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Websites vs Web Applications, What’s the Difference?

Aug 12, 2020 | Software Development

A web developer programming

If you’re not tech-savvy, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a standard Website and a Custom Web Application. We’re here to explain the difference and help you determine if, and when you should consider developing a custom web application.


You see them every day.  You’re on a website right now!  Websites are informational.  They provide a virtual representation of your company and display your products and services to your website visitors.  They also help you convert your visitors into prospective customers.  Websites can be developed in many different ways, the most popular being by using a web platform such as WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, and WebFlow.  Websites are also developed in a manner that allows them to be responsive in mobile devices, but that does not make them custom web applications.  The main characteristic of a website is that they are a one-way informational feed.  Websites provide information to its visitors, but there is no interactivity between the visitor and the website (i.e.: login, create data).

Web Application Frameworks / Off-the-Shelf Software

Before discussing custom web applications, let’s discuss other options.  While web application frameworks, such as WordPress, are used to develop informational websites, they can also do much more.  They also pack the power to also add custom functionality to your website, thanks to the many plugins available for integration.  This custom functionality includes features like appointment bookings, online payments, customized form submissions, and much more.  For example, let’s assume you have a day spa.  On your website, you’d like to add the ability for your clients to schedule and pay for services directly through your website.  This would save you an enormous amount of time answering phone calls.  A basic website could not provide this type of functionality, but by developing your website on a web application framework like WordPress (aka Content Management System), this functionality can be added to your website by integrating a plugin that provides this functionality.  There are both benefits and drawbacks to this.

Off-the-shelf software provides similar functionality as web application frameworks.  The biggest difference is that off-the-shelf software is ready to use, you don’t necessarily have to integrate anything into your website.  Let’s take an accounting software like Quickbooks for example.  In order to manage payroll, payments, and taxes, your business needs accounting software capable of managing these things and more.  To meed this requirement, there is no need to create a custom web application.  Instead, it’s more cost-effective to adopt existing software that can perform all of your accounting needs.


  • It accelerates development.
  • It’s easier to make updates on your own.
  • It is much more cost effective than custom web application development.
  • It provides the flexibility to add multiple integrations depending on your requirements.


  • If you have specific requirements, there may not be a plugin option to satisfy your exact requirements.
  • The speed and performance of your website may be affected due to high overhead.

These drawbacks bring us to Custom Web Application Development.

Custom Web Application Development

In many cases, your requirements can be met by using an web application framework or off-the-shelf software.  But in some cases, your requirements will be truly custom to your business and will not be able to be handled or optimized by using existing platforms or software. This is where custom web applications come into play.

Let’s examine this example:
You have a great idea to develop an application that you feel has the potential to be the next Facebook.  If it’s different, then there is no existing software or plugins that can currently execute your idea.  To develop this application, you will need a programming team that is capable of taking your ideas and creating a custom built system that implements those ideas.

Here’s another scenario:
You own a business in which you currently have a quoting process that requires you to send quotes through email.  You send your client forms, they return them to you, you store them in a shared folder, etc.  Not only do you waste a lot of time searching through email and trying to keep up with data, it is nearly impossible for you to easily see an overview of where your company stands.  With a custom web application, you can create a custom application that would help your quoting process and business be more efficient and scalable.

Benefits of Custom Web Applications

  • The possibilities are limitless, if you have a requirement, there is a solution.
  • Data is stored in a database, which provides robust reporting capabilities.
  • They’re adaptable.  As your business grows and changes, a custom application can grow with you.
  • Although the up-front cost is more than off-the-shelf software, it can save you a great deal of money in the long run.


Hopefully you now understand the difference between websites, web application frameworks, off-the-shelf software, and custom web applications.  If you are looking to create an online prescence for your business, you’ll be needing a website.  If you have complex business processes or a great idea for a new app, you’ll most likely be looking at custom web development.  And if you have requirements that can be met either by existing plugins that can be integrated into a web application framework, or solved by existing off-the-shelf software, it will typically be more cost effective to go this route.

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