A Complete Guide to Building a Professional Web App

Building a web app

Written by Roxanne Gerber

April 14, 2023

In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, web applications have become an essential component of any business strategy. If you are considering building a web app, this comprehensive guide will help you gain a deeper understanding of web apps, and provide a step-by-step approach to developing a web application that meets your specific needs.

What are web applications?

Web applications are software programs that are hosted on remote servers and can be accessed through any internet-connected device with a web browser. They are developed using diverse programming languages and frameworks to serve a broad range of purposes, ranging from basic utilities and games to sophisticated business applications and ecommerce platforms. Web apps are intended to perform specific tasks without requiring software installation.

How do web applications work?

Web apps are built on a client-server architecture, which means that the application’s functionality is split between two separate components: client-side and server-side.  

Client-side architecture

The client-side scripts are executed on the user’s device, typically within their web browser, and are responsible for rendering the application’s user interface and handling user interactions. The scripts are written in languages such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and are downloaded from the server when the user accesses the application. This includes elements like buttons and drop-down boxes. Actions such as clicking a button will result in a client request being sent to the server. 

Server-side architecture

The server-side scripts deal with data processing and run on the web server that hosts the application. They are responsible for processing user requests, interacting with databases or generating dynamic content. These scripts are typically written in languages such as PHP, Python or Ruby, and are executed on the server before the response is sent back to the client. For example, clicking a “save” button will save data to the application’s database, then the user will be notified that the data has been saved.

Web app examples

There are several types of web applications, but these are some of the most common:

Dynamic web applications

These web apps generate content dynamically based on user input, database queries and other factors, making them fairly sophisticated. These apps are able to personalize and present content in real-time based on user interactions. Examples include Facebook and Netflix.

Static web applications

Unlike dynamic web applications, static web applications do not rely on server-side processing or database connectivity. Static web applications are generally simpler and faster, because all the content is stored in files and delivered to the user’s web browser as-is. Examples include basic blogs and landing pages.

eCommerce web applications

eCommerce web apps facilitate the buying and selling of goods and services online. These apps display product catalogs, have shopping carts and payment processing capabilities. Examples include Amazon, Etsy and eBay.

Content Management Systems (CMS)

A CMS web app enables users to create, manage and publish digital content, such as text and images, without any technical knowledge. Examples include WordPress, Webflow and Joomla.

Portal web applications

Acting as a gateway to a variety of resources and services, portal web apps provide a single point of access to different applications, databases and content. This allows users to navigate through different sections and perform different tasks. Examples include Microsoft SharePoint and Liferay. 

How are web apps different from mobile apps?

Web apps and mobile apps are both types of software applications, but there are a few key differences:

  1. Web apps are platform-independent and can run locally or on any device with a web browser, but mobile apps are designed to run on specific mobile platforms and need to be installed through an app store such as the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.
  1. The technologies used to develop web apps are diverse, however mobile apps are typically developed using platform-specific languages such as Swift for iOS or Kotlin for Android.
  1. Updates to web apps are made directly to the server and all users have immediate access to the latest version. On the other hand, mobile apps require users to download and install updates.
  1. Mobile apps have access to the device’s hardware and software features such as GPS, camera, contacts and accelerometer, whereas web apps have limited access to device features.

Considering these differences, web apps have several advantages over mobile apps. They are typically easier and faster to develop, as they do not need to be customized for different platforms or devices. Additionally, they can be accessed from any device with a web browser and do not take up storage space on the user’s device. They are also easier to update and maintain, as changes can be made to the web app’s code and automatically pushed out to all users. These are the main benefits of web applications, and why they are widely used by many organizations.

It’s your turn to build a web app

With your newfound understanding of web apps, their advantages and the common types, the next step is to learn the process of building a web app.

Building a web app can be a complex and time-consuming process, which often requires the expertise of experienced developers. In the rest of this article, we will discuss all of the steps involved in creating a web app, so you can have a better understanding of what to expect if you hire a team of developers to bring your app to life. 

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How to build a web app, step by step

Building a professional web app involves many steps, not that different from any other software development life cycle. Each step is critical for the success of the app and must be carefully considered and executed.

Step one: Define your idea

The ideation stage is the first and one of the most important steps in building a professional web app. In this step, you need to define your idea for the app, as well as determine the goals and objectives of the project. This forms the foundation of the app.

The overall success of the project heavily depends on the quality of your idea and how well it addresses a specific need or problem. By adopting the problem-solving approach, you should identify a problem or need that the app will solve and develop a concept that meets the requirements of the target audience. If you can identify a gap in the market, or are facing a particular challenge, it is likely that others could benefit from the development of such an app.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you see as the primary use case for your app?
  • What specific needs or problems does your app aim to address?
  • How do you anticipate users incorporating your app into their daily routines?

If you are considering hiring a development team, they can help you answer these questions and guide you through the rest of the steps.

Step two: Perform research 

Once you have settled on an idea, it is essential to conduct thorough market research to determine whether there is an existing product similar to your proposed web app, and whether there is a viable market for it. This step helps ensure that your idea is feasible and has the potential to succeed in the competitive app marketplace.

Start by researching the competition to identify gaps in the market that your web app can fill, and differentiate it from other similar products. 

You should also conduct research on the target audience. This includes understanding the demographics and behavior of the users. This information will be crucial for determining the features and functionality of your app. It can then be used later to inform your marketing and promotional strategies. It may be worthwhile to gather actual feedback from potential users to identify their challenges and preferences through surveys, interviews, focus groups or other methods. 

Research on the technical and financial feasibility of your app must also be performed. This involves identifying suitable technologies for building the web app and evaluating the associated development and maintenance costs. By doing so, you can gain a better understanding of the resources required for the project and make informed decisions about its viability. Conducting this research early on is crucial, as it can reveal potential obstacles and minimize the time and resources devoted to an idea that may not be feasible.

Step three: Identify core app functionality

In this stage, you need to list the key features that your web app will offer. A widely used method for identifying and prioritizing app features is the MoSCoW Method. This approach classifies features into four categories:

Must have (M)

Should have (S)

Could have (C)

Will not have (W)

While you may be tempted to include every feature you can think of, the must-have features should be your top priority when developing a new app. Focus on only the essential and most valuable features that meet the core needs of your target audience. By keeping your initial idea simple, you can get your app to market faster and at a lower cost. You can always add more features later, based on feedback from early users. Remember that quality is more important than quantity, so it is better to have a few strong features than many buggy or confusing ones.

Step four: Plan app development

Organizing and preparing for the development of your app are the focus of this step.

A comprehensive plan should be drawn up for the development of your web app to ensure an organized and efficient process. It should outline the key stages of development, expected timelines and resources required for the project. 

This plan will serve as a roadmap for the entire project, allowing for effective project management and successful execution of the app. It is typically provided by the web app development team shortly after agreeing to work with them. 

Note: The first four steps are critical, and will serve as a point of reference throughout the project. By the time you get to step five, you should have a clear understanding of the problem the app will solve, the target audience, and the core features, as well as a blueprint for bringing the app to life.

Step five: Design the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX)

This step is dedicated to the look and feel of your app.

The design of an app involves two interrelated and complementary aspects: user interface (UI) and user experience (UX). UI focuses on the design elements of the interface, such as color scheme, typography, and buttons, while UX is concerned with the overall experience of using the app. The aim is to create a visually appealing and intuitive design that enables users to efficiently complete tasks and enjoy using the app.

The overall design should align with your app’s brand and vision. A well-designed app can enhance user engagement, increase retention rates, and boost your app’s popularity in the market. It is advisable to keep the design simple at this stage – a complicated design will only lead to frustration.

Step six: Create wireframes, mockups and prototypes

This step brings your ideas to life with wireframes, mockups and prototypes. These are essential design tools used to develop and refine a new product or feature. They help you illustrate concepts and gather feedback for the development of your app.

Wireframes: simple outlines that highlight the core features of your app.

Mockups: realistic depictions of what your app or a feature will look like.

Prototypes: interactive (albeit limited) simulations of your app that demonstrate how it will function in the real world.

Step seven: Select your tech stack

Before you can start development, you have to select the most suitable development platform and tools, referred to as the “tech stack”. A tech stack combines technology services, frameworks, and languages that make up the client-side and the server-side.

Client-side programming languages include HTML, CSS and JavaScript, while server-side languages include PHP, Python, C++ and many more. Database choices include MongoDB, MySQL and Microsoft SQL Server, while web server choices include Apache, Nginx and IIS.

The platform and tools you choose for your app will depend on its specific needs and the expertise of your developer. Once you have selected your stack, development can officially begin.

Step eight: Develop your web app

This development step consists of several stages. It typically starts with configuring the database that serves as the code repository for your app, usually following the model-view-controller (MVC) architecture. Development then moves to the front-end (client-side), which presents the web app to the user in the browser. Finally, the back-end (server-side) is developed to run your app behind the scenes. Large development teams may work on all of these components at the same time.

When developing your app, scalability and performance are important factors to keep in mind. An app that is not optimized for scalability and performance may struggle to handle increased traffic and usage, and may not be able to adapt to future changes and updates.

Step nine: Test and debug your app

This is one of the most crucial steps in app development. It is essential to test and debug thoroughly to ensure the app is of high quality and functions as intended. Testing and debugging helps ensure that your app works properly under both expected and unexpected conditions. This includes identifying and fixing bugs, as well as ensuring the usability, functionality, compatibility, performance and security of your web app.

Testing is an ongoing process that should continue even after development.

Step ten: Host and deploy your web app

When you are ready to launch your app, the next step is to deploy it to a server so that it can be accessed by users. You first need to choose a reliable and secure hosting provider, then upload your app to the server and make it available to the public.

Important: Steps 8, 9 and 10 significantly impact the performance, scalability, and user experience of your web app. Every decision made during these steps will play a significant role in the success of your app. Choose wisely, and do not take any shortcuts.

Step eleven: Maintain your app

Building a web app does not stop after deployment. Once your app is launched, it is important to implement ongoing maintenance and updates. Your maintenance plan should deliver continuous refinements and improvements by monitoring app usage, addressing bugs, introducing new features, and implementing updates. An app that is not regularly updated and maintained may become obsolete, insecure and experience a decrease in user engagement.

You should also gather regular feedback from your users. The importance of testing and user feedback cannot be overstated. User feedback is critical for identifying issues and areas for improvement, and for ensuring that the app meets the needs of your target audience.

Regular maintenance and gathering of user feedback will help to ensure that your app is of high quality and that it functions as intended.

Step twelve: Promote your web app for success

Although this step is not essential to building your web app per se, a well-crafted marketing and promotion strategy will have a significant impact on the success of your app. This is an often forgotten step that will help increase app visibility, attract users and drive adoption.

Your marketing strategy should include identifying the target audience, determining the key features and benefits of the app, and outlining the specific steps and channels that will be used to promote your app. This could even be done during the research or planning stages – the earlier you have a solid marketing strategy, the better. Choosing the right promotional channels and tactics to reach your target audience and effectively communicate your app’s value proposition is imperative.

Ready to transform your idea into an app?

Building a professional web app is a complex and multi-faceted process that requires careful planning and execution. With a well-organized approach and talented developers by your side, your idea will be brought to life in no time.

If you need expert assistance, our team at Afocus is ready to provide you with a custom solution. No matter how big or small your project, we offer a free, no obligation consultation to discuss your needs. 

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