Writing website specifications can be hard work, but as the wise words of Benjamin Franklin say, “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”. This guide outlines the key parts of an effective website briefing document and why they’re important to set your project for success from day one. Follow our tips to keep your project running smoothly and ensure your expectations don’t get lost in the mix!
Before going into the goals of your new website or web application, you should present your organization, activities, market positioning, as well as main clients and competitors. Your global marketing strategy and goals are also key to provide some context, so your digital partner can not only get a deeper understanding of your business, but also better identify any critical elements that should be integrated into the project.
Here you should present the purpose of the project: a corporate website, a blog, an online shop, a mobile app or a microsite to promote a certain brand or product? In addition, detail what your current web presence looks like. Does your company or product currently have a website? How is it connected to your other digital channels and social media? Do you want a completely new website or a redesign?
If you already have a website, you should identify your current pain points and web content management system (WCMS), as well as if it’s connected to other marketing platforms. If you’re not happy with your current WCMS and are considering a replacement, you should identify the missing functionalities or integrations you expect to gain.
If you've provided a brief over your company, marketing strategy, current digital landscape as well as the goals of the project, you might think the “expectations” are covered, but maybe not. Concrete goals you may have for the website should be clear. They can be qualitative aspects such as improving brand awareness or affirming your company’s credibility with high quality design that follows the latest trends, or quantitative objectives such as to increase downloads of your product demo or generate sales inquiries.
Any branding guidelines or manuals will be useful here, and you may even include in your website specification reference links that closely reflect your expectations both in terms of design and functionality to illustrate your vision.
Although the homepage is the dominant page in a website, equal attention should be dedicated to all others. Here it’s relevant to provide the content structure (if possible a sitemap if you already have it outlined) and the number of pages you’ll start with. How many languages will your website offer? If you’re targeting multiple regions, chances are you expect to customize your message for each locale. The technical solution and resources involved in a 4-page website will be very different to a 100-page multilingual portal!
Regarding presentation, think about the different page types you will need. For example, news, events, blog posts, office listings, and so on will all need optimized templates so that each piece of information is shown in the most appealing way possible to your visitors.
Besides the page layouts, list the types of content you’d like to include - which can go from text and images to more interactive formats such as videos, image galleries, surveys, contact forms, etc. Don’t spare on the details, for example: if you have both a YouTube and a Vimeo channel, that’s a relevant detail to mention at this stage to ensure all your existing content is compatible with the new platform.
Functionalities will be typically tightly connected with your website type, but even the simplest corporate website may have a restricted area for clients or partners, for example. If the registration and login workflow requirements are detailed up front, it can save you a lot of headaches in future development stages. Equally important to describe are all the security requirements, payment method integrations purchasing flows for ecommerce websites. And although responsive design has nowadays become a standard functionality, developing an effective navigation system requires planning ahead.
Information about the budget which you plan to invest will be used to match your website specifications to a realistic cost projection. If your budget is not enough to accommodate all requirements, your partner will help you phase developments, readjust priorities or propose alternative solutions. On the other hand, if you have room in your budget, your partner may be able to offer advice on how to complement your digital strategy.
Your target deadline is a very important factor that will greatly impact on the project priorities, work planning and task distribution. If your timeframe is tight and extra resources have to be reallocated, then it can also affect the final cost of the project.
Ensure you provide a realistic timeline for the project, with sufficient time for all the website development stages, including content authors training, content creation/migration and translation. Over-optimistic go-live dates can lead to lack of quality, insufficient testing, skipped tasks and ultimately cost overruns. Read our tips before you set your deadline in stone.
With so many different types of digital platforms, creating an effective website specification document can be a challenge. The good news is, if you follow our tips, you’ll end up with a robust guide to help your digital partner tailor the best solution to your business needs. The information above will not only be relevant to choose the right CMS platform for your project, which areas should receive most focus, shuffle priorities and budget, and also make any additional recommendations to support your marketing goals.