Website vs. Web Application – What’s the Difference?

When people are considering the digital presence they want to create, there’s an issue that can quickly arise – “Do I need a website or a web application?” The question tends to be more convoluted, but the basic element is whether they are creating a ‘basic’ website or a more dynamic web application. And for that matter, what’s the difference?

Both of these terms seem similar, and people often use them interchangeably, but how do you choose which type is most closely aligned with your business objectives? This question creates considerable price implications for businesses, so they’re looking to make sure they know what they’re getting into. Now, this conversation can quickly descend into a highly technical rabbit hole of pros/cons and specifics, but from a strategic perspective, it’s best to stick to a few basics and insights on the two site types.

Where’s the Distinction?

The first thing to consider – “What’s the main difference between a website and a web application?” Well, the answer is pretty straight forward. A website is typically considered a set of web pages viewed with a browser. Basically, this is meant to be a static set of pages that provides viewers with information; it’s a brochure website with limited or no ways for viewers to interact with it. One way to look at it is that a website is like a big conference that everyone can attend, but they have to sit and listen to the speaker without any ability to interact.

On the other hand, we have web applications, which are interactive sites or those that rely on and provide interactive elements. These could be sites like Wikipedia or Facebook. The value of both of these examples is predicated upon user engagement; without it, neither application is very useful. Think of this like a networking event – people have to engage with others to provide value for everyone.

When Websites and Web Applications Collide

Now these are clear cut definitions, but there’s a great deal of middle ground when elements of both combine. For instance, a corporate website with a shopping area for a few products could be seen as a standard, informational website with content about the company and its products. However, you could also reference the shopping area as a web application and include any forms and quoting tools throughout the site in that same category. Some might even argue that if the site was built on a Content Management System (CMS), then the system would be a web application as the site has an area for user interaction – even if that’s for the website’s administrator.

As technologies continue to evolve, this collision between both websites and web applications becomes apparent. It’s rare to see a site that only acts as a basic collection of web pages with no ability for user interaction. And while growing in need, most organizations are not looking for full-blown web applications like Facebook or a customer relationship management system (CRM). Instead, most people are looking for a hybrid of the two.

This means that the site you might be looking for could have several factors that increase price and development time. Having a conversation about your goals and understanding the difference between basic websites and more robust web applications can make your site’s development planning smoother and provide a clearer picture for everyone involved in the web development process.

Again, this is just a basic discussion of both entities, so it is important to consult with your web development team with any considerations for your next website/web application implementation.