Website vs. Web Application: What to Choose for Your Business?
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.
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.
An eCommerce website has all the basic features to showcase and sell products online (product page, ordering, shopping cart, payment, shipping, etc.).
A corporate website allows a company to introduce its services and products online and provide contact information to customers and clients.
Sony Music website. Image credit: Sony Music Entertainment
A portfolio website helps a solopreneur or a company showcase completed projects and work samples.
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).
FitnessAI landing page. Image credit: FitnessAI Inc.
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.
There are a few common types of web applications you hear about here and there.
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.
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
Now that we made a basic review, let’s move to a side-by-side web app vs. website comparison.
We put together the comparison of web app and website based on key parameters such as cost of development, resources, performance, and capabilities.
Web application vs. website comparison table
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.
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.
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.
A more complex tech stack is another big difference between web application and website.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.