As your website grows, you’ll probably start to turn your attention to new ways to expand your web presence.
Developing a mobile app is one of the more interesting options available to you, built from the existing framework of your WordPress website.
Once built, you then have the option of uploading your app to the App Store or Google Play, which opens doors to a completely different type of audience—as well as provides your existing readership base a different way to consume your content.
We’re all aware that mobile use is increasing relative to desktop use. We know we need to make sure our site is optimized for different devices. However, far less attention is given to the way mobile users choose to spend their time on mobile devices.
In 2014, Flurry Analytics predicts that 86% of time spent on mobile devices will be spent using apps, as opposed to 14% using the mobile web. That figure is up from 80% in 2013, and this trend looks set to continue.
This means there is huge potential if you can package your WordPress site as an app and market it properly.
App vs Website
For clarification, an app is a self-contained program that is downloaded to your mobile device, and can be opened by clicking on its icon. Your website, on the other hand, is accessed through Safari on iPhones and through the Internet on Android devices, and will need your URL inputting.
Now, using a website as a framework for an app is nothing new, really—many big names have been doing it for years. In the past, these would have been custom builds, which can set you back tens of thousands of dollars. The average webmaster just can’t afford to drop that kind of money on a speculative venture.
So what’s changed?
Well, a number of turnkey solutions have been popping up lately, and these have been receiving a lot of buzz. These out-the-box solutions avoid the need for a custom developer. Meaning you can build an app for a fraction of the cost, all by using the framework from your WordPress site to create the backend of your app.
This means we all have the opportunity to tap into that billion-strong app user base, with its potentially lucrative rewards.
But beyond that new audience, building an app gives you a number of advantages over your typical WordPress site.
Native apps—apps written for a specific type of device—can make use of mobile device functionality. This includes features like GPS, camera, and (in my opinion, the most important) push notifications.
As a website owner, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the importance of capturing your audience by building an email list. Every time you update your website, you can then send an email to your list, for a guaranteed influx of traffic.
Well, by making use of push notifications, the moment you hit publish, everyone who has downloaded your app will receive a notification straight onto their screen. They tap the notification, it opens up your app, and they can be reading your new article in just a few seconds—much quicker, and far easier.
Of course, we shouldn’t abuse this functionality—it is kind of intrusive—but for bloggers in particular, it’s a great way to narrow the perceived distance between you and your audience.
Building Your App
There are a number of services promising to convert your WordPress site into a fully-functional native app.
The process is generally quite simple: You install a plugin, play around with a few customization options, then, when you’re happy, hand over the cash for your app to be built.
Every update you make to your WordPress website—for example, publishing a new article—will automatically feed through to your app. This means that keeping your app up-to-date requires no extra effort on your part. If you can run your WordPress site, you can run your app.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the options available for building an app out of your WordPress website.
The most downloaded “app builder” plugin is WiziApp, with over 200,000 downloads to date.
Unlike other app builders, WiziApp lets you build an HTML5 web app, seen by mobile visitors to your website, completely free of charge. Even if you don’t want to invest in a native app, creating a free web app is definitely worthwhile.
If you want a dedicated native app—a requirement if you want to upload your app to the App Store—you’ll have to pay for the premium service.
All the content on of your WordPress site is delivered to your app, including all video, audio, and comments. WiziApp is compatible with WooCommerce, which is great news for anyone who runs an eCommerce store. You can also make use of unlimited push notifications.
There are a number of customization options, including your icon, launch screen, and menu screen.
An Android app will set you back $149 a year, while an iOS app (Apple) will cost $299 a year.
IdeaPress is the most affordable of our featured app building solutions, with a one-off fee of only $69 getting you an Android, iOS, and Windows app—seriously impressive. If you want IdeaPress to take care of the publishing side of things, the fee increases to $199.
Unfortunately, at those prices, the apps created are more limited. That’s not to say the apps are bad—they still represent great value.
IdeaPress apps include a stylish sliding menu, and several customization options, most notably a choice of “skins” for your app, as well as a number of pre-selected colors to pick from. There’s also an in-built analytics system, enabling you to track the performance of your app, and make relevant improvements.
There are two important limitations worth noting: First, you can only select up to ten categories to include in your app. Second, there doesn’t seem to be the valuable push notification functionality. However, the builder is easy to use and takes only five minutes, meaning you can be up and running in no time.
AppPresser is one of the newer solutions to the marketplace, and currently the service generating the most publicity, due to its wide array of features.
Most app builders on the market are limited to bundling up your content in the neat package of an app.
AppPresser promises full WordPress integration, which means all the functionality of your plugins are also transferred to your app, meaning you can develop something far more sophisticated.
There are a number of extensions available for your AppPresser app. Each extension offers some additional functionality, for example, supporting integration with WooCommerce or BuddyPress, push notifications, or a content swiper. AppPresser is actively developing new extensions, so expect additional functionality soon.
Perhaps the limiting factor of AppPresser is that it is pitched at developers. It is one of the easiest ways to create an app, but if you’re expecting it to be as easy as throwing together a WordPress website, you’re sadly mistaken.
An AppPresser app is available from $199, but if you want all the extensions—including future updates—this will cost you $499.
Having conquered the web, the WordPress expansion into the world of apps is understandably getting people excited.
There are still limitations—the most common complaint is that your app is just a website. Even so, with the numerous affordable solutions appearing on the market, an increasing number of WordPress users think that now is the time to take the plunge.
Will you be one of them?
Have you developed an app for your website? Share your experiences in the comments section below.
Shaun Quarton is a freelance blogger from the UK, with a passion for online entrepreneurship, content marketing, and all things WordPress.