer service and support. We’ve commonly seen people unable to get simple updates posted to their web sites.

3. No Reliability: Freebie web sites are often “down” or offline. Companies that host free web sites will load as many sites on a single server as possible to control costs. When too much traffic overloads the server, all of the sites on that server will go offline. This is similar to loading too many people onto a small row boat. The boat is going to sink.

4. No Control: In many cases, domain name control is in the hands of the company offering the “free” web site. If a business wants to move to a new provider, they must leave their domain name behind and find a new one. This is the same as starting over in the web world.

5. No Search/Visibility: We’ve seen many sites virtually “disappear” from Google because a business moved its site to a “free” provider and no search optimization was performed. Alternately, we’ve seen businesses forced to pay huge SEO fees once the site has been transferred to the “free” provider in order to keep their rankings.

All of these translate into loss of opportunity, which equals loss of business, which equals loss of revenue. This is the high cost of “free”.

In today’s technology-driven world where nearly everyone carries the web on their smart phones, your web presence is more important than ever. Turning your web site over to a “free” web site provider is similar to getting a cheap haircut. It might be cheap or free, but in the end, your business will look bad. And unlike a cheap haircut, business will not grow back in a few weeks.