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Website vs. Web App: Which is Best for Modern Business

Computer surrounded by computer phone and tablet

Most have a good handle on what a website is these days. If you need information about something, you search for the website for that thing. It is just the way that things are done now and it has led to the internet as we know it. As more businesses are going online though, we are finding a new type of website in the wild. The web application, or web app, is often brought up as something that is completely different than the websites we have come to know over time. The real question is, are they actually different things? On the surface, these web apps appear to be almost identical to ordinary websites.

Web Applications for a more useful internet

As an agency that specializes in this sort of thing, we casually use the term web app from time to time when describing what we build. The distinction between a website and a web app isn’t a clearly defined one, but it is something that has developed more over time. A web app is a website that is intended to do more than just present content to a visitor. Why just show the hours of your business when you can have users plan their visit, buy tickets, and reserve spots for specific events on a calendar? Being more of a one-stop-shop is just one of the aspects of a web app.

We use the term to categorize the projects that we do, as the amount of architectural planning and care puts these websites further into application territory. Web apps are more challenging to build, take planning, and need thoughtful consideration around security and performance. We also believe that for our clients an application type experience is much more useful for their staff and visitors alike. As with other types of applications, desktop, mobile, or otherwise, web apps often provide greater functionality.

Are all Web Apps still just websites?

With the rise and complete acceptance of mobile apps in the last decade, it has caused a demand for more “app-like” website experiences. These experiences have similar design and functional choices to some of the more commonly used mobile apps around. With a focus on smooth interfaces, quick response, and great mobile functionality, taking an approach to a user interface with an app in mind seems to be the expected approach now.

It can still be a bit confusing though. With a CMS like Drupal, for example, there are aspects of the system that appear app-like out of the box.  Frameworks like ReactJS take this even further.  The sites you build with these tools aren’t web apps necessarily, but the structure underneath the hood is designed with that sort of experience in mind. With such systems, you can put together a quick website that has all the normal trappings you would expect, yet you can also engineer a robust web app without changing much of the underlying configuration.  

Ultimately, web apps are still websites with a specific intent to make a seamless and responsive experience that feels like more than a digital brochure. The name change has been slowing spreading across the internet as users begin to expect more. Will these web apps ultimately remove the need for mobile apps? Probably not all of them, but a great web app could easily replace a mobile app.

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Brian Seek

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