- A Web site is typically designed for casual or infrequent usage by individuals who often do not know, or do not even want to know, too much about the deeper mission of your organization.
- A Web application, such as an HR Intranet or portal that a company provides to its employees, is a very different system that must be optimized for a different use case.
It's important to make a clear distinction between Web sites and Web applications for three reasons:
- To define what the site or system is optimized to do
- To identify how the user is going to approach the features that are being made available
- To pinpoint which specific use cases your designers and developers must create and test
For Web sites, consider that most users are coming through a search engine or by browsing the Web. If they are not able to quickly and easily find what they're looking for, they usually take off. The most common example would be a marketing focused, "brochure" Web site. Casual site visitors like to ease into getting to know your company and will rarely take the time to learn all of your products in their first interaction with your site.
Designing an interface that is easy to browse and navigate should be a high priority. Marketing Web sites that are difficult to navigate, or those that have poor search interfaces, experience high abandon rates, poor pull-through and fail to meet marketing goals.
Web applications are different in that their users are likely coming with a very specific goal in mind. Taking the HR portal example a bit further, consider that some of your HR staff believes that employees like to browse the HR resources available to them. Based on that assumption, they design a content-rich Web site that offers company information, articles of interests, special employee discounts, etc. In fact, the more likely scenario is that employees only tap the HR Intranet when they have to fill out a vacation request, or to update their benefits information, etc. Because these activities are performed less frequently, it's important that they be optimized for usability.