When it Comes to Content, Who Cares if there’s an App for That?

Image of Apple's iOS7

One of the more satisfying aspects of the more than 8 years of publishing Copyblogger has been the renewed praise for email marketing. Misguided pundits had proclaimed it dead for years.

Email, of course, is alive, well, and had never left the building. That’s because email still converts to sales at the highest rate of any online medium, while social media barely registers.

Email may be “old,” but it works.

The other favorite target of the doomsday punditry is the web itself. Specifically, the tried-and-true website.

The latest in a long string of “web slayers” is the app. You know, those software programs on your phone, tablet, and laptop.

Don’t Believe the Hype

George Colony, head of analyst firm Forrester Research, has – for some unknown reason – been trying to make the case for the death of the website in favor of apps for years. In his words:

Websites will become the AM radio of the Internet.

How incredibly pithy — and completely wrong.

I’ve got nothing against analysts, but they are generally more adept at hyperbole than the day-to-day reality of online publishing and marketing. In other words, everyone wants to be a thought leader, but you’re smart to carefully consider whose thoughts you follow.

If I follow Mr. Colony’s reasoning correctly, he sees that the Millennial generation loves apps, and they make purchases via apps at higher rates than older people. Therefore, there will be no need for websites in the near future, because for whatever you need, there’s an app for that.

Lots of people like apps, even old people like Mr. Colony and me. My kids love a particular type of app the most – those are called games. And they buy items they need to progress within the game via these apps (when I let them). That’s called an in-game purchase.

Juniper Research reports that revenues from mobile in-game purchases totaled $2.1 billion in 2011, and are expected to grow to $4.8 billion by 2016. This is the vast majority of the in-app purchases Mr. Colony relies on to this point.

There are other apps that facilitate purchases and create unique functionality. Fitness, productivity, disposable phone numbers … basically anything that software can do better than you can, there’s an app for that.

And these applications spur purchases, too:

… [I]n-app purchases will successfully spread outside of games. Total mobile app revenues from pay-per-download, in-app purchase, subscriptions, and in-app advertising will soar over the next five years, growing from $8.5 billion in 2011 to $46 billion in 2016.

Okay, cool. But what about free content, the stuff we produce as content marketers and the backbone of the Internet experience?

The Web Kicks Your App for Content

There’s one thing that people turn to the Internet for en masse that apps are not better for, and that’s freely-available content. When it comes to content marketing (as opposed to data like flight schedules), there’s no beating the open web.

Most of the content we consume is not what we already subscribe to. We discover and search for new content daily, and we expect to be able to experience it without downloading an app.

Luckily, cutting-edge mobile-responsive websites are faster, more user-friendly, and more powerful than ever. And with HTML5, a webpage can be built to perform any function an app can.

On the other hand, putting your content in a traditional app means:

  • Your content is invisible to search engines.
  • Your content is blocked from seamless social sharing.
  • You’re asking people to download an app before they’ve experienced your content, which will sharply diminish your audience-building efforts.

That’s a really bad idea.

Even if you enjoy content apps from select publishers, you’re not using them exclusively, because that’s not how content awareness and consumption happens. And just think of the clutter of apps you’d have to endure, when there’s a perfectly good web browser to manage that for you.

Now, is there a place for apps with your core fans? Sure, if it does something cool other than display content. But again, with HTML5, you can create that experience on a webpage and share it with everyone, not just those who already love you enough to download your app.

The (Silly) Song Remains the Same

The fact that Mr. Colony is misguided about the web isn’t that big a deal. It’s just that we’ve seen otherwise smart people making the same silly mistake over and over throughout the brief history of the commercial Internet.

  • The web is dead: AOL rules (1997)
  • The web is dead: MySpace rules (2005)
  • The web is dead: Facebook rules (2011)

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

The argument for content apps is the most shockingly wrong. Content of all shades depends on frictionless social sharing, and questions related to problems and desires inherently involve search engines. If your content platform impedes social and search, you’re done.

Don’t believe the hype from the non-practitioner pundits. If apps were where it’s at for content, I’d be using them as a marketer and selling them as a businessman.

The website is here to stay. That’s analysis you can count on. ;)

About the author

Brian Clark


Brian Clark is founder and CEO of Copyblogger, and uncompromising evangelist for the Rainmaker Platform. Get more from Brian on .

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Comments

  1. This reminds me of Eric Enge’s latest study about how people find answers to their questions. Where search, social media, and direct (actually talking to a human) are options, search dominated. Full article here:
    http://www.stonetemple.com/social-vs-search-vs-people-study/

    Apps are great for games. Information? Google is trying to organize the world of information. Putting it all on apps fragments it.

  2. Well said. Working in technology, I’ve encountered so many instances where I need to search the endless resources available online. And this to me is really the internet’s true value.

    It’s content. It’s helped me debug many an IT problem. If I encounter even the most obscure bug, chances are someone else has as well. And have asked/written about it.

    Apps simply can’t provide what “the internet” does. Although some targeted Apps are quite useful, it’s almost like comparing apples and oranges. (Apps vs Internet)

    My $0.02.

  3. Nicely done Brian. I like the line “The Web Kicks Your App for Content”. Back in college my marketing guru professor always told me there were 3 things you can sell; tangible products, services, & information. When it comes to information or content, the web is the champ hands down.

    I think of Apps as complimenting a strong website or brand rather than being the only part of a business.

    Thanks for the awesome post, as always.

    – Justin

  4. It take a lot of interaction before someone needs to commit to downloading an app. Are they going to your site multiple times a day? Until they do so, there is no reason for them to use an app.

    The only reason for an app is to either extend functionality or for added convenience. You also have to consider how will they even know about your app. Are you just going to upload it in the app stores? Good luck with that. Are you going to send them away from your site to download the app? Not smart.

    Your website will always be your main hub for interaction, exposure and growth. We can always debate paid verses earned but either way your not going to send them to an app.

  5. Great post, Brian. Take it as an affirmation Copyblogger will not be changing to Appblogger any time soon! Apps complement, they do not and will not, replace what drives the web which is an endless, unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

  6. Well said (as always). Unfortunately the average business owner hears the latest buzz and is drawn to it like a moth to the light on a dark summer night. They ask for an app when they really need a mobile site or ask for a mobile site when they really need a mobile responsive website. It is our job to gently lead them in the right direction. Sadly, I’ve seen some spend thousands on an app nobody uses when a nice mobile responsive theme with a solid content marketing plan tied into social media would have been much more effective (and a whole lot less expensive).

  7. I completely agree that the web isn’t dead.

    But aren’t apps a place for content producers to get noticed?

    The argument is that Apple’s Newsstand only has 6,000 some magazines right now (kind of like the blogosphere in 2004). Demand is high but supply is low.

    Content apps are a low noise channel in which to get discovered. Just spend a few thousand dollars on some software that easily converts a pdf into an app.

    In addition, you can publish the same content both on the web and in a magazine app.

    Copyblogger doesn’t need to do this. You’re well established.

    But as Jon Morrow teaches, it’s hard to get noticed as a blogger these days. The web is full of people making content. You can’t just publish good stuff on your own site. You need to guest post on other blogs with lots of readers.

    So aren’t content apps a good way to get noticed?

    • A lot of app developers are leaving the app stores for the open web because it’s become too crowded. Attention is an issue anywhere — spending thousands of dollars on an app instead of getting creative out in the open seems like a bad idea. I think Jon would agree.

  8. The only people who say the web and/or email is dead are the ones who don’t know how to correctly leverage them to communicate and captivate their audiences.

  9. Who knew the web was dead? I wish someone would have told me before I turned on my laptop this morning. :)

    There’s a place for apps, and apps for content, but digesting large amounts of content is best left for the web. How can an app help you research for an eBook or article? How do you organize apps properly?

    Give me the web any day for content. As for playing games or watching my weight, I can use an app for that. Of course, for the latter, I could just hop onto the old fashioned scale. ;)

  10. The web is dead…. almost becomes comical when you say it out loud. I actually think that with HTML5, mobile responsive design, and better mobile devices we may start to see the slowing of the App craze. Like you said, a lot of App developers are already moving over to web based because the app market is so crowded. Great read, and response to a very interesting topic!

    Chris

  11. So take that Wired magazine and your “The Web is Dead” cover story of 2012.

  12. Brian, you’re right about apps. Of course, you knew that. Otherwise this post would not exist. What I ant to point out as a public relations that has one foot firmly planted in inbound marketing is directed toward those “shock statements.” I will be the first one to recommend soundbites because they resonate with people and they are easy to remember. A soundbite, however, must be accurate, otherwise it’s hyperbole.

    The sad fact is, hyperbole is more sticky and that’s bad for those seeking honest marketing or public relations counsel. I would also argue those pontificating hyperbole couldn’t market themselves out of a wet paper bag.

    So, yes, it’s better to listen to communication professionals with boots on the ground and working in the trenches everyday. I appreciate good professionals like you and the bona fide content they create.

  13. How many times have you gone to the instruction book, if you can find it? Do you ever call customer support to fix your problem, perhaps because you have a hankering to sit on hold?

    No one does that: they go to the internet and type something into Google. They have their answer in seconds.

    Even if people buy billions of apps a year they’re still going to go to the internet when something goes wrong, they need help, or they want to read glowing reviews of their product to make themselves feel good about their purchase.

  14. Any title that proclaims that something “is dead” immediately loses credibility in my eyes.

    z

  15. Brian, how do you like content apps as another form of list building?

    Bleacher Report seems to have this strategy, in addition to email.

  16. Hmm, while I prefer reading books on my kindle app, and not on my computer, i definitely see your point. Besides, if analysts were always right, the fax machine would be all the rage right now!

  17. Brian, loved reading this article. A good app development can be very expensive, while building a good site doesn’t have to be. I am about to migrate to Genesis framework, especially since it’s mobile responsive. I can’t wait to see how it will help me reach even a bigger audience.

  18. Brian,

    I completely agree with your argument, especially after experiencing HTML5 for myself with the Genesis 2.0 upgrade. But even before that, it’s the intrinsic idea that Apps are tools and Websites are a Universe. Apps that try to be more than just a tool more often than not fail…

    My question is, do you think this thought process is conceived out of a need for attention or a complete misunderstanding of the purpose and possibility of website innovation?

    Hanley

    • I often wonder the same thing. Look at Scoble and Google Glass, or Kawasaki and Motorola (at least he’s in their employ, I guess).

      Often I feel statements are made to validate an analyst (or their firm’s) existence. And because we need to be refreshed on why everything they said would die is still here (but don’t worry, it’ll be dead next year, we promise!).

      Hey ho… ;-)

  19. But… but… it’s an analyst so it must be true…!

    Welcome back, Mr. Clark, you’ve been missed.

  20. Wayne Lamarre :

    I actually come from a fine art background and the proclamation that painting is dead has been floating around for at least 50 years. Why is it that one thing has to be proclaimed dead for another to be validated?

    In terms of apps, realize that apps are released on other peoples playgrounds. Apple for instance demonstrates complete inconsistency and often irrational subjectivity when approving apps. Also, hard earned traction can be squashed at their whim or even inadvertently through a change in their environment. Again, its their playground.

  21. Apps are great for lots of things, some of which include content. For instance, I’m more likely to read the curated news in Niiws (an app that aggregates the top news of the day) than to go to half a dozen newspaper sites every day, and I love being able to subscribe to magazines via app.

    That being said, when I want to know something more in depth, I’ll google it and cross-reference it until I’m blue in the face. There are sites and blogs that I wouldn’t read if I had to download an app for each, but that I definitely visit frequently. Every week I’ll be heard a number of times saying, of a few different things “I’ll do that when I’m in front of Firefox”. Even emails to customers (and email apps are great) I prefer to do on the computer if they involve a lot of linking.

    Games? I can be addicted to Creeps! (a tower defense game for iphone and ipad) but it will never be Mass Effect or Dragon Age.

    I guess what I’m saying in my rather long-winded way, is that there is a place for everything. Apps aren’t the be-all, end-all of games, and some content is better via app.

  22. So good to see the comparison to MySpace. I was so excited about apps at first but now, I reckon I use a maximum of 6 of the gazillion apps I’ve downloaded.

    I haven’t branched into email yet, but do enjoy receiving helpful emails; so I figure others must feel the same way.

    I also keep hearing blogging will be replaced by new social media… but viewing stats keep rising.

    • >>>I also keep hearing blogging will be replaced by new social media

      We’ve responded to that fallacy more than once. In fact, blogging is going stronger than ever as part of an overall content marketing strategy.

  23. Those have been my sentiments since mobile apps emerged. But then, my attachment to the web is for information or as an online library. I suspect that users who focus more on apps have different motivations for being online.

  24. Or could it perhaps be that you misunderstood what Mr. Colony meant by “app”? What if he was suggesting the old way of building a website (HTML, text, images, links, etc.) is quickly going the wayside as websites themselves become “applications” as built? That’s just my guess as I have heard that there is a group of website builders and enthusiasts that prefer the old school websites that are slowly disappearing. If you think about it like this, then Mr. Colony is correct – websites as we used to know them are dinosaurs as all the latest trends in website development have pushed sites towards becoming centralized applications reachable at a domain online.

  25. The website is definitely here to stay. Responsive design is a must, but an app in the App store or on Google Play is not a necessity.

  26. Good post. I agree with you on this, at least for now. As much as I hate to say it though, young people are using computers differently than we have and that might lead to some changes beyond out control.

  27. Email may be “old,” but it works.’ Word. Social media may be trendy, but even with multi channel attribution, it’s hard to see the ROI. It’s all about the proof, not the popularity.

  28. You have a point, Brian! It reminds me also the times when people after the invention of TV tend to say that books are going to be dead soon. Were they right? Of course, not! Books are still alive even after Internet and Apps came to our lives.

  29. Not one commenter disagreed with your assessment, Brian (that I noticed) — and why should they? You are absolutely right. As both a writer and a mobile app developer, I find it ridiculous that Mr. Colony made that assessment. My feeling was exactly what another commenter said: he was justifying his role as an analyst. (You’d think he’d justify it better by doing proper research.)

    Keep in mind that Bill Gates, whom some people think is a genius visionary, once said (or was misquoted, as some people are now claiming) that we’d never need more than 64K of RAM (I think that’s the number), yet I’ve found a way to use up all 16GB on my iMac. So “experts” make bad assessments all the time. Oh wait, yes, Mr. Colony, even us mobile app developers regularly use the web. Apps aren’t even a flesh wound to the web, to paraphrase a Monty Python skit. They’re a supplement to a good online strategy — and not even necessary for every business.

    Sure, I loved the iPad version of the Flipboard app for browsing content — for maybe three months, but I’ve gone back to the source: the original sites. As beautiful as the app is, it doesn’t suit my workflow for research. But the web does.