Archive: How to define well requirements for a website?

06-08-2008, Category Other

Are you planning implementation of a new website and make preparations for the meetings with interactive agencies?
Do you want to write a professional brief for www site?
With this article you can learn, among others:

  • what will the questions of website designer be
  • how to begin with information accumulation
  • what are the types of websites
  • how can you write information structure

This article includes 12 questions, which have to be answered. They define requirements to the website. When noting your own answers you will be prepared for the talk with interactive agency or you will gather materials for complete brief.

Where to begin?

Before gathering requirements to the website we have to prepare basic information about the firm, i.e. present your firm to the potential designer. This information should be introductory part of the brief, i.e. document, which is created with interactive agencies in mind, which may save a lot of questions and doubts as well as – as a consequence – time.
When we introduce the firm it is good to mention the branch it acts in as well as its competition environment. Obviously, the key information concerns the offer, target groups as well as sale channels and communication with the market.
It is necessary to describe the present situation of the firm in on-line environment – i.e. a few words about the present Internet site (if it already exists), its advantages and drawbacks and about the realized promotional activities.

What are the purposes of the website?

It is, in fact, the basic information, which defines the destination of the website and affects the selection of technology used for its making. The purpose can be just one, or several of them – yet, then priorities should be stated.
Here are the purposes, which are most often given for commercial sites:

  • generating sale contacts  (attracting potential customers)
  • building trade mark consciousness (firm and products)
  • sales (sale servicing and possible on-line payments)
  • after-sale servicing (technical support, complaints)
  • relieve for customer service office (by publication of ex.: FAQ)
  • servicing communication with partners
  • expanding distribution network (by winning new representatives)
  • Public Relations activity (making accessible press releases and materials for journalists)
  • recruitment process servicing (publishing job offers, collecting submitted entries)
  • realization of legal duties (information and public companies, publication of tenders)
  • other processes, characteristic of the activities of the firm, service

Sometimes purposes are confused with tools and means, which lead to realization of these purposes, for example:

  • attractive presentation of the offer
  • publication of information about the firm
  • presentation of references
  • making accessible of interesting contents
  • presenting maps of sales network


They should not be given when requirements and expectations and given, because it is the designer’s task to propose the best means, which lead to realization of purposes.

What kind of a website we have in mind?

Basing on defined purposes it should be clear whether a given realization can be classified to one of the basic types of websites. Yet, it is not unreasonable to define what kind of a website we have in mind.
The fundamental types of Internet service are:

  • corporate website (a website promoting the firm and its offer, with possible other functions)
  • product window (a website promoting one or group of products)
  • Internet shop (e-commerce website including the catalogue of products with basket functionality and service of on-line payment)
  • micro-site (target mini-website activated for a definite promotion action)
  • landing site (a kind of micro-site the purpose of which is “reception” of load generated by advertising campaign)
  • extranet (a website directed to closed user number, which requires log-in procedure)
  • portal (expanded website, with developed contents and many functionalities).

What contents will be directed to which target groups?

Detailed information about target groups of the service rendered to the agency is as important as all other information concerning communication activities. Each of the groups taken into consideration should be named with regard to the demographic and psychographic features as well as contents published for them should be defined.

Exemplary description of target group:

“potential customers”
demographic features: men aged 25-40, inhabitants of big cities with at least secondary education, earning above national average salary;
psychographic features: persons making well-thought over purchases, but not afraid of on-line transactions, eager to pay more for good quality and trade mark;
published contents: offer of personal utensils published by firm with the possibility of on-line purchase.

What are the borderline conditions of the project?

If a project has external limitations known afar, it is important to identify them and convey to potential executors at the very beginning.
Exemplary limitations:

  • dates (which result from, for example, planned advertising campaign or fairs, which come soon)
  • technical requirements (configuration of the Internet server, security policy)
  • corporation principles (imposed by the central headquarters or corporation layout)
  • budget (in some situations it is good to uncover the budget and compare what can be made out of it by various bidders)

What contents will be published on the pages?

If planning a website is one of the elements of a wider project – e-marketing strategy planning – one of the tasks of the agency will be suggesting new website information architecture. It requires profound analysis of the company’s business and in majority of cases – when implementing the website is a separate project – remains on the part of the customer. Designers from agency should always propose the most optimal structure. But to work on it one needs at least the list of information types, their division and quantity. One way or another – the best way is to convey this information oneself and propose the initial structure silhouette.
The best and the clearest form of presentation of the list of contents is numerical one. If we use it there is no doubt as to the section and its level. Application of cuts makes imagining of the structure easier.

Here is the exemplary project of corporate website structure.
1.    About the company
1.1    Mission
1.2    History
1.3    Board of management
2.    Offer
2.1    Product group A
2.1.1    Product A1
2.1.2    Product A2
2.1.3    Product A3
2.2    Product group b
2.2.1    Product B1.
3.    Reference
4.    Partners
5.    Customer service
5.1    Technical support
5.2    FAQ
5.3    Complaints
6.    Career
6.1    Work in the company
6.2    Work offers
7.    Press service
7.1    Press releases
7.2    Folders to draw
8.    Contact.

The above structure has maximum 3 levels in depth. In case of more expanded contents there are often more levels. Therefore, one of the most tasks of the agency is to design appropriate navigation of the website. Sometimes it is enough to scroll the menu, in other cases we need additional menu or other tools, which make surfing on the site easier and exhibit the most important contents.

What functionalities should the website realize?

It is a question, which cannot easily be defined. Luckily, website producer should have no problems in recognizing needs in this respect basing on the introductory information structure and replies to several additional questions.
To simplify things, these are all additional mechanisms apart from usual display of contents on the pages. (Contents means here text, illustration, table, folders to draw).

Here are examples of typical functionalities:

  • current news (display of news in chronological order)
  • sales network divided into regions (navigated, ex.: with the use of map)
  • contents browser
  • newsletter
  • calculator
  • limited access to certain sections (which requires log-in)
  • website map
  • additional language version
  • service of a given process (tenders, complaints, recruitment)

Website designer will surely ask many questions concerning additional functionalities. It is good to anticipate it and describe in details processes, which will be realized by these functionalities.

Will users of the website have to register?

Servicing base of users is a specific functionality. It is good to encourage users to register – we can thus learn more about the website users and build trade contacts base for further reference. However, there are two fundamental difficulties related to user accounts.
Firstly, users will register when they know it is worth it. It means that the website has to include some valuable contents or functionalities accessible only for those who log-in. It is not always easy to gather such materials.
Secondly, if the website gathers personal data (name, surname and contact data), the base will require specialist securities and formalities.

What are the guidelines for the website layout?

Experience of designers from interactive agencies allows conducting creation work in such a way, so that the proposal of graphic layout meets the customers’ expectations. Yet, how many steps (or attempts) shall we need to make a good design will largely depend on how precisely these expectations are defined.
The principles of visual identification described in the book of trade mark pose some limits, which have to be observed by designers. Sometimes such a codebook contains an example of Internet layout, but most often the area marked by the borderlines is quite vast, so it needs additional definitions.
Presently printed materials used by the firm form a good point of reference – it is good to show them, if, in the nearest future no changes are planned. In the description of the expected effect, examples will be useful. Offering addresses of www sites, which we like, does not mean suggesting plagiarism. Examples help in achieving the expected character and atmosphere of the website. Designers will not copy graphic solutions applied there, but they will know the general direction. It will help them in getting to the effect and sooner present the design, which will be accepted.

What should website administration look like?

All modern websites include CMS (Eng. Content Management System). This tool will allow individual administering website content – with some limits.
Normally, CMS allow adding, deleting and editing content in the form of texts, links, tables, illustrations, gallery elements and folders to draw. You can also administer structure with their help, i.e. add or remove sub-pages as well as change their names.
In majority of cases one person is responsible for the content of the website. Such administrator has a lot of work, because he/she has to update the content in all sections – that is information submitted by various departments.
Optimal solution would be many users of administration panel – with various authorizations. Within the organizational structure persons responsible for various thematic sections of the website are defined. Website creator, apart form account of main administrator, opens in administration panel accounts of additional administrators – responsible for, ex.: press service, carrier section or Internet office of customer service.
Such administrators have access only to their sections. Thanks to clear division of responsibilities content management of the whole website will be more effective. Sometimes outsourcing is the best solution for content administration. In such a situation source materials are sent over to sub-creator, who, within a short time, updates content following strictly specified guidelines.

More administration needs?

In case of companies working on very dynamic markets (ex.: presently, telecommunication), administration needs are much higher. Content updating possible to make with the use of CMS is one thing, implementing promotions, products and trade marks is another.
In such situations signed administration agreements contain – apart from administration itself – a given number of hours of specialists – graphic designers, animators and software authors. Such a package guarantees high website flexibility. Within a short time not only content updating, but also modification of graphic layout and new functionalities will follow.
It is good to foresee this kind of needs and pass them to potential website creator. Vision of signed constant agreement of cooperation will make the costs of website implementing lower.

What are the complementary services?

The fundamental service, without the website cannot be published, is hosting.
It is good to ask the interactive agency for their offer, even if the service of the present provider is satisfying. ISP market (Eng. Internet Service Providers) is very dynamic – prices of the service fall, parameters of the packages grow and new promotions appear.
It is also good to consider other complementary services – for example systems tracking users’ traffic on www sites, but also inform about paths of users travels on the website. They help to check which parts of the country and world they come from, from which websites (links), even what words they use in the search engine to find the site.

Another type of complementary services is uptime monitoring.  Thanks to this service, person responsible for the company’s www site can be sure, that he/ she will be the first to know about possible website failure.
Accessibility monitoring means continuous checking, whether the site works or sending out messages (per e-mail or SMS) in case of website failure.
Apart from www sites accessibility we can also monitor also positions in search results. The system checks every day in which place in the results of the biggest search engines is situated the site for given key words. In case of considerable change alerts are sent.

Achieving high positions in search results (ex.: top 10) in case of popular branches is very difficult. Therefore, it is good to use SEO service. Such activity means one-time optimization of the start site code on one hand and on the other hand it means getting valuable positioning links, which affect positively position of our site.
Selection of a good SEO firm is not difficult – a look at the top ten firms displayed in Google after writing question “positioning” is sufficient. If a firm achieved high position at such a phrase – they will surely cope with positioning of our site.

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