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App Development
11 minutes read

Website Vs. Web Application: Understanding the Differences

By Jose Gomez
By Jose Gomez
App Development
11 minutes read

Modern interactive web development capabilities have made the website vs. web application question more difficult to answer. Generally, your typical end-user won’t be able to distinguish between a website and a web application. After all, websites and web applications are very similar to one another. They both require Internet access, are accessed through a browser, and are responsive to the device being used.  

However, websites and web applications are very different from a development and design standpoint. This post will explain what websites and web applications are, the main differences between them, and how to determine which digital product is suitable for your business needs. 

What Is a Website? 

A website is a collection of public interlinked web pages connected through a domain name. Web pages can contain text, audio, video, documents, or other Internet-accessible content. Traditionally, informational websites are associated with static visual and text content. However, modern web technologies have helped web developers create interactive news websites that are more app-like and contain more than static pages. 

More complex, interactive websites are called dynamic websites. In addition to using, CSS, and JavaScript, website developers also use databases and more advanced programming languages to facilitate backend interaction with users. 

Static websites display the same content for all users. On the other hand, dynamic websites use modern web design tools to display different content to users depending on various factors such as time, location, date, etc. No matter what kind of website you create for your business, you need to ensure that you populate it with quality content because the content is why people visit your website. 

What Is a Web Application?

A web app is a software that is accessed through a web browser. Web applications differ from mobile and desktop software in that they don’t have to be downloaded. Typically, users access web apps in the same way they access websites through a URL. Web applications are built using many of the same programming languages and technologies used to build websites. However, web application development tends to be more complex because web apps need to store and manipulate data based on user input. A typical example of a web app is a web portal. 

A distinguishing feature of web applications is that they help users complete a task. Web apps are capable of performing a wide variety of different jobs. For example, you might use a web app to track expenses, register for classes, create advertisements, scan and convert files, and so much more. Almost all web apps require server-side processing. Apps that require server-side processing are dynamic, and apps that don’t are static. Although, static web applications are uncommon. 

If you want to create a web application for your business, ensure that it performs a task users will find valuable. Apps that don’t provide value to users won’t get used. Web applications are a popular choice for businesses because they are scalable, don’t require mobile app store approval, support all modern browsers, and are cross-platform compatible. 

The Differences Between Websites and Web Applications 

There are many similarities between websites and web apps. Many people would argue that web apps are the next stage of evolution for websites. Still, there are critical differences between these two technologies that should be considered. Essential differences between web applications and websites include:

  • Function 
  • Complexity 
  • Access 

Function 

From a user perspective, the significant difference between websites and web applications is function. Websites serve to inform, and web apps serve to help. The content on a website can be viewed, read, or listened to, but the user cannot manipulate it. Conversely, content on web applications is not only viewable but contains interactive elements. Web applications allow users to manipulate data. A simple example of interactive web content is a form. Anything on the Internet that performs a service is likely a web app. 

Complexity 

Web applications are far more complex than websites. Websites are just a collection of static web pages. Yes, modern web development standards have made websites more interactive, but they are still relatively simple to build compared to web applications. Not only do web applications have to provide a service and function seamlessly, but they require backend services, varying user levels, and data processing capabilities. In addition, web application security requires more advanced solutions.

While web applications can be built with the same web technologies like websites, such as JavaScript, HTML, and CSS, apps will also need to use more advanced programming languages, like PHP, frameworks, and server-side scripts. Additionally, UX/UI design is more crucial to web applications since users actively interact with them. 

Access 

Public access is a hallmark of websites, but almost all web applications require registration and authentication. In most cases, unregistered website visitors have the same access and experience as registered users. On the other hand, web apps almost always require user authentication because they provide services customized to the user’s requirements. Banking apps provide a great real-world example of this. Yes, all account holders are offered similar services online, but each user has a unique experience based on their personal banking information. 

Website Vs. Web App: Which Is Right for My Business? 

Now that you know more about the differences between websites and web apps, you are probably wondering which would be better for your business. This can be a difficult decision to make. The simplest way to think about this question is to imagine your goals and vision.

If you want users to get to know your business and the products or services you offer, a website is probably the best choice for you. On the other hand, if you want to provide a service to users, you will want to develop a web application. The lines between website and web application blur when you want to allow users to register on your website or buy products from your store. 

Why Should I Develop a Website?

If you need additional help to determine if a website is the proper development choice for your business, there are several key reasons why companies choose websites over web applications. Develop a website to:

  • Create social proof 
  • Showcase product or service offerings 
  • Aid in branding efforts 
  • Provide customer support 

Create Social Proof  

Businesses operate in an environment saturated with information. Thanks to technological advancements, consumers have an unlimited amount of data at their fingertips. Modern websites are valuable to companies because they create social proof. Most people will search a company online before buying a product or service from them. 

Users need more than a social media page for your business. Websites establish social proof for your company through user reviews, trust badges, and strategic performance-related data. For example, if you manufacture cars, displaying a JD Power award on your website is a valuable form of social proof. Without a website, disseminating award information, positive reviews, and key data is difficult. 

Showcase Product or Service Offerings 

The most common reason companies build websites is to showcase their offerings. Despite the proliferation of social media platforms, apps, etc., a website is still the best way to give users an in-depth look at the products or services you sell. With a website, you can provide detailed product and service descriptions, and virtual models, answer frequently asked questions, and demonstrate the offering in use. 

You don’t have to develop an online store or even sell products online to generate value by showcasing your products. Most people want to research a service or product before they make a purchase, especially if you are selling luxury products or services that cost more money. 

Aid in Branding Efforts 

Building a brand and creating brand awareness are time-consuming tasks that require all of your company’s marketing efforts to be aligned. One of the best ways to set the tone of your brand is to create a website. A website serves as a constant reminder to consumers and team members of your company’s brand guidelines. 

Think of your website as a way to make a first impression on your target audience. Use your website to set the tone of your brand, make stylistic choices, and generate content aligned with your branding strategy. The first step in building a successful brand is creating a website. 

Provide Customer Support 

A website is an easy way to provide support for your customers at any time of the day. Most people prefer self-service support. You can use your website to provide answers to frequently asked questions, offer troubleshooting guidance, and an automated online chat feature that walks users through the resolution of common problems. 

Modern consumers expect to find solutions to their problems online. Use your website as a way to provide answers and guidance to users experiencing issues. Websites that successfully help customers resolve their issues will please users and aid in building brand loyalty. You don’t know when a customer will require support. With a website, you can ensure your business is always there to provide support to its customers.

Why Should I Develop a Web Application?

Still not sure if a website or a web application is best suited for your needs? To further complicate matters, in many cases, a website will contain web applications for specific services. Do you need to develop a web application? You’ll want a web application if:

  • Users will manipulate information
  • You need authentication 
  • You want to avoid app store approval
  • You want to control all updates

Users Will Manipulate Information 

The hallmark of a web application is its interactivity. Modern websites have more interactivity than they used to, but if your users need to enter and manipulate information, a web application will meet the needs of your business more thoroughly than a website. There are several instances where a user might need to manipulate data.

For example, if you want to enter and submit payment information for online stores, you need a web application. In addition, any web service that will act as an online tool will perform better as a web application instead of a website. 

You Need Authentication 

Will you require users to log in? If you need authentication, a web application is an ideal way to achieve this functionality. You might think that both websites and web applications have authentication features, but you would be wrong. Websites that have authentication functionality use a web application to deliver this service. 

Yes, in many instances, you might develop a web application to work within an existing website. This is quite common, and it muddies the water when we discuss the differences between web applications and websites. It is important to remember that website and web application are two different things, but they are commonly used together. 

You Want to Avoid App Store Approval

Do you want to build an application that people can use on their phones but avoid the app store approval process? Businesses are turning to web applications to create rich mobile experiences that can bypass both the iOS App Store and the Google Play Store. 

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are changing the mobile development landscape. PWAs are web applications, but they look and feel like mobile apps. They can even send push notifications and utilize other native device features. 

You Want to Control All Updates 

A web application might be the best choice for your business if you want to control the update schedule for all users. With traditional software, users have to update their software manually when new updates are released. If you have ever used software, you likely have delayed updating it for any number of reasons.

Web applications can be uniformly updated at the source. Users don’t have to update their software because it is automatically updated on the web server. Your business can enhance security measures and ensure that every user has the same experience with a web application. 

Final Thoughts 

Websites can be developed with app-like components that allow users to complete tasks. However, understanding that this is possible doesn’t make it easier to differentiate between websites and web apps. If you are unsure which direction is the best for your business, reach out to an app development partner. A skilled web design company will help you design and develop the best possible product for your business. Don’t worry about the semantics of website vs. web application; speak with an experienced partner that has a team of web designers today, and get the right solution for your business.

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