Websites vs web publications: What are the differences?
by Daan Reijnders
I once spoke to a brand manager at a global accounting firm who was really enthusiastic about creating interactive web publications with Foleon. He had one great question, though: When should I create content for my website and when should I use a web publication instead?
Both are important to your communications and are useful for different purposes. In this blog post, I’ll help you understand the differences between websites and web publications so you'll know when to use which.
If you search for a company online, you’ll likely see their website as the first result. Every company has a website, and most use them as the backbone of their communications.
But websites are often overburdened with content and complex navigations structures. Every page is linked to every other page much like an unruly spider web (it's where we get the term the web).
This presents a problem. If you have an important piece of content that needs lots of visibility — say, an annual report or a new product brochure — simply adding it as another page on your website runs the risk of it being lost among the sea of existing pages. In other words, it's hard to achieve that "stand-out" factor on a large site.
Most companies have lots of content assets that are essential for their marketing and sales, but that don't really belong on their website. Slide decks, reports, catalogs, eBooks, digital magazines, and product manuals — just to name a few. These typically end up in a static PDF or PowerPoint.
And these are where web publications can really come in handy.
Exploring alternative communication channels
We’ve come a long way since the advent of the internet. Websites are no longer the only medium for presenting content online.
These days, people want to see highly-visual micro-content that's easy to digest. Social media has enabled brands to create content that is more snackable and engaging than ever before. With Instagram, for example, you can tailor your content to lean more towards the visual side. These new mediums also let you distribute and target more precisely.
Interactive web publications allow you to give your best content a stage of its own.
Rather than merely adding another page or post to your website, using a web publication with its own URL creates a dedicated space for your important content assets — whether it's a report, a sales brochure, a staff magazine, or something else you want to give extra attention to.
How do web publications differ from websites?
1. Websites are a cluttered reservoir, but web publications have a clear, linear structure
A website is a maze of information without a beginning or end. A web publication, on the other hand, has a single-path navigation structure to guide your readers in a linear fashion. By outlining a path for your readers to follow, you control the pace of your narrative, which keeps your readers engaged for a longer time and increases their ability to retain what they read.
Due to their complex taxonomies, websites need advanced navigation and internal links. But this only encourages readers to click away, lowering your engagement rates per page.
By contrast, web publications encourage engagement by packaging content into smaller pieces that are presented one at a time without the distraction of multiple pathways.
2. Websites are multi-purpose, web publications are dedicated to a specific use case or campaign
Most websites are multi-functional. You may have a blog on your site that you use to attract visitors. You probably have pages dedicated to providing information like pricing and product features. You likely have other areas used for gathering information from visitors. If you sell products, you may have an integrated store.
Web publications, by contrast, are like a microsite usually designed around a single use case or campaign.
KPMG, for example, uses a web publication to showcase their research report, Me, my life, my wallet. Using a standalone publication with its own URL allows them to give far more attention to the report than if they merely created another article on their busy corporate website.
Similarly, BigLift shipping uses a web publication as a dedicated product catalog to provide information and specifications for their MC-class transport vessels.
EVBox uses a web publications for elaborate event reviews. Here, they review the highlights of their annual eMobility keynote and networking conference. It's a piece that will keep attendees engaged long after the event itself.
3. Websites take a lot of resources to build, but web publications are easy to create
Creating a website from square one requires both designing and coding skills. It doesn’t matter if you’re a one-(wo)man show or a team of 10 working together. If you want to build a website, anticipate taking at least 45 days to put it together.
If your goal is to showcase a single content asset, or run a one-time campaign, building a dedicated website is often not worth it — and that's why these important pieces of content often end up in a PDF.
With the right tool, you can create up to 432 web publications within the same amount of time (assuming you have enough coffee)! Yes, you read that right: a digital publication can take as little as 2.5 hours to make and requires no technical knowledge.
This makes web publications ideal for all your supplemental sales and marketing assets that deserve more attention than an average blog post, like this digital magazine from Trilux.
When should you use a web publication?
Your website is essential to your communication mix, and web publications are not intended to replace it. But web publications do give you the added opportunity to showcase important content that deserves more than just another web page.
With the right tool, you can create visually immersive case studies, brochures, and catalogs that bring your products or services to life and build a narrative around them.
Much of the content you now have in PDF format could benefit from a web publication’s linear flow and self-contained format. For example, consider converting your product’s user manual into a responsive web publication. Your customers will find it much easier to work with — especially on mobile.
Beyond the ease of use, web publications allow you to collect rich data on how users interact with your contact — and that's something PDFs can never provide. Because they're built with web technology, you can embed Google Analytics, remarketing pixels, and other 3rd party tools.
The data you can collect with a web publication lets you measure ROI, track engagement levels, increase rankings on SERPs — and the list goes on.
You can also include calls to action, video, feedback forms that help you find out what your readers find useful, and other interactive elements that make your content stand out.
Web publications are a great way to incorporate any standalone content assets that wouldn’t typically be on your website into your marketing suite. For example, you could turn your printed brochure into a digital publication and start collecting the same rich data you're accustomed to with your website.
With your website as a catch-all for incoming traffic, and a host of web-publications for specific products, promotions, and campaigns, you'll be fully equipped to reach your audience from every angle with content they'll devour.
See for yourself: Check out this digital brochure from IHG to see what a web publication looks like.
Daan Reijnders is the co-founder and CEO of Foleon, a content management platform that amassed 1000+ clients all over the world in under 3 years. He's a digital marketing veteran with years of experience in managing both SaaS companies and creative agencies.
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