Mobile is now the name of the game. Between 2010 and 2014, the amount of time Americans spent on their smartphones increased 394 percent, while time spent on desktops grew by just 37 percent. Eyeballs are moving to mobile, which means your marketing efforts have to follow them onto these smaller devices.

To successfully engage mobile users, you need to have a mobile app. A total of 85 percent of users prefer apps to mobile websites, so not having an app immediately puts you at a disadvantage. If you're a business owner feeling lost or intimidated by the thought of creating an app, then consider using these tips on how to develop an effective mobile app that will integrate with your marketing strategy.

Define Your Objectives

To start with, any successful app needs to have a clearly defined goal. You should have a strong sense of who is in the intended market for your app and what value people should be able to get out of it. Here are some useful questions to ask in particular:

  • Is this app aimed towards attracting new customers or engaging existing ones?
  • Will this app offer information, promotions, e-commerce or some combination of the three?
  • What part of the user experience requires this to be an app instead of a mobile website?

This last question is extremely important. If you can't define a specific part of your app that wouldn't be possible as a mobile site, it may not be worth the time and money to develop it.

Research The Competition

Getting a sense of the competition is an important step. You want to know what customers in your industry expect and what sort of functionality you'll need to offer in order to differentiate yourself from the competition.

The good news for small business owners is that, in many cases, the bar is set pretty low. A recent poll revealed that 78 percent of US small businesses don't have a mobile solution or app, so just by developing an app you'll already be standing out from the crowd.

Choose A Development Platform

Many, many companies offer mobile app development platforms, from giants like  SAP to smaller startups such as Xamarin or Appcelerator. You'll obviously want to cover the basic issues such as security, reliability and ability to work across different operating systems when choosing between different development platforms.

Beyond that, it's a question of establishing your priorities and capabilities. Some platforms offer a great deal of pre-packaged functionality that can reduce app development time by up to 80 percent. On the other hand, if your priority is scalability, you might want to focus more on the platform's ability to handle rapid growth in users. Any platform will have pros and cons, so it's all about determining what's most important to you.

Remember The Devices

It's easy to get bogged down in the software, but don't forget the actual hardware people will use to view your app. Make sure your app works on as many devices as possible, and think about the ways to integrate the functionality of devices into your app.

Location-based notifications, QR codes and NFC can all be engaging ways to utilize the capabilities that most smartphones already have to enhance your app.

Test, Test, Test

Once you've developed your app, it's time to refine and optimize it. The only way to do that is to test it on actual users. A/B testing, comparing the performance of your original design against an updated version, can give you a sense of what layout, copy and promotions work best at driving engagement and conversions. Once you've built and optimized your mobile app, there's much you can do to optimize it for marketing. Loyalty programs or push notifications are some examples of tactics that can help.