Apps

How Pinterest, Starbucks and Lyft Grab More User Attention

Ever hear of progressive web apps, or PWAs? They combine the best parts of the web and mobile experiences.
How Pinterest, Starbucks and Lyft Grab More User Attention
Image credit: Shutterstock.com
Guest Writer
CEO, Rocksauce Studios
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Americans love their media. As eMarketer noted, U.S. adults spend more than five hours daily on their mobile devices and desktops. And, according to Com Score research, 57 percent of that five hours happens on apps.

Not surprisingly, brands want to leverage these impressive statistics. And that's no surprise since clearly the best place to acquire and engage customers is through their screens.

Yet both startups and more established corporations are eschewing traditional web apps in favor of progressive web apps, or PWAs. PWAs are web pages, even whole websites, that look like apps. Their aim is to combine the features that browsers offer with the benefits of a mobile experience.

Related: 15 Digital Tools and Apps to Jumpstart 2018

What's so special about PWAs? From a customer's viewpoint, not much; from a sales and service standpoint, everything.

Users operating PWAs simply mimic behaviors they exhibit when navigating super-fast native web apps (meaning apps written for a particular platform or device). In other words, these users are in their comfort zone and tend to respond positively. That's exactly why Pinterest moved to a PWA when it discovered that four out of five loyalists checked in on mobile devices, according to MarTech Advisor. After the change, 40 percent more pinners engaged with the site for five-plus minutes compared with the time they spent interacting with the platform's native app.

Will every startup or entrepreneur be ready for PWAs? Nope. At the same time, though, those prepared to take the plunge may discover a new method to foster consumer loyalty and business growth.

Why PWAs stand out from other apps.

In the early years of the iPhone, Steve Jobs instructed developers to create web apps rather than customized iPhone software. The idea was to create a mobile version of a website that functioned like an app. While this notion helped spark the realization that websites should be responsive, the available plugins, coding language and device functions didn't really make Apple's initial goal viable.

The result was that Jobs (and Apple) soon shifted directions, embracing third-party apps. But other companies had already begun to initiate responsive web design so that their fonts, buttons, graphics and more would adapt to any screen resolution. The problem? All of those responsive sites couldn't perform native app functions such as connecting to phone features.

PWAs are the next iteration of "write once, deploy everywhere." Not only do they allow sites to automatically format for users' benefit, but the user experience feels like that of a traditional mobile app. Users get push notifications and phenomenal load times thanks to cached information. At the same time, they can use PWAs offline or whereever wi-fi is spotty.

Best of all, users avoid the arduous task of heading to the App Store, finding an app, waiting for it to download, opting in to all sorts of settings and, finally, signing in. And heaven forbid that users forget their IDs -- what a drag. In contrast, PWAs, such as those available on Lyft and, notably, the Financial Times site, give consumers access to app capabilities.

These include the ability to add the site to their device's or desktop's home screen -- without a lengthy download time holding up the process.

Related: Can Your Start-up Do Without an Online Shop?

How you can leverage PWAs today for big wins tomorrow.

For small businesses and entrepreneurs wanting to capitalize on this equalizer allowing them to bypass the App Store -- or even for those who simply want to give browsers a taste test of what their native apps can deliver -- here are three best practices to keep in mind:

1. Determine how a PWA would work for your strategy. As with any technology, consider how PWAs might dovetail with your overall corporate goals before you green-light any projects.

True, most websites can benefit from some PWA features, such as offline content availability or the chance for the user to tap into phone-specific features, like geographic location. At the same time, mapping out how you'll use your PWA to match your offerings and engage your customers is essential. The last thing you want to do is launch a PWA for the sake of novelty before understanding why it's right for your organization.

For instance, if you're a design firm, like my company, could a PWA showcase work you've done? Or could it provide a tool that helps prospects build potential products? Maybe you have a mobile app and want to offer functionality via your PWA rather than explaining why your native app is the best. Games such as 2048 and social networks such as Twitter use PWAs to offer free trials, or "taste tests." Your company can do this, too -- but only if it fits with your objectives.

2. Leverage PWAs to strengthen internal content and related efforts. Are you running a blog or news site? How about a retail establishment? Would you like to get users to opt-in to your web pages so you can push out notifications, understand where people are geographically located and enable offline news check-in possibilities?

Deploying a PWA could provide your customers with exactly what they need without making them download your app -- which of course won't work when they're removed from a good internet hot spot. Consumers love fast sites, which is why native apps have a leg up over websites. But they might not be updated, and many have nasty glitches.

PWAs avoid weird load waits, which Google says cause 61 percent of people to jump ship. Speed might kill in some situations, but it's also your best friend on the web.

Could that be why Starbucks was quick to release its PWA in 2017? That PWA lets users not only navigate the coffee shop's menu, but do it no matter where they are. Likewise, Alibaba's PWA quadrupled the company's user engagement, according to a Google case study.

3. Work to preserve and enhance search engine optimization. One of the biggest hassles of native apps is that they do nothing for SEO because they don't provide back links. But PWAs can provide you with the SEO your native app is missing because they fall somewhere between a website and a downloadable app.

Even if you don't get SEO love from your PWA directly, you can get it through brand recognition. For instance, when Weather.com decided to take the lead in the meterorology it provided -- it adopted PWAs. According to a Google case study, The Weather Channel's PWA nearly doubled its loading speed and now works in 178 countries.

Related: 10 Apps and Tools to Make Your Small Business Better and More Efficient

Every industry is competitive. Consequently, companies like yours and mine need to immediately showcase their specialties. With people preferring digital devices to other mechanisms for getting data these days, PWAs provide an opportunity for small businesses and entrepreneurs to further their reach.

Plus, they bypass the annoyances related to slow website load times and annoying native app downloads -- creating the best of all worlds that all companies can (and should) take advantage of.

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