The difference between mobile and web user journeys

Published Nov 22, 2021

In an ideal world, the experience your users have with your mobile app shouldn’t be all that different from that of your web-based or desktop product. Both should be seamless, delightful, and make it easy for your users to accomplish the tasks they’ve set out to do.

For most B2B software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies, the user experience is a tale of two journeys, with users onboarding and using both a product’s desktop and mobile app concurrently. It’s no longer a differentiator to have a mobile app that complements your desktop or web-based app—it’s now expected. And in some cases, the necessity of having a strong mobile app experience actually supersedes that of a good web-based experience.

While the purchasing experience and general steps in the user lifecycle (think: awareness, consideration, purchase, onboarding, support, expansion, etc.) are more or less the same between web and mobile app-based products, there are a few nuances to consider and plan for. 

Time and attention spans run short on mobile

Think about how you use your phone for work. When you open a work-related app on your mobile device—like Salesforce or HootSuite or Asana—it’s probably because you’re there to get something done. In that moment, your attention is focused on the task at hand. You’re not looking to spend a lot of time perusing, and you certainly don’t have the patience to struggle with poor navigation or UI.

Now think about how quickly you shift between apps on your mobile device, and the circumstances under which you’re using those work-related apps. You’re probably on the go—somewhere between running an errand, hopping on a flight, or responding to a quick request while waiting for your coffee to brew. In short, you’re not always as captive while using your mobile apps as you might be when you’re sitting at your desk or working on your laptop for hours at a time.

So what does all of that mean for the mobile user journey?

New users want to get up and running, fast. New users onboarding to your app don’t have the time or patience for lengthy walkthroughs and tours. They want to get going with your product and start seeing value from the experience immediately. Keep in mind that at this stage, your users don’t need to see everything your app can do. They just need to feel educated on the core functionality that helps them accomplish the key tasks they initially purchased your product for.

Returning users want continuity and reliability. Returning users (who are by now familiar with both your web and mobile apps) want a sense of continuity across their multi-screen experience. They want to feel supported as they expand their use cases, and informed of any changes or updates being made to the product that might impact the experience they’ve come to know.

Which brings us to our next topic—keeping users engaged in a mobile app setting.

Smaller screens, bigger opportunities for engagement

Don’t let screen size fool you—mobile devices present a massive opportunity for companies to interact with their users in a highly targeted way. Even more so than many web-based experiences, mobile apps—which we literally carry around in our pockets—are a vehicle for personalized, in-the-moment communications.

In-app messaging and guides truly sing on mobile. They’re a critical component of any good onboarding strategy, giving your users a contextual and integrated learning experience that allows them to be immersed in the product as they learn. In-app messaging and tooltips also allow you to deliver ongoing guidance to your users, without forcing them to break their attention or leave the app when they need help.

Once your users are onboarded, mobile in-app messaging is an opportune vehicle for checking in throughout their journey. We know both anecdotally and from industry research that surveys and polls delivered in-app (the likes of which can help you gauge user sentiment, satisfaction, and even solicit app store ratings) receive higher response rates than those delivered via traditional means like web forms or email. This is because mobile in-app polls and surveys are highly contextual and timely, capturing your users’ feelings as they’re absorbed in the product experience.

App versions can cause mobile experience headaches

A unique challenge to the mobile user experience is app versioning. Unlike web-based products in which development teams push new code to all their users at the same time, mobile app updates rely on the users themselves to download updates to their devices. This leaves companies with no choice but to provide support and maintenance for multiple versions of their app at the same time.

When users stick with older app versions, you inevitably get more support tickets and requests for help as they run into bugs or try to leverage legacy features that have since been updated. This forces your team to spend their time addressing issues you may have already solved instead of actively working on new improvements. And instead of moving seamlessly through their post-onboarding journey, your users end up frustrated—and with a less than sunny disposition when it comes time to renew or expand their contract.

In-app messaging can help mitigate this challenge, too. Instead of waiting for your users to run into problems on older app versions, preemptively launching in-app guides—targeted at legacy “hold out” users—can help facilitate a smooth transition and inform them of the key benefits of your latest release.

Mobile is just one piece of the puzzle

Even with these nuances in your users’ web and mobile journeys, it’s important to remember that the goal should be to create a single, unified user experience—regardless of device type. Having a clear understanding of how your users are moving through your product helps you identify where they’re struggling and discover opportunities to bring your web and mobile experiences closer into alignment.