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Can Your Company Benefit from a Progressive Web App?

| Posted by Mark Pedersen Follow 0 Followers on Nov 07, 2016. Estimated reading time: 11 minutes |

Key takeaways

  • Progressive web apps have the functionality of both websites and mobile applications.
  • They work online and offline, and can be fully functional in both aspects.
  • They deliver better performance than both websites and mobile applications.
  • Some browsers automatically prompt users to install the progressive web app for them.
  • Developers don’t need to submit the progressive web app to app stores and wait for approval.

Would your company benefit from a Progressive Web App?

Progressive web apps (PWA) is a new concept that bridges the gap between websites and mobile apps. They promise offline capabilities as well as improved speed and performance.

Businesses have a lot to gain from implementing these technologies. In fact, PWAs have given Google, AliExpress, and FlipKart a 50-100% increase in retention and conversion rates. By utilizing methods that combine the best of both worlds, we'll see how to provide an improved user experience, better visitor engagement, and increased conversion rates.

Benefits of progressive web apps:

  • Offline mode
  • Feels like an app, works like a website
  • Improved performance
  • Fast install on devices
  • Push Notifications
  • No app store submission

Offline mode

In certain situations websites are limited when it comes to internet connectivity. Without it, websites cannot be displayed properly, if at all. On the other hand, mobile apps are often self contained, allowing users to browse the app when not online, thus increasing the engagement and availability greatly.

This works by saving the information the visitor has already accessed, meaning the pages already visited are available through the progressive web app at all times, even without internet.

If there’s no internet connection, and the user browses to a page not previously visited, instead of getting an error screen in the browser, it is possible to show a custom offline page. This page can be complete with brand logo, information and sometimes even more advanced features designed to keep users on the page.

The obvious benefit is the added possibility for the visitors to stay on the site, rather than them closing the browser and waiting for online connectivity before continuing their surfing.

This has been one of the major reasons for the substantial growth of apps, leading to a multi-billion dollar industry, but now progressive web apps are slowly chipping away at that market segment by allowing ordinary websites to implement offline functionality for all devices.

For some business models, this might not make financial sense. For instance, sites relying on services like Google AdSense would probably not be interested in showing content without the possibility for their visitors to click on ads, but e-commerce stores are an obvious platform for PWA’s.

By allowing visitors access to the product catalog in offline mode as well, businesses can potentially increase their customer retention & engagement rates dramatically, and in countries where users pay for internet by data usage, allowing people to browse in offline mode can be an extra incentive for visitors to choose the business with a progressive web app, over one that doesn’t.

Feels like an app, works like a website

A major selling point is the fact that PWA’s are often designed to look and feel like mobile applications, letting users operate in familiar settings while still having the full functionality of websites with dynamic data and database access.

While it’s up to each individual developer how exactly the PWA is designed and programmed, most take full advantage of existing frameworks and conventional theory on how mobile apps provide superior user experiences compared to websites.

Like websites, PWA’s can be accessed via URLs and are therefore indexable by search engines, meaning it’s possible to find the pages on Google and Bing for instance. This can be a huge advantage compared to mobile applications where all internal data is just that, internal.

Depending on the project in question, progressive web apps can be designed to look and feel exactly like the existing corporate website or mobile app, or they can be purposely different, to let users know they’re now browsing the PWA. It is even possible to seamlessly integrate the PWA into existing the website/app structure and design.

Courtesy of a Google study made in July 2016.

In the same study taken on by Google, we see that 11.5% of all website visitors accepted and download the respective progressive web apps. This is quite a high conversion rate for any type of website, and trumps most email newsletter signup and e-commerce purchase conversion rates.

Combining the above statistics with the number of users accepting push notifications, we end up at somewhere around 6-7%, still a respectable figure for the existing website traffic.

Improved performance

Progressive Web Apps work significantly faster due to the way the underlying technology caches and serves text, stylesheets, images and other content on the websites.

This is due to something called service workers, which work separately from the website, only requesting the raw data and not any style or layout information.

While it might be obvious that increased speed leads to improved user experience and retention rates, there’s been numerous reports showing that conversion rates also benefit greatly from optimized performance, adding weight to the worth of progressive web apps from a sales perspective.

Courtesy of a Google study made in July 2016.

The above graphic shows how having a service worker installed, and controlling the page serving can dramatically improve load times.

In the first set of rows we look at how desktop users are experiencing the load times and see a solid 29% decrease in the amount of time users take to load the page with service workers, compared to loading with their browser cached content.

On mobile devices we are still looking at a significant increase in performance, although not quite as much, resulting in a 22% decrease in load times.

Keep in mind that the third rows in both tests are based on first time visits, and are thus the same whether a service worker is installed or not. This is because service workers only become active on a visitors second visit.

Fast install on devices

Another highly interesting point is that several browsers are automatically prompting users to install the progressive web app when users are visiting the website. This comes in the way of a call to action implemented in the browsers themselves, lending credibility to the PWA and adding values in terms of authority and reliability.

Compared to mobile applications, when users install PWA’s, there are no long download times, and visitors are not routed through Google Play or the App Store, but directly downloading the app onto their device.

This means that the progressive web app gets its own icon on phones and tablets, just like a mobile application, but without the need to go through the sometimes tedious and slow App Store submission process.

Push Notifications

Progressive web apps have the option of implementing various device specific hardware features, such as push notifications. Publishers and developers have full control over how to implement this option, allowing for creative solutions with regards to advertising new content.

For e-commerce sites, this could mean an entirely new entry channel for sales, since push notifications directly displayed on phones are getting read far more often than either e-mail newsletters, status updates on social media etc.

Add to that the fact that users having installed the PWA also sees the icon on their home screen, getting a reminder of both the brand name and products every time they use their phone, this is not just another sales tactic, but can lead to valuable brand awareness. Publishing the latest products, blog posts, articles or other relevant information through push notifications can result in a cluttered notification area for users having many apps and PWA’s installed.

Courtesy of a Google study made in July 2016.

Out of all the people downloading a progressive web app, almost 60% gave the PWA permission to publish push notifications. While 36.3% either ignored the prompt, or did not get it due to the individual PWA’s settings.

Combining this figure with the statistics for how many website visitors are downloading the progressive web app from the homepages, we can estimate roughly 6-7% of a website’s existing traffic converts into push notified PWA users.

No app store submissions

With ever increasing regulatory points to adhere by, having an app published in either Google Play, Windows Phone Apps or Apple’s App Store can be a tedious and time consuming process.

By using progressive web apps, developers can push new updates without waiting for approvals, allowing for regular updates on a level not currently possible with traditional mobile apps.

New updates will be downloaded automatically when users relaunch the progressive app, and with the possibility of push notifications, it’s possible to let users know that an update has arrived, but similarly, it’s not mandatory, allowing the publishers full control over what content and information to show users.

Pitfalls

  • No Universal Support

There are a few major things to be aware of, mainly the fact that not all browsers support progressive web apps.

  • Google Chrome and Opera are 2 browsers with great support for service workers and PWA’s.
  • Apple’s Safari browser is still not providing support for progressive web apps, and while there’s been talk of them considering it, nothing concrete has been published as of yet.
  • Microsoft have said they’re working on implementing it on Edge as of July 2016, but still no news on that front either.

However, even though there’s not universal support for PWA’s, there are no disadvantages for users not having a compatible browser, since it will simply ignore the PWA and display the website as usual.

  • No entry in app stores

Some people might argue that not having their PWA in the app store would result in less exposure, but often that is not the case.

In fact, compared to mobile apps, PWA’s can be found on Google or other search engines just like websites, and unlike mobile apps. Meaning that the billions of daily searches might eventually turn up results for the PWA.

  • Limited native hardware support

Unlike mobile applications designed natively, progressive web apps do not support 100% of all the hardware features on any given phone.

While commonly accessed functions such as the Accelerometer, Camera and Microphone are available for PWA’s, there are some features which require a native mobile application to utilize.

Use Cases

AliExpress has been on the forefront of mobile commerce, and based on the growth they see in this area they quickly developed their own PWA. With a reported 104% increase in conversion rates for new users gained with their Progressive Web App compared to their traditional website and mobile app, things are looking quite well for the Chinese company.

Konga, a Nigerian e-commerce website has also been tinkering with progressive web apps. Their main focus has been on cutting down data usage for their visitors, since around two-thirds of Nigerian users are connected via 2G. With a reported 92% decrease in the amount of data their average user downloads, Konga has succeeded in this aspect.

eXtra Electronics, a Saudi Arabian e-commerce company have been developing their own progressive web app, and their focus has been retargeting existing customers and visitors.

Originally they’ve been using e-mail campaigns for their re-engagement strategy, but now they’ve added Push Notifications and seen a 4x increase in re-engagements, a 12% increase in their click-through rates and 100% more sales from users arriving via their push notifications.

Rounding off

All in all, progressive web apps are not going to replace either websites or mobile applications. Rather, PWA’s are already doing a good job at bridging the gap between the two. Some businesses might require a full mobile app to fully realize the desired functionality, while others might be satisfied with just a standard website.

PWA’s offer the best of both worlds, catching and retaining users without internet, allowing for push notifications without app store submissions, and for businesses searching for that latest competitive edge, this might just be it.

It’s also important to remember that this is a relatively new technology, and we are in the early stages of development and research. One could liken this to the days of the wild west where people were pushing limits and exploring new grounds daily.

There might even be some great marketing potential in rolling out the very first PWA in any given business niche, if for no other reason than the fact that Google is actively looking for success stories to showcase on their own website.

If you wish to learn more about this exciting new technology, feel free to visit some of these links below:

  1. Google PWA Study July 2016
  2. Google developer pages
  3. Develop your first progressive web app

About the Author

Mark Pedersen has been developing websites and mobile applications for more than 12 years, always with a penchant for open-source technologies and is currently employed at Nodes. He is an established contributor to WordPress and Joomla, and has an opinion about most things tech. His professional interests revolve around emerging technologies and concepts, and the occasional gadget or app. You can follow him on Twitter here.  

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Great post by Hemang Rindani

I have been through many articles to explore PWAs but found this very interesting. The only reason being the explanation on business benefits. That was something that every post missed.

Thanks for sharing this.

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