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The Difference Between a Web App And a Website, Explained

If you ever feel confused when asked about the difference between a website and a web application, we feel you. It’s quite hard to distinguish between those two fairly similar terms. Yet, they can’t be used interchangeably. If you need to build a website or a web application, check out IT Delight, a web development agency.

Meanwhile, in this article, we’ll talk about the main differences between a web app and a website and how to understand when you need one. Without further ado, let’s get started.

What is the main difference between a website and a web app?

Before anything else, let’s turn to the established definition of both terms in Technopedia.

According to the source, a website is a collection of interlinked web pages with a single domain name.

Meanwhile, a web-based application is a program accessed via the Internet. It doesn’t exist within the device’s memory and is connected using HTTP.

Well, now it’s all cleared up, right? Just kidding. Those definitions aren’t complete and don’t cover all the aspects and features of websites and web applications.

While doing research, you’ll see that most articles distinguish the two terms by three main factors, authorization, integration, and interactivity. But you need to consider that websites have greatly evolved over the last two decades and have become just as functional and robust as web applications. These days, websites provide great interactivity, have complex back-ends, and can be integrated with various CRM or third-party applications. As a result, it became quite difficult to distinguish between a website and a web application.

Let’s discuss each term’s details to understand them better.

When do you need to create a website?

Websites are created to serve various purposes. For example:

  • gather information in a single place
  • establish an online presence for a company
  • increase brand awareness
  • showcase various products and services

There also are different types of websites. Let’s take a look at some of them:

  • Personal or business websites that contain data about a company or a person. They are also a way of generating leads.
  • Landing pages. Those are usually one-page sites that describe specific products or services. They also generate leads. Businesses often create separate landing pages for different products or services. Customers can purchase products directly from the landing page.
  • Informational websites. They usually contain a wide variety of content, from articles and blog posts to videos and images. Such pages as Wikipedia or Forbes are considered informational. Their purpose is to educate users and inform them about different topics. Users are often part of the community and can create posts there.
  • eCommerce websites. These include online stores and marketplaces, review websites, etc. Among the most popular ones are Amazon, Etsy, eBay, and so on. Most of them have considerable and feature-rich websites with a solid back end.
  • Directories. The main purpose of those websites is to create an environment where people can find professionals in various fields.

Most of the websites have the following features:

  • Search tab
  • Registration page and user profile
  • Newsletter subscription
  • Products and services catalog
  • Shopping cart
  • Payments
  • Reviews
  • Blog
  • Contact & subscription forms
  • Contact management system
  • Admin panel

So, what’s a website? Websites have the following characteristics:

  • Accessibility. You don’t need to download or install a website. Instead, you can easily access it via the web browser by either entering the URL or searching it via search engines, such as Google. However, there are thousands of websites on the Internet, and if you want yours to rank high on the search page results, it needs to have excellent SEO.
  • Shareability. It’s quite easy to share the websites with others; you can just send the URL to other users.
  • Responsibility. No matter what device you are using, a mobile phone or laptop, modern websites have responsive designs that adapt to the screen size.
  • CMS. Most websites have a content management system in place that allows editing and managing the content easily. You don’t need the developer’s help to make some minor changes.

When do you need to build a web application? 

Let’s review some of the cases when a web application is a right solution:

  • Optimize the workflow and automate many tasks
  • Have a system with restricted access
  • Provide digital interactions between the business and customers
  • Gather and analyze various information
  • Work with a wide variety of goods and services
  • Distribute the web app on the SaaS model

Now let’s talk about examples of web apps:

  • Web portals. Those closed systems allow users to communicate with the business only after they are authorized into the system.
  • Customer management systems. Those are mainly used to manage sales and marketing campaigns. With CMS, employees won’t spend tons of time on mundane tasks and can sync the data with other apps.
  • Content management systems. Those web apps allow managing content on the website without the help of developers.
  • Enterprise resource planning. If you have multiple departments in the company that each have separate applications for work, ERP helps to integrate all the apps and synchronize data.

Web application vs. website: Which one to build? 

When deciding between a web application and a website, you need to think about the purpose you want to achieve:

  • A web app is a way to go if you need a solution that covers only inner business processes. It won’t have an impressive design, but it’s functional and robust.
  • Similarly, the web application is the right choice if you want to sell the SaaS solution.
  • Meanwhile, a website is a more suitable platform if you need to engage customers and communicate with them. You can integrate it with CRM or ERP to ensure better automation.
  • If most of your customers are mobile users, you need a responsive website, PWA, or a mobile app.

Final thoughts

For starters, you can create a simple website or an app to see how your business and customers interact with it. After you’ve seen how both solutions work in practice, it’s time to turn your MVP into a full-scale solution, whether it’s a responsive website or a web application.