Web Application vs Website
Web Applications vs Websites: Understanding the Difference

If you are a bit confused as to the difference between a website and a web application, fear not. You are not the only one. In fact, many of our clients ask us that very question. It’s not always an easy one to answer, but let’s try to break down their differences.

What is a Web Application?

The actual definition of a web application is a bit ambiguous. Still, one way that I encourage clients to think about it is to think of a web application as equivalent to the software you’d use on your PC or an app on your mobile device. A web application is built on the same fundamental technologies that power most websites, but the difference lies in their purpose and complexity.

Whereas a website is meant to present some sort of information, a web application is designed to solve a specific objective. So if you were the owner of a small restaurant in town and you approached me and asked me to build you something that would represent your business, I would consider that a website (as I’m sure most would). However, if you asked me to build you an online ordering system that integrated with your internal fulfillment processes, that would be more of a web application.

So why the confusion?

Often this can get a little confusing as websites are getting more sophisticated and go often go beyond serving up information. It’s not uncommon for a client to ask us to build a brochure-type website with a bit of “custom” functionality that does a specific thing, such as adding a dealer locator or even some basic e-commerce functionality. This type of workflow automation has the potential to save organizations money and increase their return on investment. That said, at the end of the day, I would still consider that a website as its original purpose is to serve up information.

Web Application Examples

Clear as mud? If you are still a little confused as to the difference between the two, maybe it would be helpful to look at a few examples:

Your Bank – The main landing page you arrive on once you type in their URL would be their website. However, once you login to their online banking system, that would be a web application.

Facebook/Twitter/Etc – Almost every social media platform out there could be considered a web application because they solve a specific purpose — to connect people together.

Google – You could consider Google both a website AND a web application.

At the end of the day, that is the point. There isn’t a significant difference between the two terms and can, and often are, used interchangeably. That ambiguity can be confusing, but thinking in terms of complexity and purpose can go a long way towards clarifying the differences between the two.