Designing a new website? Start with the specification.

writing the perfect website specifcation_Suzanne Shaw

5 minute read

Thinking about commissioning a new website?  Often the challenge is deciding where to begin.  Stakeholder expectations are high, and  time and resources are usually at a premium.   Whether working with an in-house team or putting the project out to tender, it a good place to start is with a well thought out web specification. 

What is a web specification?

A web specification describes the objectives, requirements and plans your business has for its new site.  It articulates these requirements in the context of your business strategy and provides direction for the project. Don’t worry too much about the technical aspects, you are not the expert.  Focus on what your business needs. The process involves analysing the current website, conducting internal and external research in order to to understand the current customer trends, latest web solutions and what your competitiors are up to in terms of web presence. Ultimately, you want to arrive at the most appropriate and sustainable solution for your business.

Who should write it?

This is a worthwhile exercise for any business owner or marketing manager commissioning a website project, whether it be a moderate upgrade, redesign or a totally new site.  The process should be collaborative.  The project owner should work with marketing, sales and a range of internal stakeholders to understand diverse needs and to define requirements.

What’s the benefit?

A good brief will attract the right team for the project.  While you may be impatient to talk to a designer and just get going, it’s worth investing the time upfront to prepare this useful document which will support the project as it moves forward.

A good specification enables you to expertly brief your in-house team or issue a succinct but detailed request for proposal (RFP) to potential web designers.

It also allows you to plan ahead of time for those non-technical aspects of the project. For example, what are you plans for content – existing and new? Are you happy with your branding – logo, font, colours ad messaging.  What do you know about your customers/clients?  What sort of imagery do you need for the new site? And, a kley ysuccess factor in the project – who are the influencers and champions you need to work with across your organisation to get the job done?

Getting started

The eight headings below highlight the main areas for consideration and provide a suggested structure for your website specification.

1. Project Overview

Provide a brief overview of your organisation, an outline of the project as you see it and your ambitions for the new website. Look at the big picture for your organisation and describe how the website will support this vision.

2. Website Objectives

Think about the job you want your website to do. It might have one job or many jobs.  I am certain that your website will be required to do at least one or more of the following:-

  • Act as a sales portal
  • Raise awareness of your brand, products or services
  • Support content marketing strategy
  • Act as a point of differentiation
  • Lead generation
  • To increase your followers elsewhere online such as social media accounts or a branded YouTube channel
  • Community engagement
  • Customer service/support
  • Promotion/sales of events
  • Employee engagement and/or hiring
  • Thought leadership
  • Support your CSR programme
  • Support you investor relations programme

Evidently, the website can have many, many jobs and the larger the organisation, the more complex and strategic those jobs may be.  Ultimately, your website serves the business.  The objective is to provide a website that allows you to attract and engage customers with calls to action that win you business – again and again.

3. Target Audience

Before you can even think about designing a website, you need to have a keen understanding of your clients/customers.  Who do you sell to? Describe your typical customer.  How many types are there?  What are the barriers to sale?  How can the website help overcome these barriers? 

The answers to these questions have implications for all sorts of aspects of the project from site navigation to the look and feel; imagery used; key messaging; content; and, calls to action.

This is not information you want to come up with on the fly.  You very probably have all this  information already, however formally or informally.  Engage your sales and customer service teams.  Consider a side project to develop a buyer persona – a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on real data about your existing customers. The more detailed the persona the better.  For more, read  Hubspot – The Definition of a Buyer Persona in Under 100 Words.

When considering the audience for your site, include all stakeholders.  In addition to clients/customers, you may have messages for investors, business partners, intermediaries, employees, suppliers and press?

While you may be impatient to talk to a designer and just get going, it’s worth investing the time upfront to prepare this useful document which will support the project as it moves forward.

4. Branding

State your organisation’s mission, vision and key messages.  Describe the core purpose and values of your brand.  Through your website, you want to convey a sense of what it feels like to work with you as a business; to experience your products and service; and, to deal with your staff.

This same sense of core beliefs should be reflected in your logo, chosen imagery, and other aspects of design. Make these available for use in web-friendly, high resolution formats.

Make sure that you are happy with your current logos and corporate colours before you embark on the project as this will significantly impact the look and feel of the site.  Is it time for a re-brand?

For more, read The First Thing You Should Do When Building Your Brand (Hint: It Isn’t Pick Out a Logo) via Entrepreneur Europe.

5. Functional Requirements

Describe what you expect in terms of components to be provided by your web designer. This may include:

  • Primary/secondary/tertiary menu items and navigation
  • Menu items
  • Mobile Friendly/Responsive Design
  • Any sections requiring a login – e.g a member area
  • Text or video blog
  • ‘Calls to Action’ such as a newsletter signup, live chat functionality
  • Site Map
  • Intranet
  • Search

Take the opportunity to describe what you like about your current website; what works and what doesn’t.  Provide examples of sites you like and why.  Examples don’t have to be from your sector. The unlikeliest of websites could inspire you and provide you with a novel idea that will help you stand out from the crowd.

Ultimately, your website serves the business. Therefore, the overriding objective is to provide a website that allows you to tactically engage in the marketplace; to attract and engage customers; and, to win business again and again.

6. Technical Requirements

List your technical requirements here. This list may not be exhaustive and that’s ok. You are not the expert. 

  • Content management system and training
  • Web Analytics
  • Hosting options
  • SEO Support
  • Web Security

7. Budget

Yes, by all means include it!  At least, provide a ball park indication. This allows potential suppliers assess whether or not they can undertake the project within your proposed budget and provide an appropriate, realistic response.

8. Generating a Request for Proposal (RFP)

If you wish to work with an external designer, this document can be converted to a request for proposal (RFP)

Under the heading – Website Quotation Requirements – include the following points for completion by the supplier. Add your own detail as appropriate.

  • Quote for the provision of  a new website
  • Company and team overview and experience
  • Reference sites of similar work including contact details
  • Suggestions regarding any other technologies or approaches

Include key information for the supplier:

  1. Time, date and format for the completed tender
  2. Rough project deadline including date for awarding the contract, estimates start date and any critical dates such as product launches, trade shows or press announcements
  3. Contact details  – Point of contact, address, phone, email.

In Summary

Embarking on a website project whether supported by your own IT department or commissioning a web designer, can be a daunting prospect. If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail. Investing the time upfront to prepare a web specification provides clarity for all stakeholders and starts you off on the right track.  Best of luck and enjoy the process!

Up next

This article is the first in a series.  Any other aspects you are interested in? Let me know here and I will add them to the list.


About the author: Suzanne Shaw, MBA, is an independent marketing professional with 20 years’ experience in developing business development, marketing and communications strategies, across a wide variety of sectors and businesses. Contact Suzanne here, should you need assistance in developing a practical, proactive approach to your marketing activities.