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Mobile Apps vs. Responsive Websites: Why Your School Should Use Both
Andrew Martin

The Finalsite Mobile App is the next step in Finalsite’s continued commitment to a mobile-first design philosophy that began as far back as 2011 with our first mobile app. We continued our commitment to mobile when we rolled out our first responsive website in 2012 for our more innovative clients, and then as a default for all websites with our latest content management system Composer early in 2015.  

As we’ve watched trends in responsive design and how apps fit into the large strategy for our schools, we’ve wrestled with and arrived at the simple conclusion that schools want and need both. So, to the recurring question, “Should we go with the mobile app or responsive websites?”, our answer is an enthusiastic: Both!

Let’s take a step back and look at each option individually to understand their unique benefits. 

Benefits of a Mobile App

Apps dominate the time people spend on their phones. In fact, exactly half of the time people spend on their phones is spent in an app. Only seven percent of their time is spent surfing the web on their phones.

What’s more, the 18-24 year old demographic spends two-thirds of their time on their phones in apps, which amounts to just over three hours of their entire day allocated to app usage.

Infographic showing the amount of mobile time spent on app vs. web

Why is that? Apps have two key advantages over responsive websites:

  1. They are specifically optimized for mobile devices with faster load times 
  2. Most apps feature at least some level of offline functionality

Most apps allow users to access most or all of the content wherever they are, with or without an internet connection; the same can’t always be said for responsive websites. Apps also allow users to store data locally that can be uploaded once users reestablish a wireless connection.

Mobile apps also take full advantage of all that “fancy” native technology crammed into each smartphone. For example, photo-sharing apps typically use the phone’s built in camera and photo storage; music apps use the phone’s microphone; and restaurant apps use the phone’s location-based hardware.

Most importantly, nearly every app utilizes the phone’s push notification system to notify users with the latest news, send updates, or alert the user whenever someone nearby is using the same app.

The Finalsite App was built to take full advantage of your phone’s technology in similar ways.

Finalsite Mobile App home screen on an iPhone 7

Schools can send topic-based notifications to every mobile app user (or specific groups) via notifications built into the Messages module. Constituents can view photos through galleries created and organized through the Resources module, with the option to download and share photos, videos, and documents through the phone’s built-in share and save tools.

Creating notifications for the mobile app in Messages

Additional custom links can be added to the “More” section of the Finalsite mobile app to allow users to access your school’s social media accounts using the phone’s web browser, or other pages on your website and external systems, including: payment forms, student handbooks, external student information systems (SIS), food services, student account systems, and more!

Finalsite Mobile App More screen on an iPhone 7

However, we’ve yet to talk about the single largest advantage of mobile apps: Branding! Mobile apps are the perfect way to cement your school’s name and brand into the mind of your constituents with a dedicated spot on their phone.

If you’re like me with nearly a hundred apps on your phone, that screen space is incredibly valuable real estate. People (including myself) are exceptionally picky about the apps they download. Brands have to fight hard to win a space on user’s phones; your school needs to do the same. Thankfully, we’ve made it easy to do exactly that.  

App customization options for color and logo

The Finalsite App allows schools and districts to brand both the icon and app itself with school colors and logos. School branding constantly reminds users of your school or district every time they look at their phone, transforming an app download into free, daily reminder of your institution.   

Register now for our FREE webinar to learn more about our new Mobile App!


Benefits of a Responsive Website

Responsive websites still are the foundation of this mobile age. It’s why Composer, our content management system (CMS), was setup to build responsive sites with built-in tools that make designing for mobile devices quick and easy.


Your responsive website are the most cost-effective way to reach the broadest audience. Visitors almost exclusively find your school online through search engines, and they likely will continue to do so for the far foreseeable future.

That leads us nicely into search engine optimization (SEO). Composer makes it easy to optimize each page in the settings area for Google to place your school to the top of the results page.

SEO options under the Page Settings menu in Composer

Search engines also factor in whether or not webpages are optimized for mobile based on pages that load faster and use less bandwidth. For this reason, Finalsite’s Resources module includes automatic optimization tools that resize and serve up images and videos for specific devices.

Lastly, and most obviously, responsive websites are available for everyone with a mobile device. Let’s face it: not everyone wants to add another app to their cluttered phone screen either.

Regardless of their rationale, every constituent can still access all the same information found on your mobile app on your responsive website. More on this shortly. 

Apps and Responsive Websites: The Best of Both Worlds

So, why not use both?

Your school’s or district’s website(s) is one of the most valuable marketing tools at your disposal and should serve as that critical first point of contact where prospective families come to learn all about your school, what you have to offer, and what distinguishes you from your school from your competition. Entice them with free content offers, inform them with pages highlighting your academic programs, and “WOW!” them with incredible video and photos.  

On the other hand, only those who are already in your school community are likely the ones downloading your school’s mobile app. This makes the app an incredibly valuable resource for connecting with your current school community and engaging them with content specifically relevant to them.

Your constituents don’t need to see all of your school’s marketing pages and content. They’ve already been through that discovery, inquiry, and application process. They don’t need the marketing content obscuring the content they actually care about.

That’s why we’ve built our new mobile app using the same Create Once, Publish Everywhere (C.O.P.E.) functionality found throughout our responsive websites. New content you publish to your website is automatically added to your mobile app. 

New blog posts are automatically added dynamically through Posts to keep constituents engaged. New photos, videos, and documents are automatically pulled into the app through dynamic Resources integration.

Finalsite Mobile App Resources screen on an iPhone 7

Upcoming events are automatically populated thanks to the integrated Calendar Manager. And constituents can quickly view and get in touch with faculty and staff with Directories integration.

Finalsite Mobile App Events screen on an iPhone 7

Users can also quickly and easily filter through the various sections of the app to only show the content they are actually interested in, further empowering them to connect with your school in a way that feels true to their personal wants and needs.

Finalsite Mobile App Filter Events screen on an iPhone 7

The app was built to be the one-stop-shop for all information your current constituents need and want to know in an easy-to-navigate app with intuitive tap and scroll-based controls. Having a mobile app and responsive website keeps both sides of the user experience separate from each other, without the added hassle of needing to update two different mediums whenever you want to post new content and information. 

Key Takeaway

Combining the unique benefits of Finalsite’s new mobile app with the tried-and-true benefits of a responsive website means your school can easily communicate uniquely with current constituents and prospective families without needlessly doubling the workload for your admissions, advancement, communications and marketing teams.

Request a demo for the Finalsite Mobile App

Andrew Martin Header

As Finalsite’s Product Marketing Specialist, Andrew writes blogs and creates videos to share information about all the latest and greatest Finalsite products. Andrew has more than 10 years of video production experience and a journalism education from the University of South Carolina. He is excited about bringing his experience and expertise to Finalsite.

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