Choosing between a web application and a website, you may wonder what the exact difference is. At one point, it may seem that there is no difference at all. The definitions are controversial, and sometimes they overlap. Both websites and web applications run in browsers, both require access to the internet, both have a front end and a back end written in the same programming languages. What is more, they both possess such attributes as interactivity, integration, and authentication. Still, we believe that the web application vs. website difference not only exists but also is vital to understand clearly when you are looking for an online solution for your business. Web application development differs significantly from the development of a website. So let's dot the I's and find out what distinguishes these kinds of web software and which option is better for you.
Grasp the difference
There are several points that draw a line between a website and a web application.
Point 1. Interactivity
The first point to start ‘web application vs. website’ differentiation with is interactivity. A website provides visual and text content that the user can see and read, but not affect in any way. In the case of a web application, the user can not only read the page content but also manipulate the data on this page. The interaction takes the form of a dialog: the user clicks a button or submits a form and gets a response from the page. This response may take a form of a document download, online chat, electronic payment and more.
An illustrative example of a web application interactivity is an online banking application that performs transactions based on a customer’s input. Similar functionality can be found in an online store that allows visitors to search through the catalog and buy items instantly. Social networks are another impressive example. They connect users via chats and blog platforms, generate feed content based on users’ preferences and allow for almost unlimited content sharing, not to speak of their built-in mini-applications for user entertainment.
The problem is that today one can rarely encounter a website without a hint of interactivity. Modern websites usually contain small web application elements. For example, a restaurant’s website may contain a Google Maps widget showing a route to this restaurant. However, in the case of websites, the balance between the informational content and interactivity is shifted towards the former. A typical website contains far fewer interactive elements than informational content, and the user usually spends most of the time on a website reading, viewing, or listening. The situation is the opposite with web applications, as their core functionality is based on interaction.
Point 2. Integration
Integration means bringing together different components to build a more comprehensive system. Both websites and web applications can be integrated with other software (CRM, ERP, etc.). Still, integration is more typical for web applications, because their complex functionality often requires interaction with extra systems.
Take integration of a business web application (say, an e-shop) with a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. A CRM stores all customer data in one place, providing easy access to them for the employees. The integration will allow automatic collection of web application user data and storing it in the CRM. This way, your team will get access to a full set of data about customers, their inquiries, communication, and feedback. This enables exploring customer behavior and buying habits, as well as settle their claims faster. Moreover, any change in customer data will be reflected in the CRM instantly. Always staying up to date with your customer preferences, you will reduce churn rates and increase sales.
A website also can be integrated with a CRM. This allows providing users with more personalized content. However, for a website, it’s rather a rarely implemented feature than a part of the core functionality.
Point 3. Authentication
Authentication is the procedure that involves entering a user’s login and password to get access to the system. It is a must for the web software that requires any personal information. User accounts must be secured to prevent unauthorized access and leakage of sensitive data.
Web applications mostly require authentication, as they offer a much broader scope of options than websites. Consider an example of social networks. When you register, you create an account and get a unique identification number. The system warns you if your login and password are weak. If you leave them unchanged, hackers may reach your account and steal your information, as well as irritate other users with junk emails under your name.
Authentication is not obligatory for informational websites. The user may be offered to register to get access to additional options unavailable to unregistered website visitors. For example, you may look through news and featured articles on a news website without bothering to register. However, if you want to leave a comment you will have to log in. This way, users confirm their identity allowing the system to block spammers.
As you can see, both websites and web applications may require authentication. However, for web applications, it is obligatory due to security reasons.
Web applications with special names
There are web applications with special names that may already be familiar to you:
A portal is an environment for integrating diverse applications and various content. It enables to configure content and offers personalized user experience, which means that the user gets only the content tailored to what he or she needs.
Consider a bank web portal as an example. It may provide links to account information, bill payments, and deposits. Each of them is a web application, but they are accessed from the central hub – the web portal.
An online store (or an e-shop) is an application used for selling goods or services over the internet. The process goes the following way: a customer chooses a product and clicks a button to order it; then, the system processes the order.
One of the features of an online store is the users’ ability to make online payments. To pay online, the user should indicate their credit card number, and, in some cases, passport details, email, or telephone number. To make the transaction secure, the user has to be authorized.
Who you need: website developers or web application developers
Deciding on which specialists to hire, you should consider your business needs first. If you need a website, not a web application, a small web studio may be the best choice. Such a company can provide you with a unique and good-looking website, where you can display the information about your company. Still, later on, you may decide to add web applications to your website, and this may cause the need for more qualified assistance.
If you need a web application, not a website, turn to web application developers. These specialists usually have extensive development skills and are able to implement a broader range of functions. So, if you need intense interactivity, integration with other corporative systems and top-notch security level, opt for the companies offering web application development.
Choosing between website and web application developers, keep in mind your business goals, products or services you offer, your customers, and other factors. Make sure the specialists have the required competence to tailor your online presence to your needs.
Now, as you have grasped the ‘web application vs. website’ difference, it is easier for you to understand which online solution suits your business needs. If you want your web page mostly to display some information — opt for a website. If you need interaction with users and additional functionality, such as the ability to make transactions online, or you want to actively benefit from integration with extra systems and high security protection level — choose in favor of web applications. Just make sure you weigh up all the pros and cons first, not just blindly follow trends.