Why Web Apps Cost More Than Websites

Recently I discussed business over coffee with a friend whose business was slow. Being in BNI, I asked her about her unique selling points so that I could better refer her to friends and acquaintances. Along the way, we spoke about websites and web applications, when she asked me on a question I hear quite often.

Why do web apps cost more than websites? To many who aren’t from software industry, a website and web application seems similar. Both are online and both requires a URL to get access to. But are websites and web applications similar? Why is there a price disparity? Are web developers purposely charging rip-off prices to get large profits?

This article is part of our series, Common Misconceptions on Websites and Web Apps, a new series in our bid to educate our customers and readers on websites and web applications. It complements our other series, the Website Checklist – which are things you look out for in a new website.

Read more on why web apps cost more than websites after the break

Why Web Apps Cost More: An Introduction

In the olden days of Internet, it was easy to differentiate between a website and a web application. After all, websites were usually static and displayed blog posts and information while web applications were websites that you could interact and do something on.

That means, if you reserve a dinner for two or buy something on the site, it is effectively a web application.23

Read: The Price of Low Cost Websites

Why Web Apps Cost More: Defining the terms

But with the rise of technologies like JavaScript and platforms like WordPress, it is easy to transform a  website into a web application with a WordPress plugin or two. Or for non-WordPress sites, coding in some browser-side interactivity with JavaScript.

web apps vs websites - why web apps cost more than websites

Thus, the lines between a website and a web application becomes confusing. And that is why we are defining the terms here.

While you can create an online store via WordPress, WooCommerce and the various WooCommerce extensions, it should still be defined as a website. But if you create a standalone web-based software that connects to WooCommerce and processes the orders and/or does follow up emails, that is a web application.

I like SkillCrush’s definition

When someone says “website” you should think simple, single page sites or marketing websites. Websites are built using HTML, CSS, and maybe a little bit of JavaScript. No programming language is required, and neither is a database.

Websites are a huge part of the web and play super important functions like telling you today’s special at your local Italian meatball shop, or letting you know about a hot new startup that is about to launch.

Web applications are a whole different beast. Like desktop applications (Word, Photoshop, Skype), web applications are dynamic and ever-changing. Web applications rely on you to interact with them, whether by contributing content (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook) or by gathering data from other sources and presenting it to you (Mint, Google Analytics, Klout) or a little bit of both!1

Why Web Apps Cost More: The Reasons

Now that we have defined the differences between a web application and a website, let us look into why web apps cost more than websites.

Read: 5 Things You Didn’t Know When Hiring WordPress Developers

1) Native WordPress Plugin Limitations

While you (or your web designer/developer) can easily install a WordPress plugin (e.g. a job board plugin) and pass it off as a web application, there are limitations with WordPress’ very own database structure. Your site won’t go very far before it starts to stutter when you get more sign ups or orders.

Plus what if you need certain features that the plugin doesn’t provide and there is no way to hook your code in? Overwriting certain code would mean you could no longer update the plugin as you risk losing your changes. But keeping your outdated plugin on its own, could also result in a security hazard.

WordPress plugins aren’t always the best solution for web applications. As much as I love WordPress, at times building a web application from scratch using frameworks like Laravel, Node.js or Ruby On Rails makes more sense and results in much better performance.

2) Web Applications Are Usually Much More Complex

Creating a web application is also much more complex task than creating a website. For a simple site, all you need is HTML and CSS. For WordPress, you might just install a few plugins or custom build others as the rest of the foundation has been laid out for you.

But in building a web application, you need to factor in items like the following

  • User Experience
  • User Interface
  • The needed Model, View and Controller
  • Integration with other Web Applications
  • Scalability
  • Security
  • Extensibility

Basically, the whole shabang needs your consideration. This leads us to the last point.

3) Web Applications Takes Longer To Complete

Because a web application is much more complex than a website, it takes longer to complete. Creating a Web Application means to spending time designing, discussing, coding, testing and debugging.

Complex Web Applications would sometimes need the services of top hackers/developers who have the know-how. This adds to the cost of a web application.


Unless you have the budget, go for a website. You don’t need to build the next Facebook or Mudah. But if you do, remember that building the next web application to change your industry costs way more than just building a website or an online store.

  1. Websites vs. Web Applications | Skillcrush, Take me back!! I want my CSS!! Click me to get back :), https://skillcrush.com/2013/03/28/websites-vs-web-applications/
  2.  https://www.seguetech.com/website-vs-web-application-whats-the-difference/ 
  3.  https://stackoverflow.com/a/11091752 
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Leo Koo
I run a small agency building and maintaining turnkey and bespoke WordPress sites. I also review WordPress plugins and digital marketing tools while running this site and the WPStarters Facebook Group. Do swing by and say hi :)
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