Web Application

From checking email to playing games, and from filing taxes to online auctions, web applications have become a part of our everyday life. Much of what we do online involves web applications. For businesses, this is an opportunity. Web application development offers businesses a way to engage their customers in many different ways.

What is a web application?

The simple definition of a web application, or web app, is a program that runs in a browser. They can be built using a variety of coding languages, but all rely on a browser to make the application function.

Web apps are particularly useful because they are cross-platform compatible. This means that they can work whether a user is working on a computer running Windows, MacOS, or any other operating system. As long as they can use a web browser, they can use a web application. Some web applications may require a specific browser, but most can be used regardless of which browser a person is using. This gives them a much broader reach than a program that needs to be installed and run using a computer's operating system.

Because they are run through the browser, they can also be updated easily. This gives developers the ability to fix bugs, add new functionality, and refine their application without needing every customer to download and install the new version.

How have web applications developed?

When the internet first started decades ago, it was a text-based entity. It soon developed into the early internet many people remember, with static pages filled with text and simple graphics. As the ability to quickly transfer data has spread, with many internet users having high speed connections at home, at work, and on the go, the complexity of websites has increased.

Today, the majority of sites we regularly visit rely on web applications to function. A browser based email, such as Gmail or Yahoo!, is a web application. A browser based word processor, such as Google Docs, is a web application. In fact, any site with a log in process relies on a web application for the storage and recall of that data. Big or small, web applications are everywhere.

Why are they useful?

Beyond the cross-platform compatibility, web applications can be a useful tool for businesses. They allow a business to offer functionality to their application's users, saving them from re-entering their personal information, allowing them to make a secure online purchase, and more.

How web applications work

One of the problems in defining a web application is that there are so many types of web applications. However, they all function in the same basic way.

The client side and the server side

At one side of a web application is the client. In terms of web applications, the "client" is the person using a browser to access and run the application.

On the other side is the server. In this case the "server" is the computers storing the application's information.

When the application runs, the client and server interact, transferring data back and forth. The client gets functionality while the server gets the data that has been entered.

Types of web applications and what they do

While all web applications share the same basic client-server relationship, the services they provide can vary greatly. While one web application can allow a customer to purchase a product, another can allow them to leave a review of a hotel, while a third allows them to play a game.

In each application, the client enters some form of data - whether it's a product and their credit card details, the text of their review, or the move they want their character to make - which is sent to the server. This data is received by a database server, which is updated to reflect this new client data. The web application server generates a new page that is then displayed for the client.

While this might sound complicated and convoluted, it happens in a fraction of a second. Without even realizing the complexity of the operation, web users engage with web applications on a daily basis. They simply experience the applications in the same way they would experience an application they had installed directly on their computer.

The difference, though, is that a web application can work for everyone. It can be updated regularly, and the new version can be deployed for every user. There is no need to worry that a client is using last year's version of the software; something that can be particularly important for a business.

What can a web application do for your business?

As internet users, we all regularly use web applications and benefit from their existence. As a business, you can also benefit from web applications.

You might already be using several web applications on your current website. If you have an ecommerce part of your website, that is an application. If you offer a sign up for a newsletter, that is an application. Even your blog uses a web application to show the user the particular post they wanted to see.

When you create a new web application, you offer your site's visitors added functionality. This could be something that is unique to what your business offers or something that has a broad appeal across industries and users.

Make your company stand out

When you create a web application, you give your business the chance to stand out from the crowd. You are offering customers something that your competition is not.

Whatever your industry, there is something that your customers need to do that can be done in a web application. This could be a calculation, an information lookup, or anything else. By creating a web application, you are expanding the audience that can use this functionality.

By making things easier for your customers, you reinforce your company's standing in your industry. For example, consider the customers of a built-in bookcase manufacturer. Without a web application, they may have to measure their rooms, and call the manufacturer, who will tell them how many shelves they will need to order and ask them which type of wood they want to use. Once all this is worked out, they can give the customer a price for the shelves. The customer can then pay for the shelves and make arrangements for an installation date.

With a web application or two, the process can be streamlined. The customer goes to the manufacturer's website and enters the dimensions of their room. They submit the information and are shown the calculation of how many shelves they will need. The page also displays their wood options and the pricing for each. The customer can select the options they want, add the whole project to their cart, and checkout using a secure e-shopping solution. As part of the checkout process, they can book the next available installation date.

For the customer, the web application can streamline the process, even offering additional information as they go. For the business, the benefit is that a streamlined process can lead to more completed purchases.

Bring in users and keep them engaged

Another benefit to a business is that a web application can attract users to a website, keep them engaged, and encourage them to return. This turns a website into more than just a static text and image page. It offers the visitor a unique experience each time they visit, or a site that is customized based on the information they have already provided.

A web application doesn't need to be directly related to the offerings of a business to be successful. A game can offer many opportunities for branding and brand awareness.

How to create a web application

While any business can benefit from the use of a web application, and offering a new web application can be a way to bring in new customers, most business owners don't know how to create a web application. Creating a web app involves several steps, each of which presents its own challenges.

Planning

The first step in creating any web application is the planning stage. It is here that you think about what you want the application to do.

One way to approach this stage is to think about what problems the application will solve. Is it an application that can offer a fun diversion? Is it an application that can streamline the work your customers do? Is it a way for them to interact with your business or one another?

Planning should also involve the basic design concepts for the web application. It can be useful to sketch out any ideas you have for the look and feel of your web application.

Of course, planning is more than just roughing out the purpose and look of your web application. It is also a time to plan the server-side architecture of your application.

Designing

Once you have the fundamental idea of the application set, it is time to move to the design stage of creating it. This is where the actual look of your finished web application will start to take shape.

The first part of this stage is thinking about how users will interact with the web application, determining all the different pages they'll encounter. This can be sketched out as a workflow, and can begin to give you a list of elements that will need to be designed.

If your application is part of your overall branding or marketing, the design will often keep some of the similar elements, whether it's colors, fonts, or graphics.

The design stage of your web application's creation involves a few parts. The first is often done in Photoshop or another piece of design software. The second is the coding of your website, and the application, using HTML and CSS.

Developing

The third, and most technical, part of creating a web application is the development stage. Here, you will create the code behind the interface.

Web applications can be developed in a few different coding languages. Using Ajax, it is possible to combine techniques and technologies to get a much more refined application.

In this stage of web app creation, it is necessary to fill in the gaps of the early sketches of the database structure. You will finalize the details of how the client will interact with the database, and what responses will be returned to the user based on their entries within the app.

Launching

The final phase of any web application creation is the launch of it. Creating an application can be a rewarding task, but for a business the real benefit is when the application is rolled out to users.

Whether this is an internal application aimed at making a particular task easier for employees or a public application that will draw customers to your website, the real test is when it begins to be used. The ability to fix bugs and troubleshoot quickly is helpful, as it can allow you to adjust the application when users begin their real-world use of it. It is in this stage that the benefits over a traditional operating system application can be very clear.

When launching an application, you'll also want to consider how it will work within your overall digital marketing work. A new application added to your website can be the basis of a pay-per-click or retargeting campaign.

How an agency can help

The process of web application development can be a big undertaking, but it can also have a big benefit. Because of the potential rewards of a successful web application, it is something that should not be ruled out simply because you don't have the in-house technical knowledge. A digital agency can provide the help you need. Of course, when choosing an agency, it's important to consider the whole team.

A well rounded team

As you can see from the web application creation process, there are a lot of different skills that go into even a simple app. You need to have the ability to see the gap in the market. You need to have the ability to solve that problem. You need to have a top quality graphic designer to create the interface. You need a highly skilled developer to manage the code. You need a great marketer to help with the launch.

While each of these individuals might be part of your own company, you might not have them all. Even if you do have some of them, you need to have a team that is used to working together on web applications. This process requires a special sort of teamwork and communication that can often only come with experience.

An agency can offer you the whole team, ready to undertake the creation of your web application. They can help you find the niche that your app could fill, create your app, and make sure the right people know about its existence.

Keeping customers secure

With online security such a big concern, using an agency can also give you and your customers peace of mind. An agency's development team will be up to date on the ever-changing online security landscape.

Any transfer of data between client and server needs to be done with data security in mind. Working with an experienced team can give you the benefit of a huge bank of knowledge on how to make your web application as safe as it can be.

Planning your application

A web application can be something that makes life easier for your customers or it can be something that makes your website run better than that of your competition. Either way, the first step is thinking about what you can offer.

Web applications offer unlimited possibilities. Whatever your business, there is something that can be done better, faster, more efficiently, or with more fun.

Coming up with web application ideas can start with a problem or they can start with a dream result. In either case, it can be something that gives your business the edge over the competition and keeps customers engaged.

Getting the word out

It's always worth remembering that a web application needs users. When you've created a great app, you'll want to let everyone know about it.

A newly launched web application can be a great marketing tool. It allows you to do outreach to new and existing customers, to increase your conversion rates, and to get people talking about what makes your brand different.

Working with a digital agency that handles both web application development and marketing can help make this a seamless process. It can ensure that you get all the attention you're due from the great application you have launched.

Are you ready to get started?

Take a moment to think about what you do online. You check your email. You log into your bank account. You read a blog. You bid in an auction. You play a game. You use a social network. You make a video call.

All of these actions have one thing in common - they're all possible because of web applications. From the ability to shop online to the most complex game, web applications have transformed how we use the internet.

Your business can be part of this transformation. If you're ready to get started on the creation of your own web application, get in touch today.

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