A better approach for integrating web marketing and web apps
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Marketing websites are built to communicate information about an organization or company with their target audience. They provide published pages describing the organization’s history, products, services, contact forms and such. End users browse and read the content of marketing websites. Some marketing websites offer downloadable files and media.
Web apps are software installed on the Internet and they are used for getting things done. User’s interaction with web apps go beyond just browsing and reading pages. They actually add, edit, and delete information. Some offer options to upload files and media. Some offer APIs for mobile apps and other software to connect to.
Once in a while we come across a client who wish to have it all in one. A marketing website that contains their web apps too. We understand, they want to deliver a seamless user experience to their end users. It is indeed possible to create that seamless user experience, except for some technical and logistic reasons the approach they are suggesting isn’t a smart choice. Here is why:
Most modern marketing websites are developed using a CMS (Content Management System) such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc. Web apps are often developed using a software development framework such as Rails, CakePHP, Symfony. Please note a CMS is technically a web app itself, but in this context we are talking about custom web apps developed for a specific business logic or workflow.
It is possible to develop a web app inside an existing CMS. In fact most CMS software are extendible using plugins, components, and modules, however not all CMS provide comprehensive software development frameworks. Besides they are mostly developed for web designers and developers rather than software developers. Lack of a proper framework means that if you build your web app inside a CMS you will quite likely end of with a messy code that is hard to maintain. The more complex your web app logic and functionality, the more mess you have to deal with. Also marketing websites are enriched with all kinds of graphics and stylings. After all the idea is to visually impress the visitors.
Web apps on the other hand require very minimalist user interfaces in order to be impressive. Users interact with a web app to get things done and the last thing they care about is your sales pitch and graphic rich presentations. The minimalist user interface and superb user experience of your web app becomes your brand. The paradox of usability in a marketing website and a web app makes it difficult to design an all-in-one system that delivers a balanced user experience.
To further complicate this matter, updating either the CMS or the web app becomes a much more complex and cost intensive process. Updating the CMS itself or the theme may break the functionality of the web app or visa versa. Updating the web app inside the CMS particularly becomes a challenge because apps tend to go through many development cycles. A CMS provides a restrictive environment for the web app and every release cycle becomes more costly and prone to having piles of messy code. In our industry we call it the technical debt and that is poorly written code piling up over time. You may be keep promising yourself that the messy code will be dealt with in the future releases when more time and budget is available. Of course that hardly ever happens. Most people end up rebuilding everything from ground up every few years.
Different Design Process
Designing and developing marketing websites very much follows the print design process and has roots in the days that businesses used business, cards, brochures, and posters to communicate with their end users. More complex websites require information architecture in order to organize and deliver the content in a user friendly and easily digestible way to the end users. Brand is communicated via the message, colours, photos, illustrations, logos, typography, and page layouts.
Web apps are software. App developers follow software development methodologies. Design thinking in software development is focused on user experience and interaction design and branding is delivered via the quality of the user experience and how intuitive and beautiful the app is to the end users. Visual elements such as images and colours are used sparsely so they won’t distract the user from the task they are about to accomplish. In this context the web app itself is the brand.
Different type of vendors
Marketing websites are developed by – you guessed it – marketing, branding, and design firms. Web apps are developed by software development firms. It isn’t uncommon that a client goes to a marketing firm to have their marketing website developed and they also ask the same company to develop their webs or mobile apps.
This may seem as the client is voluntarily asking an optometrist to perform a root canal procedure on them, because a marketing firm doesn’t acquire the skill set for software development. Naturally the marketing firm outsources the web app component to a software development firm. This often leads to all kinds of problems:
- Only a fraction of the clients budget goes to actual software development and the rest is collected as commission by the marketing agency. The software firm cannot deliver a high quality work on a very tight budget.
- The lack of direct communication between the client and the software development firm directly contributes to lowering the quality in the web app.
- Updating and maintenance become an even bigger issue. Normally a software firm inform their clients when it is time to make updates to their custom apps. If there is a middleman acting as the nexus of communication between the software firm and the client, there is no way to inform the client unless the marketing firm decides that there is enough profit for them to collect.
Unfortunately this scenario continues to happen especially with clients who are either inexperienced in this field or they are under impression that a marketing firm understand their business needs better than a software firm. That is a myth propagated by the companies who wish to act as the broker between the client and the software firm. There is good profit to be made in this transaction.
A better approach for integrating web marketing and web apps
It is perfectly possible to deliver a seamless user experience of marketing material and apps. You really don’t have to build web apps inside your marketing websites. Just keep both systems separate. You can always create widgets and buttons on your marketing website that direct your users to your web apps. That way you can deliver the most sophisticated solutions within your web app while your marketing website does what it is intended to do. You can maintain and upgrade each system individually without them compromising each other’s quality and performance. You can hire the right companies to offer you solutions for each system. All you need to ask is to integrate the two with each other rather than trying to incorporate one in the other. Your marketing and software firms can work with each other and build you a nicely integrated solution.
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