What Is A Web Application? | Simply Explained
Since the early days of the Internet, our ability to create and interact with content online has evolved leaps and bounds. Dial-up connections and AIM instant messaging may be a thing of the past, but websites continue to be an important touch-point for billions of users around the world.
While basic sites still exist, an increasing number are adding interactive features and responsive design to keep up with user expectations and technology. After all, smartphones, tablets, virtual reality, and cloud software didn’t exist until the last few years, but they’ve already begun to sway if not dominate website design.
So how can you stay ahead of the curve and give your visitors a great online experience? The answer might be to build a web app.
Websites vs. Web Apps
How is a web app (or web application) any different from a website? Would you be able to tell that what you’re using is a web app?
While this technology may not be as well known, we can guarantee you’ve used one in the past, especially if you have a social media account. Could you imagine Facebook without instant notifications? Thankfully, you don’t have to thanks to Facebook and countless other websites either integrating web app elements into their design or being completely built as a web application.
We’re going to go into more detail on the differences between these two, but here’s our elevator pitch: websites are built for users to consume content; web apps are built for users to engage with content.
What Makes a Website Static?
Common examples of a standard website are local news sites. They create articles and place them on their URLs for readers in their area to read, become informed, and maybe even share in email or on social media. Rarely do they have any kind of interactive features outside a comments section. Rather, this type of websites are often referred to as static, especially if they do not adjust their display based on the type of browser or device being used.
But Internet users today are not static and neither are the majority of websites that they visit. To create a truly responsive website that will excite your leads and customers, you need to use web app design.
What Makes a Website More Like an App?
If you have a smartphone, then you are likely familiar with mobile apps, also called native apps (as they are built for and live natively on phones and tablets). One of the many reasons that people enjoy using them is their interactivity. From playing games to checking your calendar and even making purchases, native apps offer a plethora of ways to engage users.
But they have their downsides, such as device restrictions and taking up space on a mobile device, and that’s before even considering the high costs associated with native app development/upkeep. That’s why incorporating app elements into your website is a win-win for both you and your website visitors.
If you think about the main thing you want your ideal web visitor to be able to accomplish, is it active task-oriented? Completing a purchase, filling out a form, connecting with others, and uploading user-generated content are just some examples of the many end-goals that building a web app can achieve while helping a business achieve marketing and sales goals.
What Makes a Web App Responsive or Progressive?
Even with web apps being a newer form of technology, there is already evolution at play. While companies in the past only had one format to work within, there are now two iterations that can be considered for your website.
Responsive Web App
This version was the original and only form of web-based applications for the first few years. Thanks to the rise of people browsing the web on their mobile devices, as well as pressure from Google and search engines, responsive web apps were developed to create an easy-to-use and seamless experience across the board.
The mobile-first design adjusts the page to the size of the screen being used, as well as taking the type of browser and operating system into account. Responsive web apps help improve UX (user experience) while reducing bounce rates, or the number of people leaving your website shortly after their visit begins. But it’s still missing many of the interactive elements that native apps boast.
Progressive Web App
Blending the best of both websites and app design, progressive web apps have taken the development and business world by storm. They allow users to access the web app via a browser, but feel as if they’re using a native app on their smartphone.
Some of the more exciting features include:
- Ability to install to the home screen without taking up much device space
- Option to use in browser or access directly from icon
- Offline use capabilities
- Faster page loads
- Access to Bluetooth and GPS
- Personalized experience based on user data
By creating a flexible web app that allows visitors to use across a variety of formats with improved UX and fast site speed, you’ll improve your new traffic rates, as well as user engagement and retention.
Benefits of Web Apps
Now that you have a better understanding of this technology, how can it help your business grow and succeed? Organized by who benefits, we’ve compiled this list for you to quickly grasp what makes web apps an amazing option for companies looking to grow online.
Faster development with lower costs
While developing a native app version of a website/platform often makes sense, you have to consider the development time and costs needed this type of application. Creating a web app is almost always the more affordable option, as well as the fastest, making this a great option for startups looking to hit the ground running.
Seamless updating in realtime
Traditional native apps require users to manually update through the app store and often takes some time to create the update and get it approved. With a web app, your update pushes through instantly, offering your customers the best experience without forcing them to have to stop and update on their end.
Organic search engine optimization
While traditional websites can still rank organically on search engines, Google has made it clear that it will rank pages that offer a better experience for visitors. By integrating a web app or web app features into your website, you’ll be creating that improved experience, improving your retention and engagement. And search engines will take that into account when determining rankings.
When a user opens the web app, the interface or overall look of the page will simulate a native app. This includes standard design elements, like the “hamburger” menu button, stacking images and texts for readability, etc. With such a familiar look, users will be able to easily interact with the page.
Uses browsers, not the App Store
Years after native apps have become the norm, companies struggle with convincing end users to download and keep the app on their devices. Rather than having to deal with this barrier, a web app can be reached through any browser on any device at any time. Your end user can choose when to interact with your content, making it more likely that they will in the first place.
Universal use across browsers, devices, and operating systems
Native apps must be built for either iOS or Android operating systems. While hybrid approaches are possible, this need to accommodate both systems still adds to the overall cost and time needed for development. Instead, build a single web app that reaches users through their preferred browser, regardless of whether they have an iPhone or a Pixel.
Want to re-market to past users and encourage them to come back to your website? While traditional websites must use other marketing tools to try to re-engage, web apps can implement push notifications! Now you can reach past visitors and customers with personalized messages via their phone to confirm orders & shipping, educate on upcoming events & sales, drive donations, and more.
Ability to use offline
Traditional websites require an internet connection, which is normally fine but can be restrictive if the user has poor connection or is offline. By implementing a web app, people can still visit your site and have access to most if not all features.
Access to camera, Bluetooth, and GPS
If your company wants to take advantage of standard tools included with smartphones and tablets, web apps once again become a potential solution. While these applications can’t access everything, they can communicate with the built-in camera, Bluetooth, and GPS navigation to enhance the user experience.
Examples of Web Apps
As we mentioned earlier, you’ve likely used web apps at least once, if not daily. To help you better understand what web apps look like for the user, we’ve collected a list for you to explore based on business category. We recommend checking them out on your phone or tablet for the best, immersive experience.
Education & News
We hope this blog was able to help fill in the gaps on what is a web app and how it can help your business. If you’re interested in finding out even more, contact us today!