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Modern companies have to be digitally active, but the question is where? Social media is a given, but there’s also the larger digital presence of websites and apps. So how do you choose which to develop first for your business? Let’s explore the factors that go into this choice and weigh the advantages of building an app or website first.

Best practices for app and website development

There’s always a “typical” way of doing things. In the development world, that usually means website development comes before you build an app. But because every company is as unique as its customers, your strategy depends on your specific needs and goals.

10 quick questions to ask as you decide

When you’re ready to tackle the “App or website first?” dilemma, answer these questions to inform your approach:

1. Do I want more reach?

People are always online, and they trust tools like search engines to connect them with companies that meet their needs. Websites cast a wide net to customers and prospects than apps because they are accessible across platforms, and users can share content through links.

2. What would app or website usage look like?

Apps are often better for high-use purposes like gaming, ordering, and social media posting. Dig into customer habits with analytics tools—they may prefer your website.

3. Will I need advanced features?

If you need to access phone native features like the gyroscope, sensors, notifications, or even GPS, a native mobile app is the way to go. Plus, accessibility features like voice ordering are easy to roll out for users with disabilities.

4. Is speed a priority?

If you want to ensure a lightning-fast experience, a mobile app is best because it stores data locally on the phone, whereas websites download from servers (not to mention having to open your browser).

5. What is my target audience ready for?

If your demographic has always known technology (i.e., millennials), they will probably expect an app. But if you’re targeting older individuals who have struggled with the internet and e-commerce, they may not be ready for an app.

6. Is my product complicated?

Apps make information easily digestible. If you need to pull in and display complex reporting or incorporate calculator functions, you may be able to do it on a responsive website—but not as effectively as an app.

7. Do I want to sell products or services online?

You can easily sell on either an e-commerce website or a native mobile app. But with an app, you’ll also be able to incorporate in-app offers, purchases, and rich media, pushing profit opportunities over the edge.

8. What’s my budget for a project like this?

Whether you opt for an app or website first, your project is an investment. However, apps cost more—$125,000 per platform on average—because of the specialized skill sets needed. Your costs will vary based on how complex your needs are.

9. Would I need frequent updates?

If you plan to change featured content often, websites handle this exceptionally well in the content management system (CMS). Hybrid apps are also effective, immediately pulling in any updates you make to your website.

10. What do my competitors have?

If your competition doesn’t have an app, build one to get ahead. But if they do, don’t just create one to play catch-up—do it to provide value and enable meaningful interaction, like mobile ordering or customer reviews.

Advantages of building a website first

Once you start thinking about building an app or website, it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of what you get from each. Building a website first has distinct advantages:

Instant availability

With websites, users have the benefit of immediacy. Instead of downloading, you navigate via your browser, and BOOM—you’re there, regardless of your device.

Brand discoverability

When you have a website, anyone can find you in Google search results or through directories. But apps don’t have the same luxury and are limited to the App Store or Google Play Store.

Lower costs

Money talks, and there’s a chasm between website and app development. If budget is a concern, the $25,000-$150,000 average cost for a website could be a decider for your team. And now that websites are inherently mobile-friendly, you don’t have to worry about accounting for different platforms.

Greater reach

If you build an app first, your audience is limited to the platform you choose (i.e., iOS, Android, or both). But a website makes it easy for anyone with a browser to gain access to your brand, content, or products.

Narrower focus

Things can go wrong with an app build, stemming from the product roadmap, product ownership, and user feedback. But website development is more focused, incorporating a smaller team, fewer design decisions, and single-platform support.

Advantages of building an app first

There are two sides to every argument, so what if your company wants to begin with app development? Here, your brand is always available to customers, along with a few other perks:

Brand awareness

Websites might have SEO and marketing opportunities, but they don’t have permanent visibility on each user’s screen. But an app gets dedicated real estate on a mobile device, with an icon that’s an always-on advertisement.


Users have the convenience of (relatively) non-intrusive notifications from apps, which come in two varieties: in-app and push notifications. Push notifications are always on, getting your attention even when the app is closed. But in-app notifications only appear when you have the app open.

Mobile-only features

A device’s UX makes many things possible. Features that make life easier for users—like tracking activities or measuring distances—aren’t possible with a website. So if your product relies on technologies only a mobile device can offer, you should prioritize app development.

Simpler conversions

Apps can easily push customers through the sales funnel, encouraging them to interact with and buy from your brand. Between notifications and convenience, users quickly get what they need from you.
Example: The Jimmy John’s app makes it possible for hungry customers to whip out their phone, open the app, and complete an order in just a few seconds.


Apps and websites store data differently. Apps store data locally on your device and save your preferences—making retrieval a breeze—whereas websites rely on servers. Plus, websites need JavaScript to work, and mobile frameworks are a whopping five times faster.

Strategy is key

There are many misconceptions about app development, like whether a strategy is important. But you can’t just build an app and assume it will gain a user base. In truth, you can’t afford to leave strategy behind. Researching, planning, organizing, coordinating, and designing the right UX come together to create secure, reliable, and attractive apps for your audience.

Design and Build

At Detroit Labs, our Design and Build process is an iterative approach to building software. It all begins with a sound strategy, and we work with you as an external partner to create a kick-butt app solution.

  • Strategy: We begin by taking inventory of your challenges, goals, and customers, planning according to those needs.
  • Design: We create user-friendly and attractive product designs.
  • Build: We build mobile apps that are easy to scale and transform as your business grows.


Maybe you don’t need—or aren’t ready for—an external app development partner. But you do need an in-house team. OnSite is our alternative to IT staffing, giving you access to developers who fit the bill. OnSite sources only the best from our developer community, handling the screening process for you. Whether it’s a few key positions or your whole team, we fill your seats with the right people.

Solve the website and app development puzzle

Development is “93 percent perspiration, 6 percent electricity, 4 percent evaporation, and 2 percent butterscotch ripple.” Just kidding! But you do have to consider everything (e.g., audience needs, functionality, costs, discoverability) when you decide to build an app or website. So which is right for you—an app or website? Get in touch with a software development company like Detroit Labs to explore your options and find the best partner for your needs.

Explore the checklist: 9 Things to Consider when Hiring a Software Development Company.