Thursday, July 23, 2020

Lessons from Mobile Matters: All Things PWAs

It is no secret that we love Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) at Lumavate… we could talk your ear off about them. But guess what? We aren’t the only ones! There are many huge brands out there that are all about PWAs, and seeing a ton of success from it. A great example is Pinterest. Pinterest came out with their PWA in 2017, and have since seen incredible results including a 370 percent increase in logins and 296 percent increase in session length. Zack Argyle, the man behind Pinterest’s PWA, has since become a huge advocate of PWAs, and we got the chance to sit down and talk with him on an episode of Mobile Matters. Zack is the former Engineering Manager at Pinterest and current Engineering Manager at Facebook, and offers great advice on why you should consider building a PWA, how to look at PWA metrics, and how to create a positive user experience.

Why It’s Time to Build a PWA

If you have heard about PWAs before, but are waiting for the right time to build your own, I am here to tell you the time is now. PWAs are a great tool that bridges the gap between native mobile apps (AKA apps you download from the app store) and mobile web. With a PWA you can save the app to your home screen, but it is still run through the web, so you maintain the lightweight and fast experience of the web. PWAs also can work offline, so you don’t have to worry about the app freezing up when you enter low service areas like you do with the web. When Zack first started to think about transitioning Pinterest to a PWA, he tested the impact of PWA performance on growth, and the results he found were incredible because of the lightweight and fast nature of the experience.

If You Are Comparing Native and Mobile Web Metrics… Stop!

Have you ever heard the phrase you can’t compare apples to oranges? I’m sure most of you have. So then why are we still trying to compare native mobile metrics to mobile web metrics? The experiences are so different, and we can’t compare the data without looking at the full story. When it comes to native mobile there is a much higher barrier to entry for the users. If they want the native Pinterest app, then they have to go to the app store, download it, and log into their account to start using the app. So, it makes sense there would be higher engagement on the native app because anyone who uses it has to go through that process. However with the mobile web, anyone can access Pinterest and start looking at Pins without even having to make an account. When the barrier to entry on mobile web is so low of course you are going to get flakier users who might visit once and then never come back, but that doesn’t mean there still isn’t high engagement there. So, if you want to compare metrics you need to look at the users that save Pinterest to their home screens for a more accurate comparison

Cache Responsibly

Caching data is a really cool and powerful tool, but with great power comes great responsibility. So, when building a PWA please don’t cache every single piece of data. This is unnecessary and will end up taking up way too much of the users data. Instead only cache what is needed. Caching data is when data is stored in the PWA’s service worker so it doesn’t have to be reloaded every time the user opens the app, and in the end leads to a faster experience. It’s an awesome tool we can use, but unfortunately too many people try to take advantage of this function and it ends up backfiring. When building a PWA you want it to load upfront as fast as possible, but you also need to think about the experience after the initial loading time. So, you have to make tradeoffs and balance the initial loading time with the rest of the user experience. Zack explains at Pinterest they did this by going through each page and caching the 2-3 pages the user was most likely to jump to. This way the loading time stayed fast, but at the same time it didn’t take up too much data.

Another important consideration with caching is you shouldn’t forget about experimentation. As marketers, we are experimenting all the time. We are running tests and iterating across different channels to find best practices and better understand consumer behavior. This doesn’t have to stop just because you are using a PWA that runs offline. Zack explains how it is still possible to experiment through caching, even if you aren’t online.

There is a lot to considering when taking on a PWA, but the end results will be well worth it. Listen to Zack’s full Mobile Matters episode to learn more about his experience, advice, and all things PWAs.