Small-business owners have been facing a serious dilemma in recent years. As the number of smartphones is increasing dramatically across the globe, and mobile web consumption is skyrocketing, the basic need to create a mobile presence is obvious.

Yet the question remains—should a small business build a mobile site, fully accessible from all mobile devices, or is a native app a better solution? The answer, of course, depends on a number of variables. So before you decide, ask yourself these 10 key questions, and use the answers to make the optimal choice for your business in 2014.

1. What’s your schedule, and what’s your budget?

Building and publishing a mobile site is essentially more cost effective than creating a native app. However, there’s a bit more to the story than that. You can easily save both time and money using various tools, like those offered by Conduit Mobile, to create either an app or a mobile site. Having said that, a mobile site should include certain must-have elements that could potentially tax your schedule:

– A layout that fits all screen sizes

– A click-to-call action button

– Text that fits both horizontally & vertically, according to whichever way the user is holding their device

– A map

There’s a variety of automated tools available to help you factor in both time and budget when deciding whether to go with a native app or mobile site.

2. What level of compatibility best suits your business?

While native apps are more flexible in terms of design and user experience, mobile sites are much easier to equip with certain mobile technologies like SMS and NFC (near field communication).

3. How personal do you want to get?

Native apps offer a much better overall user experience and a far greater level of flexibility when creating the app. If you’re after a unique user experience, an app is the better choice for your business. Some apps that offer a unique user experience include Instapaper, Flipboard, and Path.

4. Do you want to get social with ease?

Social media actions, especially sharing, are much easier with a mobile site. Just copy the URL and pass it on, even without your dedicated “share” button. The same goes for posting any content on Facebook and Twitter.

5. Do you want seamless usability?

If you want to offer your users integrated access to their smartphone camera, GPS, or other special built-in phone features, it will be easier for you to do it with an app. Instagram and Google Maps are examples of excellent usability.

6. Are you serious about design?

Is design an integral part of your site? Is your site’s look and feel truly unique? If your answer to both questions is yes, go with a mobile app. For some great design inspiration, check out Nike Fuel and MoodSwings.

7. How important are data, accessibility, and connectivity?

iOS and Android apps will cover most smartphone users, but a mobile site will be accessible to all of them. If you are a niche business or sole practitioner, you might not be willing to exclude any potential users from reaching your service or product.

Having said that, as an SMB, you should also take into consideration that apps do have a significant advantage in dealing with large volumes of data and bandwidths and can remain active without an internet connection—a major plus, connectivity-wise. Overlapps and Vimeo are good examples of apps with superior accessibility and connectivity.

8. Do you need a purchase method?

Content purchases have already proved to be very successful using the app stores’ in-app purchase method. Users, especially on iOS, tend to spend much more money through an app than via a mobile site. If you plan to create a mobile commerce-dependent site, opt for a native app.

9. ASO or SEO?

A mobile site can be promoted with tools almost identical to those used by standard websites. If you know your way around SEO, promoting your mobile site can be a piece of cake.

As for mobile apps, apps themselves are not detected by search engines, meaning a higher app usage won’t increase your Google ranking. Learning ASO (app store optimization) is not difficult, but bear in mind that app stores do have a different set of tools you’ll need to learn.

10. Are you ready for the app stores?

Google and Apple operate the main app stores and have their own respective sets of rules and guidelines. If you decide to build an app, you have to make sure your service or products are in compliance with all their regulations. And keep in mind that uploading a new app or app update to one of the app stores can take up to three weeks, so be sure to send your updates in bulk, and send them over no more than once a month.

So what’ll it be for your SMB—a native app or a mobile site? Ideally, any small business would benefit most from having both, but unless you’re using an app-creation platform, you may not have the time or the resources for it. Whatever the case, think carefully about your decision, and most importantly, keep analyzing results, compare them to your expectations, and determine if the path you chose satisfies your customers’ needs and yours.

This post was contributed to The Conduit Mobile Blog by guest blogger Jonathan Raveh. Jonathan is the Director of Publishers at Appnext, a growing monetization and discovery network for mobile and social media. He also writes for TheMarker (online edition) and is the publisher of Mobilize, a mobile-oriented news and business blog.