Hackernoon logoWebsite vs Web App: Which Is The Right One For Your Business by@yarynamyrka

Website vs Web App: Which Is The Right One For Your Business

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@yarynamyrkaYaryna

Content Marketing & PR at nect WORLD. Tech, food & travel enthusiast.

Think of a solution that can give your business a competitive advantage by giving it a global reach, improving service excellence, and creating unique customer experiences. Chances are you are thinking about a website or a web app. And while you are mostly right, you might be jamming two relatively distinct concepts into one. The truth is, there are differences between websites and web apps – some subtle, others quite distinct – and you do need to understand them to get those tasty benefits.

What is a Website?

According to the technical definition, a website is a group of interlinked static web pages with a single domain name. The “static” part means that the page is not expected to change its contents depending on user actions, which is why websites mostly serve as a source of information and a platform for marketing. Most news platforms like NYT and CNN, as well as home pages of companies, fall under this category.

Nowadays, however, developers often utilize the capabilities of Javascript and CSS to add interactive elements to their websites. It is not uncommon to see dynamic elements even on a simple About Us page. So a more encompassing rule-of-thumb definition would be a platform with the focus on informativeness rather than user interactions. Thus, while interactive elements can be present, they will mostly be geared towards the convenience of navigating the page.

Advantages of a Website

The main purpose of a website is to convey information – either to provide customer support, showcase products and services, or create an online presence. So a good website will offer the following benefits to a business:

  • Availability: A website is expected to be accessible over the Internet 24/7.
  • Compatibility: Once a website works in popular browsers, there’s no need to worry about launching it on different devices.
  • Discoverability: An SEO-optimized website is trivial to find online.
  • Instant Updates: All changes made to website content become available to users immediately.
  • Reach: The versatility and simplicity of websites make them suitable for a broader audience.
  • Cost-Efficiency: Websites are relatively easy to develop and maintain.

To sum up, websites are a good platform for publishing content and will work well for this purpose as long as you don’t expect them to do anything they were not intended for.

What is a Web App?

As with websites, the definition of web apps will differ based on who you ask. From a technical standpoint, a web application is a program that can be accessed with a web browser.

The client-side, also known as the front-end, is written in programming languages supported by web browsers, such as HTML, Javascript, and CSS.

The server-side, or the back-end, can use any programming stack that suits the purpose of the web apps development company, which makes them different from mobile apps.

Being an application at its core, a web app will be built with a focus on user interactions. However, as more websites take advantage of the rich features of modern web development, the line between websites and web apps gets increasingly blurry. Still, the latter are usually more responsive and dynamic. The majority of popular online services, ranging from social networks like Twitter and Facebook, video streaming services like Netflix and Youtube, to collaboration platforms like Asana and Google Suite, are examples of web apps.

Advantages of a Web App

In broad strokes, the goal of creating a web application is either to offer quality-of-life improvements for using the platform or to introduce features that cannot be delivered through static pages. So, a good web app will have the following benefits:

  • Responsiveness: Web apps provide a smoother user experience.
  • Accessibility: A web app can be run with just a web browser, no installation required.
  • Easy maintenance: All updates are accomplished on the server-side and are available to users at once.
  • Security: As long as the back-end is properly configured, there are no threats to end-users.
  • Efficiency: Simplicity and uniformity of the code make web apps easier and more affordable to develop and maintain.

To sum up, web apps are a sweet spot between websites and full-fledged apps that combine convenience with the richness of features and responsiveness.

SPA, PWA, and Everything In-between

As mentioned above, there is no clear division between websites and web apps, and many modern digital services incorporate elements from both domains. In other words, it’s more like a spectrum than two distinct categories. And, as you might expect, several approaches have since emerged that reside between websites and apps.

One is SPA or single-page application. This is essentially a tiny web app that loads into a web browser in the form of a single page. In SPAs, the majority of work is done on a client-side (in the browser), and additional elements are loaded on demand instead of reloading the entire page. This method offers additional responsiveness, compatibility, and simplicity, although the reliance on local resources may undermine the performance of weaker devices. Facebook is an example of SPA – all content is loaded when the user enters the website, and additional actions are accomplished by loading respective components.

Another middle ground is a progressive web app (PWA). This is essentially a website that takes advantage of the ever-expanding functionality of CSS, Javascript, and HTML to create interactivity usually found in applications. Once uploaded to the browser, PWAs can work locally, no connection to the Internet required.

The differences between a SPA and a PWA are mostly in technical intricacies, although the latter is more likely to work offline. A good example is Google Suite, which will let users edit documents offline but needs a connection to save or share them with others.

Website vs Web App: Differences Highlights

With so many intersection points, it may seem like differentiating between websites and web apps is next to impossible. One way to figure it out is to check how prominent some of the platform’s features are and see what direction they generally lean towards. Here are the three aspects to consider.

Interactivity

The most apparent feature of web apps is the degree of interaction they offer to their users. Websites usually stick with the “see but don’t touch” approach where users can access the content but may not alter it in any way. In a web app, the content of the page can be manipulated and will change in response to user actions.

Authentication

Web apps often rely on personalized content, which means they need to store personal information about the users. The easiest way to protect this information is to lock it with user-specific credentials like login and password. So, a web app will have some form of authentication more often than not. Websites, on the other hand, are designed to be as accessible as possible, so the information hosted on them is expected to be available at once. Websites may also utilize authentication (e.g., to access advanced features or receive regular updates), although in this case, it will probably be optional.

Integration

To let users accomplish more, web apps will often be integrated with other services. For instance, an online store can be integrated with a CRM platform to improve customer experience by analyzing data and providing personalized offers. Again, websites can pursue the same strategy. However, the outcome of this integration will likely be only a minor enhancement, whereas web apps will use it as a part of their mainline offering.

Choosing Between Website and Web Application Development

To understand whether your business needs a web app or a website, you should clearly understand your goals. Websites are great for information and marketing purposes, so if you aim to establish an online presence, educate the audience about your brand, showcase products, or share compelling stories – that’s what you will need.

Web apps, on the other hand, are intended to optimize business processes, so if you want to make the life of your clients easier, improve the quality of service, or find a way to exceed customer expectations – that’s the task that web app development can accomplish.

Of course, there are cases where you’ll need to combine the two. Presentation pages can benefit from additional interactive elements, and you might want to add a registration option to keep users engaged. Still, on average, choose a web app to solve business problems and websites to share information.

Final Thoughts

Websites and web apps have become essential components of business in the digital-first landscape. Ultimately, both perform the same task – boosting business growth by creating value for customers – they just do it in a number of ways. Understanding these differences will help you avoid unnecessary expenses and establish an online presence to the best advantage.

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