Mobile devices now carry over half of global Internet traffic, and the trend is still rising. As a result, companies constantly adopt new technologies to keep pace with the mobile revolution, and to make the user experience as smooth and streamlined as possible, regardless of the device used. One of such solutions, taking the Internet by storm, is Progressive Web Apps. The technology allows your website to work almost like a native app, which is a sure way to give a better experience to your customers, increase their engagement and boost conversion rates. Many global brands have successfully adopted PWA, so why shouldn’t you? And if your website is built with WordPress, you’re in luck. Switching to PWA can be as easy as pie, assuming you choose the right tool to slice it. We’re here to help you with this – read on to learn how to build your WordPress PWA.
What is a Progressive Web App?
If you’ve ever used Twitter Lite, Tinder, or OLX, you already know what the PWA looks and feels like. In short, it is a website that very closely resembles a native mobile app. It can be accessed offline, may be added to your home screen, has its own icon, and is able to push notifications. But it doesn’t need to be installed via the app store and requires a single codebase for all mobile and desktop platforms, making the development process faster and cheaper. In addition, PWAs take up much less storage space and are installed/updated in an instant.
Key characteristics of PWA
According to Google, specific attributes must be present for an app to be classified as PWA:
- Fast and reliable – it should load in under 3 seconds. The application would use cached data and perform smoothly even with a slow internet connection.
- Secure – the PWA should be served exclusively over HTTPS.
- Works in any browser – currently, all major browsers support PWA (Firefox for desktop requires an additional extension installed).
- Screen size responsive – all the content should be available regardless of viewport size.
- Provides a custom offline page – users should not be met with a regular blank page when accessing the app offline.
- Is installable – users tend to engage more with apps that can be launched independently from the browser.
An ideal PWA should also be fully accessible, discoverable through search, and usable with any input devices.
Requirements for WordPress PWA
One of the (many) advantages of WordPress is that you don’t need to code your entire WP website from scratch to change it to PWA. There are a few methods to convert your WordPress site into a Progressive Web App, which we will cover shortly. Regardless of your preferred approach, specific conditions must always be met before you get down to business:
- PHP version – 5.3 or newer
- WordPress version – 3.5.0 or newer
- The website must be secured with HTTPS
- The theme used on your WordPress site must be responsive and compatible with both mobile and stationary devices.
Changing your WordPress site into a Progressive Web App
Once the prerequisites above are met, you’re good to go with WordPress PWA conversion. You can do it manually or use plugins – either method has its advantages.
Manual development of WordPress PWA
Let’s look at the technologies most commonly used for building WordPress PWAs.
One of the most popular frameworks based on TypeScript. It provides a very streamlined and simplified process of adding new functionalities, which, in return, significantly reduces the time spent on building the app. Certain features have been included in Angular, specifically with PWA development in mind. Angular’s thriving community offers valuable support, and the framework itself is regularly updated by Google.
Angular framework was created with scalable and interactive web applications in mind. These apps are capable of storing and processing huge amounts of data, contain their own routing system, and provide a good “feeling” and smooth interaction for users. Therefore, if you want to create a responsive website that closely resembles a native mobile application, you should use PWA technology with Angular framework.
Another prevalent JS framework utilized for building single and multi-page applications. Many favor React for its well-written and comprehensive documentation, a vast pool of available libraries, and unmatched flexibility when creating pages rendered server- and client-side. Very much like Angular, React is backed up by a massive and helpful community.
Outside of the three main frameworks mentioned above, some other technologies and tools can be used for developing Progressive Web Apps:
- PWA Builder by Microsoft
- Magento PWA Studio
Using plugins for building WordPress PWA
If time is of the essence, and you don’t have the skills (nor the money) to build your WordPress PWA manually – fear not. As usual with WordPress, at least one plugin exists to help you address any issues you may have with your website. In fact, there are several plugins dedicated to converting WordPress sites into a PWA.
A popular and established WordPress PWA plugin allows you to set a custom offline page, create an “Add to Home Screen” notification, enable aggressive caching, and more. Super PWA is free to use, but with the paid PRO version, you get Call To Action add-on, data analytics, Pre-Loader, as well as Android APK APP and QR Code generators. Given the ongoing support from the devs and overwhelmingly positive user reviews, we wholeheartedly encourage you to give Super PWA a try.
Another plugin recommended by us for its feature-rich content and constant updates from the creators. PWA for WP & AMP supports Multisite, UTM Tracking, caching strategy, and offers app banners as well as customizable full & splash screens. It’s an open-source project and won’t cost you a penny to use. Still, you get additional features like Call to Action, Pull to Refresh, Multilingual Compatibility, and more with the paid Premium version.
A word of warning first – this plugin hasn’t been tested with the latest three major releases of WordPress, so there’s a bit of a risk you may experience issues when using this plugin. Nevertheless, we’ve decided to include Progressive WordPress (PWA) in our list because of its light and clear interface, support for push notifications, and very favorable reviews from the users. And it’s also straightforward to use.
Bonus plugin: OneSignal – Web Push Notifications
OneSignal will not help with your WordPress PWA conversion, but it adds a functionality important for user engagement – targeted push notifications. You can set it up to send notifications every time a new post appears on your website or at preset intervals. Your visitors will get notified even after they’ve left your PWA website. Not all WordPress PWA conversion plugins support OneSignal, so check your plugins for compatibility if you need this feature. With OneSignal, you can target up to 10k subscribers for free. To be fair, the plugin is not required for push notifications – you can as well enable it with the use of Push API. Though without the plugin, the process is much less streamlined and more time-consuming.
Do you consider building your WordPress Progressive Web App from scratch or are you confident the plugins will do just fine? Whatever your approach, the only thing that really matters is the increased visitor engagement your website will enjoy after the switch. PWA offers you that and more – it allows your site to live outside the browser and gives the users an impression of a native app. It’s still only an impression, though, as PWA does not possess all characteristics of a native app. For example, PWA doesn’t work with proximity sensors, cameras, or Smart Lock and cannot interact with other apps the way native applications do. But if you don’t need these specific features, PWA proves to be an excellent solution to give you a competitive edge over your business rivals.
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