Jul 22, 2022

Digiteum Team

web app vs. website

Digital Strategy, Web

Website vs. Web Application: What to Choose for Your Business?

Struggling with website vs. web application dilemma? Both allow you to reach your audience online. Both let you showcase your services and products. And best of all, both help you transform users into loyal customers or clients.

Which one is the right choice for your business then? This quick comparison guide will help you make an informed decision. We will explain how to tell website and web app apart and choose the option that best fits your specific business needs. So that you could put your money where your opportunities are.

What is a website?

You are on a website right now. www.digiteum.com is a website of a software development company. We use it to tell our visitors about our services, values, success stories, and experience. Essentially, it’s a web system that consists of a set of interlinked and related web pages published on one domain name (digiteum in this case).

As you can see, there’s not much interactivity. This is the main difference between website and web application that is always highly interactive. You can click on links, check the menu, browse through pages, and use our in-built contact form, but that’s about it.

Just like www.digiteum.com, most websites are designed for a wide audience and have little room for personalization. The major goals of a website are to inform, educate, introduce a product or service or promote a brand.

Websites usually can’t boast of multiple interactive features other than live chats, contact forms, or downloadable content. The exception is an online store that has basic eCommerce features (cart, order, payment, etc.).

Check a few common types of websites you often land on.

Online store

An eCommerce website has all the basic features to showcase and sell products online (product page, ordering, shopping cart, payment, shipping, etc.).

Business website

A corporate website allows a company to introduce its services and products online and provide contact information to customers and clients.

Sony Music website

Sony Music website. Image credit: Sony Music Entertainment

Portfolio

A portfolio website helps a solopreneur or a company showcase completed projects and work samples.

Landing page

A landing page is a one-page website that promotes a product, service, or event and gives the audience a single call-to-action (e.g. register for an event, download an app).

Fitness AI website

FitnessAI landing page. Image credit: FitnessAI Inc.

What is a web app?

A web application is software that runs in a web browser and provides users with a range of online services. You can compare it to a native application that you download and work with on your desktop, sometimes for hours. Only a web app runs in Chrome or any other browser of your choice and updates in real-time, provided that you are online.

Gmail is the simplest example of a web app that you probably use every day.

Web applications are dynamic, feature-rich, and highly interactive. They have a way more complex architecture than a website and considerably higher tech requirements. Hence, higher cost of development. We will touch upon this point later, so read on.

Web apps are characterized by:

  • High speed and performance requirements. A web app must immediately respond to any user command, no matter how many users are sitting in the app right now. It is also important for real-time content updates.
  • Complex business logic, often both at frontend (user interface or client-side) and backend (server-side).
  • Integrations with other business applications (CRM, ERP, etc.) and 3rd party services.
  • Scalable data management and storage services (cloud-based or on-premises).

Both web app and website may target a wide audience. However, most web app features will be accessible only upon sign-in. Think of Dropbox or Netflix and you will immediately grasp the idea.

web applications

Are you looking for a skilled team to help you design and develop your app? Check out custom web application development services and contact our team to kick off with your project.

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There are a few common types of web applications you hear about here and there.

Single-page applications

A single-page app consists of one page. It dynamically changes content when a user sends some request (clicks on something) or when content needs an update. Gmail is a single-page app. It is designed in a way that only the parts that users interact with dynamically reload, while the rest of the page remains intact. This provides incredible speed.

Progressive web applications (PWA)

This is a new generation of apps that combine the benefits of a native application and a web app. Just like any other web app, it runs in a browser. But if you decide to install a PWA, it will give you certain benefits like offline mode and data synch. Spotify is a great example of a PWA.

Web portal

A web portal is a web system designed for a specific target audience (bank portal, vendor portal, patient portal, etc.). In most cases, users need to go through an authentication step to get in. Once signed in, users can access personalized content and one or more web apps gathered on one portal. Check a web portal for Mayo Clinic, where patients manage appointments, medical data, and bills.

Now that we made a basic review, let’s move to a side-by-side web app vs. website comparison.

Web app vs. website comparison table

We put together the comparison of web app and website based on key parameters such as cost of development, resources, performance, and capabilities.

Compare Website Web application
Interactivity Low High
Capabilities Simple functionality Complex, scalable software with multiple integration opportunities
Support Occasional support and updates Continuous support and infrastructure maintenance
Team Starting from a one-person dev team (excl. design and content) Cross-functional team (BA, PM, designer, developers, QA, DevOps)
Cost Low cost of development thanks to existing templates/website builders/CMS Cost varies depending on functionality and scale, generally higher than website cost
Common technologies HTML5/CSS3, JavaScript, CMS platforms (WordPress, Drupal, Shopify, Joomla) Modern frontend (Angular, React) and backend (.NET, Java, Node.js) technologies, cloud platforms, and data management tools

Web application vs. website comparison table

Interactivity

Web apps are considerably more interactive compared to websites. This can be explained by the difference in purpose. Websites usually present information or product, while a web application is designed as a service (e.g. document management, marketing dashboard). Nevertheless, both a web app and a website must be responsive and able to dynamically react to user commands.

Functionality

Web applications are functional, and the number of features usually grows along with increasing business and user needs. Websites have a limited number of features. It usually grows by adding new web pages and content.

Team

Web development team structure consists of several cross-functional specialists, including a UX/UI designer, frontend and backend engineers, QA, and PM. To build a simple website, you can manage with one skilled web developer by leveraging out-of-the-box solutions – modern CMS platforms and plugins, web builders like Wix or Squarespace, as well as design templates. Mind that custom website development will require more resources.

Technologies

A more complex tech stack is another big difference between web application and website.

As we’ve just mentioned, a simple website, for example, a blog or a landing page, can be built with ready-to-use solutions like WordPress or Shopify for an online store. Your dev team must have frontend skills (HTML/CSS, JavaScript) for interface development and can use CMS solutions for the backend. For a more complex custom website development, consider modern frameworks and platforms (React, Angular, .NET, Java).

Web app tech stack depends on functional (what it should do) and non-functional (how it should perform) requirements. It includes major frontend (Angular, React, Vue.js) and backend (Node.js, .NET, Java, Python) technologies, cloud platforms (AWS, Azure, Google Cloud) and database solutions (MongoDB, MS SQL Server, MySQL). Plus, additional tools for testing, infrastructure management, and deployment.

Support

A well-designed, built and tested website requires regular updates and occasional support. Using a simple CMS, you will be able to add new pages and update content without the help of a developer.

A web application is a more dynamic, scalable system that often requires continuous support and infrastructure maintenance. Especially if we talk about data-intensive cloud-based applications.

Cost

The cost of development depends on the team structure and location, the complexity of your application or website, and the tech stack. Generally, it will cost more to build a web app than a website. First, because you will need a bigger team. Secondly, a web app is a more complex scalable system built on top of various technologies.

If you need to get an estimate for web app development, leave your request. Our specialists will contact you within 1 business day to book a quick call and gather requirements for a high-level estimate.

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When to choose a website

Websites are easier and cheaper to build and run. There are several reasons why you would choose this option.

  • Your business is offline. If you run your business offline, say, you have a small dentist clinic, you don’t even need to consider which one is better for you, web application or website. To establish your presence online for informational and marketing purposes only, a website would be enough.
  • You want to retain/attract clients/customers and increase brand awareness. If your goal is to connect to your audience, attract new customers or clients, and increase brand awareness and recognition, for instance, by promoting your services or sharing valuable content on a blog, a website will do the job.
  • You need to showcase and sell services or products. To showcase and sell your product online, choose between website vs. web app based on the scale and services you plan to provide. You can build a simple online store using a website builder like Squarespace. However, if you run a mature retail company and want to bring in the full power of eCommerce (loyalty programs, custom product builders, recommendation services, customer dashboard, etc.), you’re gonna need a bigger boat.

When to choose a web application

Web application is fully-fledged software that runs in a browser. Consider this option if:

  • You run your business online. If you provide services online, for example, help users plan complex tours online using drag-and-drop tools, online booking and insurance matching services, you will be building a web app.
  • You develop an interactive experience. If your product is interactive, e.g. a photo editing tool or a gamified language learning program, a web app is your choice.
  • You need to expand to web. If you already have a native mobile app or/and a desktop application and want to make it easier for your customers/clients to access your services online on any device, consider adding a web app.

As you can see, the choice between website or web application depends primarily on the purpose of the system and your goals. These options are usually not interchangeable. And a website is not exactly a more affordable form of a web app.

Get your web project started with Digiteum

So, what’s it gonna be?

If you have doubts and could use expert advice on your web project, ask our team. We can help you define requirements and figure out how to use web technologies to hit your business targets. With your budget and delivery goals in mind. You can rely on:

  • 12+ years of experience in web development services and a proven track record.
  • Delivery of award-winning web applications for world-renowned brands (Printique, Diaceutics, Origin Digital, Lodgify, etc.).
  • Modern tech stack (Angular, React, Vue.js, .NET, Java, Python, Node.js, AWS, Google Cloud, Azure, etc.).
  • 50+ developers with 7+ years of experience on average.
  • Quality of delivery and service guaranteed by double ISO certification (ISO 9001, ISO 27001).

Check a huge high-load web system we've built for a US-leading printing company Printique. It contains several interactive web applications for designing custom photo products (books, calendars, wall decor, etc.) and provides superior experience to millions of online users, helping Printique continuously increase revenue and expand business.

high-load system development

Wall Decor web app helps Printique increase wall print orders

"The technological agility that the team provides is our biggest market strength. The project management, design, and development that they provide is second to none." David Nicoletti, former CMO & Product Owner at Printique.

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Quick wrap-up

When reviewing web application vs. website options, consider the purpose and complexity of the system you need to build. Choose a website to tell your customers what you do and connect with them online. Choose a web app to provide online services.

FAQ

What is the difference between a website and a web application?
A web application is a very interactive web system that runs in a browser and allows users to actively manipulate the interface. A website is a group of web pages that work primarily as a source of information.
Are web apps a better choice than websites?
Web apps and websites serve different purposes. A web app is designed to serve users and enables interaction, while a website is primarily focused on providing information.
What is cheaper to develop: web application or website?
A website is generally cheaper to develop compared to a web app. Web apps are more functional and interactive, hence more expensive to develop and support.