April 24, 2019

Website vs Web App: What’s the Difference?

Stephanie Dacre |


At FreshWorks, we often get approached to build websites for people and organizations. This is not surprising, since the value of having a website (and more importantly, having a good one) has been made pretty clear over the past 25 years. In short: your business or organization is leaving a lot on the table by not having a digital presence. However, there are many times when we have to tell people that FreshWorks is best suited to build web applications and not websites. This might seem like we are splitting hairs and so we will often follow up with a further explanation to outline the differences between websites and web apps and why they’re so important to understand.

Websites and web apps are quite similar for end users. They both run in browsers, and are both accessed with a specific URL. For the end-user, it’s not important to know the difference.

However, there are some important distinctions between websites and web applications that are not obvious at first glance but important to understand when you’re an organization seeking a suitable development partner. So, when we say FreshWorks is better suited to build web applications and not websites, it raises the question “What’s the difference between a website and a web app?”

At a high level, there is one main difference:

  • A website is informational and static.

  • A web application is interactive and dynamic.

Sounds simple, right?

Maybe not. We’re very detail oriented here, so this definition isn’t quite good enough. There are plenty of websites that have elements of interactivity and these elements don’t make it a web app. Let’s pull this apart more.


When you think of websites, the first thing that comes to your mind should be a basic company marketing website. These can be as little as one page and will primarily provide the viewer with information. Interactive elements on a website may include a contact form that you can submit or a map that you can view and move around, but these elements do not make them a web app unless those elements are the website’s primary function (a good example of this would be Google Maps). With websites, you may have the option to sign-up and log-in; but this is not required to utilize most of the website’s functionality. Finally, websites are built using HTML, CSS and some Javascript. Databases and back-end programming languages are not necessary.

Here’s a few straightforward website examples: FreshWorks, The Globe and Mail, and the Magnolia Hotel*

*Notice that on the Magnolia Hotel website, when you click “Book Here” you are taken to a different domain (reservations.travelclick.com). This is a great example of a website which has been set up to integrate with a separate booking web application.

Web Applications

On the other hand, web applications are built for the sole purpose of user interaction. In a web application, you can read information, but you can also interact with, and manipulate the data on the page. This manipulation can take form in many ways – an online chat, making a purchase, following a “friend”, or creating an online profile. Sometimes the user interaction is something you need to do such as managing the online store inventory or regularly uploading documents and managing content for your visitors.

Web applications (almost) always use databases to store information, and they often require back-end programming languages such as PHP, Ruby and Python. With a web application, authentication is required (ie. in order to interact with the application, you will need to log-in).

Web Application Examples

Facebook, Airbnb, Google Docs

So, Which Do You Need?

Based on your business needs, you should now be able to identify whether you require a website or a web application. If you need a website to simply display company information, you will likely be best suited to reach out to a small web development firm and they will be able to build something that fits your needs.

A single designer and web developer can accomplish pretty great things if they are a well-coordinated team, particularly if they have a strong background in marketing. Most simple websites are intended to communicate information effectively and attract new visitors which a web development and design team will be able to effectively create.

If you require a web application, you should really be looking for a technology partner and full-service development studio. As an example, at FreshWorks, our team includes 50+ talented professionals with a wide range of skills.

If you require a web application, you should really be looking for a technology partner and full-service development studio.

 Business Analysts will typically collaborate with designers and developers to determine functional requirements and potential technical limitations and challenges. Business Analysts will typically collaborate with designers and developers to determine functional requirements and potential technical limitations and challenges.

Business Analysts and UX Researchers will determine and document functional requirements with the guidance of UI Designers and Developers who identify technical limitations or challenges. UI designers will then create wireframes for the proposed application so that Solutions Architects and DevOps can prepare a plan and timeline for the cross-functional team to follow. Developers with specific skill sets will then work under the direction of a project manager or product owner and scrum master (depending on the project management style being followed). This is often done by following a set of user stories that were created by the business analysts to ensure all the required functionality is built correctly. Quality Assurance analysts should then assess each part of the application for bugs or usability edge cases that were not considered and the whole team will work together to make sure your application is deployed properly with appropriate documentation.

As you can see, the creation and implementation of a web application can be a bit more intensive and complex than your typical run-of-the-mill website, which is why it’s important to find a technology partner best suited to bringing your company’s vision to life and understanding the nuances of the task at hand.

A team like the one described above can handle all aspects of an application creation project: discovery, design, development, deployment, and maintenance. They would have the ability to bring together decades of collective experience in order to help your organization create new services, solutions, and revenue streams that will impress your clients, employees, or other users. With a good technology partner, everything is driven by user experience, making sure design and flow are executed simply and beautifully – with your users in mind.

If you are ready to dive into the Discovery Process of developing your company’s own web application, we’re here to help. FreshWorks Studio offers a free consultation to help each party understand the scope of the project and to begin to build out a game plan. We work with organizations of all sizes, including government, private sector and non-profit entities, and we’re ready to help you discover what’s possible and how a web application can help enlist and engage new audiences.

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