Website vs. Web App: What is the difference?

Alex Shepliakov 08/07/2021 4 min read

Contents:

  1. Interactivity
  2. Complexity
  3. Authentication
  4. Completion and deployment
  5. Conclusion

Unless out of pure curiosity, you don’t need to understand the web app vs. website nuances when browsing the web. You visit the pages, follow the links, buy the goods and get a complete user experience. The main thing for any customer is to get what they expect from their user journey.

But what if you want to build a website? Or is it going to be a web app? How do you know which one you need? Or, an even bigger question – what is the difference between a website and a web application?

web application and website

The definitions of website vs web app are a little vague. The debate has been going on for a few years. However, there still are key ideas that can be extracted and help you navigate the confusing and ever-changing world of web development.

Unlike the “chicken or egg” debate, we know for sure the websites came first. On August 6th, 1991, the very first website was hosted. A web page describing the World Wide Web (WWW) project and how to use it. Currently, there are around 1.86 billion websites available online.

So what is a website? It is an interlinked collection of web pages that come under one domain name. They can be interlinked to other domains, too. Usually, users can see text, videos, images, and other types of files displayed.

And web application? It can have all the website features, but usually, it covers much more than just information available. Let’s explore the key characteristics of both websites and web apps.

Interactivity

The most significant difference comes with the user’s ability to manipulate information. Interaction enables the end-user to communicate with the web app directly, forming a dialogue going back and forth. This occurs in several ways – from downloading files and receiving responses to clicking certain parts of the application to online chats and Google Map widgets. 

interactivity in web app

User’s input is key – social networks being a perfect example. In the case of social networks, users are the ones who create content and directly amend the content of the web app. Another example is the use of AI for marketing purposes – even though it is not as obvious to the user, their content feed directly results from their search history analytics.

At the same time, this is where the difference between web applications and websites starts to blur. It is almost impossible to find a modern website that wouldn’t feature any interactive parts – either a chatbot or a search engine. The best way to differentiate between a website or a web app is to assess the proportionality of user interaction – with the website having more information and less interaction and a web app more interaction and less communication.

Complexity

Web apps have comprehensive core functionality, which usually demands multiple tools and systems, involving integrating various components into one system.

An excellent example of an added component is a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. CRM helps to centralize customer data and enables easy access for employees. It also allows for automatic data collection without manual recording and storing of all communication. Consequently, customer’s behavior, feedback, and services are handled more efficiently in a reduced time. As a result, customer loyalty and satisfaction is increased.

Even though a website can have CRM implemented, its complexity and utilization typically work much better with a web app.

Authentication

Authentication is a verification of a user’s login and password to access the system. Most web applications require authentication – interaction and data manipulation without registration exposes web apps to too many risks. A standard authentication system will demand a login name and password of a certain complexity, matched by additional security questions. Authentication is commonly followed by authorization – where the former establishes who the user is, the latter defines various access rights for different types of users. For example, an unregistered user might have zero access rights to the web app – most social media will not display feed without authentication. Authorization then defines different levels of access – from various membership bands to admin rights.

authentication in web app

A large number of web apps are under the mandatory requirement of authorization systems. These can be bespoke or come as components – depending on the provider of choice. It is a complex process that takes up resources. Fortunately for information websites, it is not mandatory. It is common to have some form of authentication system built in, such as leaving comments or obtaining updates.

Completion and deployment

The final difference between a website vs. web application is that a website is a complete product ready to use. Minor updates do not require re-compilation and re-deployment. However, web applications remain in constant development, and any updates are likely to require re-compilation and some downtime.

Conclusion

Both websites and web applications are equally important and needed. It is also a trend to make hybrids between the two, combining the most crucial features. Here at WiserBrand, we are happy to help you choose and develop a web application or website that matches your business needs.