How to write a website specification
A good website is one that has been well thought out from the start. We will suggest the points you might consider and show you how to write a good website specification. We have included an example website specification that you can copy to use as the basis for the specification of your own website.
It can be easier to work with a website designer to develop a specification. We find that the end result is improved and mid project changes are minimised if we visit our clients at the start of a project and work together to produce a specification.
Decide why you need a website
The most important thing in any specification is to clearly state what you want the end product to do, however this bit is normally left out of a website specification. We will use our website as an example:
"We want people to find out about our web design, search engine optimisation, and accessibility services by searching the web. We want them contact us to discuss their website requirements"
"We want people to find" dictates that this site must have good search engine rankings. Around 90% of the traffic to this site comes from searches where our entry appears within the first 5 entries. The following points could be included in a specification:
- The website should be accessible to search engine spiders and be coded with good on-page search engine optimisation.
- The navigation system should be intuitive and allow the visitor to quickly navigate the site starting from any page.
There is more to search engine optimisation than the coding of the web site itself. The number of inbound links, and the relevance and quality of those links is important. A good web designer should know how to arrange inbound links, although this work tends to be laborious and expensive.
It's difficult to specify an exact requirement, but you could add the following to the specification:
- The designer should include separately a budget for link building.
- The designer should help set up an advertising account (such as Google Adwords) to attract traffic to the website.
These statements are vague and would have to be firmed up in discussions with your designer. A good designer should be able to suggest an appropriate level of link building and advertising for your target market.
Find out more in our search engine optimisation section.
The specification should be written in definite terms. Don't write "If possible the 'list of widgets' page should include a search box that visitors could use to search all products". Instead write "The 'list of widgets' page will include a search box that visitors can use to search all products". If is isn't possible then your web designer will tell you, and you can amend the specification.
Define the primary content of your site
The primary content of your site is the information that a visitor will need to find the products or services they need and contact you.
Write a list of your key products or services on paper. Each product range should have it's own page for effective search engine ranking so you have effectively written a page list. Make a note of the information you would like to include on each page. For example:
Home page: An overview of what your company does and what products and services it provides.
Product 1: Details of product range 1 including prices, technical details, illustration etc
Product 2: Product range 2 etc......
Contact us: A page with full contact details and maybe a map.
List each page on a sheet of paper and make a note of the content you would like to see on each page. Think about what you want each page to do and write it down. Try to group the pages into sections or categories.
You will know your company and products better than any web designer so you should be prepared to supply a draft for the wording for the pages in Microsoft Word format. Your web designer may suggest changes in order to optimise the site for search engines and ease of use for visitors.
Define your secondary content
A site with primary content alone could be a bit dry. If you only show your products then your potential customers may not appreciate your expertise. Think about including a few pages showing how your company has benefited your clients, or convey your expertise in your field. Try to present a human face to your visitors. Your site will be more effective if visitors can see there is a human behind it rather than a computer.
Case studies: Short articles describing how our services have benefited clients.
About us: A page with details about our company, perhaps including a short history. This page might include or link to a page showing pictures of your employees and a short summary of their expertise.
Articles: Articles about your specialist fields which will convey your expertise to your visitors.
It is a good idea to include extra pages just to attract visitors to your site. We included a page about MGB restoration in a page that specialises in MGB parts and sat back to watch the log files. 95 percent of people who read the article also looked at the MG parts pages.
Functionality and usability
Have a look at your competitor's websites. How easy are they to use? You will probably know what they offer better than most visitors so if you can't find information then neither can other visitors to their site. What features of their sites make them easy to use? If your competitor's sites are all poor try looking at other sites on the web.
Have a look at the guide to web design for more thoughts on web design and usability.
Many directories have bars across the top of every page which allow visitors to select a category or perform a search for products. Smaller sites can make do with drop down menus. This site uses expanding menus. Decide what you find most usable and write it in to your specification.
- The site will feature drop down menus on every page. A search box will appear on the home page and will give the visitor the option of an advanced search.
Style and layout
If you don't have any strong preferences about the style of layout of your site then it may be best to see what your designer offers. If you have any preferences about the image or strong dislikes then you should include them in the specification.
- Each page on the site should feature our company logo.
- The site should include our corporate colours.
In the UK the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) requires that you make a reasonable effort to ensure that any service you provide is accessible to disabled people. From October 2004 the DDA will specifically include websites as services. You will probably want to include the following line in your specification:
- The site must comply with W3C WAI (World Wide Web Consortium Web Accessibility Initiative) level A Guidelines.
If you are based in the USA and are funded by the government then your site should meet Section 508 Guidelines:
- The site must comply with US Section 508 Accessibility Guidelines.
It makes sense that your site is written to a high standard of code so that it continues to work correctly on future browsers. You could also include the following:
- All code on the site should validate to W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) specifications.
After the website is launched it will need to be updated with new information or you will find some area that you want to change. Most web designers offer maintenance contracts, but you might want to be able to update your site yourself using a low cost package such as Macromedia Contribute. You could add the following line to your specification:
- It must be possible for us to update the content of the site using a low cost software package.
- The web designer will provide on-site training for 2 of our staff in how to use this software package.
Your site will need to be uploaded to a web host and re-validated to ensure no problems have arisen when putting the site on-line. Your designer should be able to find a good web host and set up your E-mail.
- A reliable web host will be found for the completed site, and the designer will load the site onto the web and set up E-mail, FTP access, and carry out any other administration necesary to set up the site.
In a very complex site it is likely that the occasional small bug may get through the validation process. You will need continued support from your designer:
- Any bugs or errors found on the site after launch will be rectified free of charge.