Web Applications vs. Websites

By / Data + Analytics, Technology

Wondering what differentiates a web application from a website, or stuck between which one is right for your business? Our knowledgeable Senior WordPress Developer shares her insights.

As a web developer, I am asked a lot of questions from business owners who are thinking of adding a website to their marketing initiatives. One business owner may request a site to act as a handy source of information, while another may want to add a social media site as a place for customers to create a community. The difference between these two is vast. Though the owners of both businesses think they want a website, only the first is actually a website. The second is a web application.

What is the difference?

Websites only show things to users. They are purely informational and don’t have many moving parts. They might have images, video, and text, but this content can’t be changed. They are similar to well- formatted PSDs.

On the other hand, web applications allow users to interact with the data and subsequently make changes. One example of a web application is Facebook. Facebook lets users change their profile pictures, update their statuses, and include many other pieces of data. Web applications are as powerful and flexible as desktop applications. The difference between viewing a website and a web application can be as stark as the difference between viewing a PSD and editing a Word Document.

Many websites are web applications under the hood. Every website that allows businesses to log in and change content is actually a web application. Though it might seem like they are primarily informational to most users, the fact that even a small number of users can change the content makes these sites web applications. This includes every website built with a CMS like WordPress.

Why choose a web application?

The first reason for choosing a web application is that it allows you to edit the information and images on your site without learning how to code. They also allow many business operations to be integrated into your site. For example, web applications may help business quickly generate leads and even compile metrics. Because they are so powerful, web applications can even be the cornerstone of a business by increasing productivity and reaching distant customers.

Why choose a website?

One critical reason why business owners may choose a website over a web application is security. Web applications are vulnerable to hacking and viruses just like desktop applications. If a computer has a virus on it, then the Microsoft software on that computer is vulnerable as well. Likewise, compromised hosting can jeopardize all the web applications running on that server.

So, just as you would install anti-virus software on your computer, you have to ensure that your web application site is hosted on a safe platform. If a virus is introduced, then it’s easy for the site to be overrun by spam.

Choosing a website also minimizes the required maintenance. Business resources are needed to maintain web applications, whether this means writing and uploading blogs or keeping the application updated to protect from vulnerability, while websites do not. If you just want to provide your customers with information, but don’t wish to dedicate the resources to generate content and regularly maintain the site, then you might be better off with a website.

In short, a website and a web application are two different investments. A website can be a convenient way to show users information but lacks many other functions. A web application can handle many business tasks and responsibilities, but because a web application is so powerful, it requires ongoing care and investment. Whether you choose a website or a web application is up to the needs and resources of your business.

Written by / Data + Analytics, Technology


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