You’re not alone: we’ve heard it over and over again. The good old websites vs web applications debate is a fire that every so often, is rekindled here and there.
Well, what are the differences between websites and web applications? Putting aside the fact that both have the word “web” in them, they’re not exactly quite the same.
You might have encountered these words and are wondering what is the “best” one for you. You might not even know what these are & you’re interested to know more about them.
Regardless of who you are or what you do, read on to walk away with a concrete decision on what you need.
Websites vs Web Applications: The Websites Bit
Let’s keep it simple: websites are sets of web pages built using predominantly 3 languages called HTML, CSS & JS (those are the short versions by the way).
Every website is there to contain & display information. Whether that’s in the form of text, images or video you essentially want to present yourself or your business to your visitors.
The webpages are accessible and they are all tied to a specific person, business or organisation. A website is key to increasing your organic reach & showcasing your expertise so you need them.
Websites vs Web Applications: The Web Applications Bit
Ever used Google Drive? Office 365? Airbnb?
Yep, they’re all web applications.
Web applications are available through the comfort of your browser 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They’re way more interactive than websites. Now it’s not just about sharing and presenting information, it’s also about getting your visitors to feel more involved and invested.
Web apps are dynamic, modern & complex. They are literal substitutes for applications that you would have installed on your computer. Smart people have figured out ways so that you can access them now over the web, without you having to install anything. They’re installed on a remote server somewhere else & not on your device.
They came along with a surge in the term: SAAS which stands for Software As A Service. It came along and with it came web applications. They are designed with a specific audience in mind as they provide a personalised experience. With the UI changing & adapting depending on the data that we have about the user, analysing factors like the below, is critical:
- Data Flows – What data does the user interact with? What information do we store about them? What data can they change and where?
- Roles – Are they an admin? Are they a teacher? Are they a clinician? Do they have access to different areas of the web app? Are their permissions managed by someone else? If so, by who?
- Actions – Do they need to have the ability to input data? Delete data? What do they really want to do?
This makes web applications harder to engineer & architect in comparison to websites – more time needed, higher costs.
Why Do I Need a Website?
There are a few reasons:
- SEO optimised as they are there for public viewing
- An effective method for showcasing your products & services and generating interest
- Cheaper to design & develop
- Can be massively customised due to the current CMS options on the market e.g. WordPress, Drupal, Joomla
Why Do I Need a Web Application?
Sometimes you don’t need a website.
- 24/7/365 accessibility via push notifications
- Can mimic native mobile app functionality at a lower cost
- Bespoke requirements (I’m too special)
- Powerful integration capabilities
Websites are made for possible new clients and visitors. The content on there needs to introduce you or your business & is more geared to the general target market of your industry.
Because of this, it’s of paramount importance that you are available on the one place everyone goes to. That’s Google. Websites are crawlable by Google & can easily be searched and be found on the SERP (search engine result pages).
However, web applications are not by default crawlable & are suited for a more focused target market which doesn’t need to search for your web app. Your web applications should have been designed based on the requirements that the users need – not everyone in the world searching for your business wants your web application.
Web applications are bespoke & are made specifically for you. They can have loads of functionality from user authentication & authorisation through integration with your more private internal systems to fancy-looking charts and graphs. Due to this, they, of course, need more engineering and so need more time. More time means more work and more work means a higher cost.
Websites take less time to build and develop as their scope can be much smaller. The code behind displaying information is much shorter than the code that’s added for data analysis, permission management and so on. This means that most of the time, they are cheaper than web applications and are more suited for smaller budgets.
Websites vs Web Applications in Terms of Customisation
CMS platforms like WordPress can be a huge time saver for websites as they let you mix, match, write, upload & edit content instantly and easily. They can lower your costs in the long run as you don’t need to outsource everything and don’t need to ring your favourite web developers every time you need to make a small change.
Despite the customisation options available to you on the backend, you can’t customise uniquely what the user can see. Web apps let you do that. As web apps can have identity solutions built-in, you can obtain, analyse and use data from the user to provide them with the best experience possible. You can also use this data to grant them access to various areas of your web applications, show them specific modals and popups, prevent them from carrying out specific actions and more.
Websites can be massively customisable however web applications can give you a much larger insight into your users.
The purpose of a website is to inform users, while the purpose of a web application is to serve users.
Web apps are more user-centric, with correct web app design involving extensive research into user flows & behaviour. After all, they are the ones who are going to be using the product. From this perspective, they need to be interactive as they are letting the user carry out actions that we have preplanned and allowed them to do within the app. They are not just reading information as they would be on a website.
Since websites are there to inform, the maximum amount of interactivity that you may see on one is the contact us form which is for lead generation. Other than that, it actually will be disadvantageous for your business to include more bells and whistles which can be a distraction from the main goal: purchasing your product and services or contacting you as a potential client.
Web applications are very integrative compared to websites. Websites can have CMS systems on the backend and at the very most, have external plugins which extend functionality up to a limited point.
Elements like the below are usually what businesses want to integrate in our experience:
- Social media platforms – displaying Instagram images on your web app, instant sharing of products, real-time feed of your tweets, etc.
- Payment gateways – Stripe, PayPal & Sage are a few examples
- Review systems – Google Reviews, Yelp, etc.
- Appointment / Booking systems – for hotels, restaurants, travel agents etc.
- Event data integration
- Live data feeds from various sources
- Custom APIs – SAP, D365, etc.
- Healthcare systems – CIMAR etc.
There’s a reason the websites vs web applications conversation still exists. There are a lot of reasons why you may pick one over the other or might need both depending on your requirements & budget.
Building a web app is more involved and more costly – if you don’t have a website yet and you have a business, get a website ASAP. If you do have a website and want to provide more custom functionality for your users, then you probably need a web app. Think admin portals, data dashboards, and reporting systems. Web applications can also be a great substitute for mobile apps as they can mimic native functionality all through the browser, saving you money but also increasing your potential target market.
Websites facilitate one-way interaction while web apps facilitate two-way interactions.
It all depends on what you need.
Do you have any questions about websites vs web applications? Ask away in the comments section below!