Table of content
How many times have you scrolled a web page, wondering if you're on a website or a web app? Never, we bet. Well, this is not surprising, as the difference between a website and a web app is not a big deal for the average user.
However, the website vs. web app standoff gains momentum when choosing one to conduct your business online. Do you only want to spread the word about your business? Or having users interacting with the webpage by clicking on buttons and sending requests to the server? Your answers will define your final choice.
This article will unveil the difference between a web app and a website. You'll also learn how to choose between both options, based on your business purposes.
What Is a Website?
As the formal definition goes, a website is a collection of interlinked webpages pulled together under a single domain. In other words, a website is a collection of the content displayed on several web pages that share the same web address.
In essence, websites are merely informative and static, meaning their web pages are not updated dynamically. Websites usually have a homepage, navigation bar and a footer. They may take the form of blogs, landing pages, portfolios, etc.
Websites are used for many other purposes, like digital media, educational websites, e-commerce sites, forums, etc. An example of a website is the page you are visiting now – Uptech’s blog. It only offers information, with some basic interactive features.
Websites can bear identifiable domains:
- .gov (Government agency websites)
- .edu (Educational institutions’ websites)
- .org (Nonprofit organizations’ websites)
- .com (Commercial websites)
- .info (Information sites).
What Is a Web Application
A web application is a computer software accessed via a web browser, linked to a database to provide an interactive user-customizable experience.
A web application is a website with more interactive elements aimed at user engagement. Web applications work by responding to a user's request sent to the web server. Unlike websites, web apps perform certain functions instead of merely displaying content or delivering information. The examples of web apps are YouTube, Twitter, Google Analytics, Plai, etc.
Web applications leverage the web server to process complex user requests. Thus, web apps can perform many actions:
- Account verification;
- Making money transactions;
- Booking hotels;
- Managing content;
- Food ordering.
Other web application types
The boundary separating a web app and a website is becoming more and more blurred. The main reason for that is the emergence of new “hybrid” frameworks, like Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) and Single-Page Applications (SPA).
- A single-page application (SPA)
Single page application (SPA) is a static web page, which integrates some interactive and updatable elements. The best example of an SPA is your email inbox where the sidebar and header remain static while you navigate the page. Also, you can open and close emails, create and send new emails and get notifications – all on one page.
- Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)
A progressive web app is a framework, which runs on the web, but leverages a range of feature extensions, and is typically used for mobile apps. The main peculiarity of PWAs is that they can work offline and push notifications. At the same time, you can add the PWA on your home screen, although it's not typical for a website.
3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Building a Web Application vs Website
Before plunging into web development, there is a list of things you should consider. Here they are:
What are you building for: website vs web app ?
A website is useful when you aim to inform your user about your product. Let's say you are launching a mobile app, but you could create a simple landing page to promote the app.
For example, Aspiration, a green financial services provider and our client, uses a one-page landing with a subscription form to engage users and promote its product.
Meanwhile, a web app is more interactive, providing more opportunities for a user to interact with the displayed content. If you are aiming for deeper user involvement, web applications might be the better option for you.
Let’s take an example of web applications – Google Apps, which include Gmail, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides. These office work apps are dynamic and updatable, which allow the entire team to access important files and make changes accordingly.
Another example of a web application is real estate apps. Users can view accommodation options, archive them, appoint meetings with real estate agents, make apartment viewings, etc.
How much efforts are you ready to invest?
Web apps require a more profound approach, which include the discovery stage, UX building, front-end, and back-end development, etc. To this end, many complex programming languages may be used, such as Ruby on Rails, Python, or React. Thus, web app development turns out to be a complex task for a team of professionals. Usually, a team tasked in building web apps involve product managers, front-end and back-end developers, QA engineers, web designers, etc.
How do you see your product?
How do you see your product from a long-term perspective? What kind of functionality will it include? Answers to these questions translate into your product's vision and your choice between a webapp and a website. So, take these features into considerations when making up your mind:
- Complex calculations
If you want your app to process complex calculations, a web app comes as a better choice. The reason is that a web app uses a web server to process users' requests. So if a user requests the server to make a calculation, it can easily handle this task.
As for a website, the calculations would have to be processed on the device, which will consume a lot of the device's storage and power.
- Push notifications
You can have push notifications on both: a website and a web app. Push notifications are clickable messages, which encourage a user to take action.
While push notifications are more of an app attribute, websites can efficiently leverage them to add user interaction without a need to build a full-fledged app.
- Instant updating
At first sight, instant page updating is only viable for web apps. Yet, websites can also have their pages updated, but only by a website administrator in a website building software like Webflow.
When it comes to automatic web page updates, web applications are the only way to go.
Here is a brief rundown on other things to have in mind before starting a web development project.
When should you opt for a website?
The difference between website and web application is obvious. A website is a visit card of your product. It can be used to gain new clients, get more leads, build a strong brand identity, increase sales, etc.
Websites are cheap and simple, making it a good option for founders who need to validate their business idea before investing in a website application.
Our team used a website to validate the business idea of Plai – an OKR management platform for millennials. At first, it was just a simple HTML-website with an email subscription form. This way, we gathered feedback from potential users and figured out that the idea of a platform for OKR alignment is viable. After that, we started to develop the web application itself.
When to choose a web app over the website?
Whether it is a booking application, online store, or a customer relations management system – you can implement any product idea via a website app. If you want your product to be interactive, engaging, advanced, and profitable, then a web app is your go-to option.
Both a website and web app are great tools to conduct business online. The only criteria for choosing between the two is the nature and purposes of your business.
If you have a business idea on your mind but cannot make up your mind on its realization, we are here to assist you. Contact us to discuss your project, and this could be the start of a new startup-unicorn.