Are you about to build a new website? Then it would be best if you considered how you plan it. A project like website development can absorb massive amounts of time and resources. And you don't want any of that to be wasted. Just like the writing process is made smoother and more efficient with the use of a detailed outline, building a website can go smoother with less error by the use of technical requirement specification, otherwise known as a website requirements document.
What is website development?
The process of creating a new website or making changes to one already in use is called website development or website design. Website development will include the site design, content development (copy/words), client liaison, a server and network security, and possibly, e-commerce development. The project can be for creating a single page for a site or developing complex internet applications. Whatever the project is for development, a website requirements document will be useful.
What is a website requirements document?
A website requirements document is a specification that clearly outlines the project's purpose, its goals and objectives, functions, budget, deadlines, and technical restraints. In short, it articulates what the website is for, what it will do, and how it will accomplish this.
The document can look any way you want, but its purpose is to ensure the site owner(s) and the web development team agree to the project's details. A good specification document means a smoother, more precise implementation and project estimation.
Despite the document, there is still room to make changes to the project because it is usually done in iterations. The document isn't intended to restrict or limit the project. Instead, it should provide an exact way forward.
What should be included in your document?
There is no one way to create a requirements document, so there is only a general idea of what one should contain. Yours might be more or less specific than our example below. But keep in mind that the more detailed it is, the more defined the project.
Here we have an example of a Table of Contents and a definition of each section, with examples where possible. You're free to make your website requirements document using these sections or others related to your specific website building project.
Table of Contents
- Website Overview
- Browser Support
- Ongoing Support and Maintenance
This section is about the overall purpose of the website. You can say a little about the organization or individuals behind it and why the website is being created. Is there a problem you are solving? Here you can also describe your overall vision for the project and what you envisage the website accomplishing.
User description and stories
The overview should include a description of the target audience. Who are you hoping to attract? The site must meet the users' needs, so you need to have a clear idea of who they are and what they need.
User stories (or features) are descriptions of the site's features from the potential user's point of view. These will help to envision how your target audience will interact with your site and how it will respond to them. There should also be testable criteria to show when those objectives are reached.
Here have a list of the people who are involved in this project. I.e., the decision-makers and contributors. Their job titles, project roles, and contact information should also be included.
Here's an example:
- Michael Scott - CEO - MScott@Dundermifflin.com
- Dwight Schrute - Assistant to the CEO - DSchrute@Dundermifflin.com
- Pam Beesly - Web Content Manager - PBeesly@Dundermifflin.com - Project Lead
Notice that the project lead is highlighted, so the development team knows who to contact first.
Describe your goals for the website. This description should be more detailed than in the overview. The developers need to know, specifically, what you expect to achieve.
- To see monthly sales up by 10% in the first three months.
- To increase newsletter signups by 20% by the end of the year.
- 1K new Instagram followers within one year.
We've all heard this, but it bears repeating. Use SMART as a template for how you describe the project's goals:
- Specific - What are the objectives, and who are the stakeholders?
- Measurable - How will we know when we accomplished the goals?
- Assignable - Who is doing what?
- Realistic - Can it be done?
- Time-Related - What are the time allowances?
As we mentioned, the work is often done in iterations - especially if it is a large project. It is helpful for everyone involved to know what is being worked on in any given phase. This ensures that the team puts its efforts into the right part of the project.
Here's an example:
- Phase 1 - Creating the basic marketing website - currently doing.
- Phase 2 - Add e-commerce platform
- Phase 3 - Integrate CRM software
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This is where you explain the content structure, otherwise known as the Information Architecture (IA). There are a few parts to this, depending on how complicated and broad the project.
A site map
This is a diagram that looks like a tree with branches in a hierarchical structure. It demonstrates how and where the website pages will be located.
Here is an example of a basic site map:
This section can include page templates for the kinds of content to be used on each page. For instance, the 'Home' page will look different from the 'About Us' page.
Here are a few examples of page templates:
- Blog post
- News Archive
- Contact Us
Types of content
A website contains several kinds of content:
Website taxonomy, also called URL taxonomy, is key to the structure of a website. Your content is classified into subfolders in your URLs. And having well-optimized URLs will make all the difference to your site.
For instance, if you had a cooking website, you might put a taxonomy of 'meals,' under which you might have taxonomy terms like breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You might also have a taxonomy of 'cuisine' with terms under it like French, Indian, or Mexican.
The two main taxonomies are 'Tags' and 'Categories.' These are non-hierarchical and hierarchical - respectively.
The web development team needs guidance on the design style. For example, if there are brand guidelines, they will include:
Brand guidelines - colors, logos, fonts, etc.
Analysis of competition - What aspects of their sites do you like and don't like?
Print Material - business cards, brochures, etc.
Examples of other site designs that you like.
This is just how your website will work. For example, if there is to be a signup page, describe what fields are required? What happens after someone fills out the form?
Some sites have integrations with third-party APIs. These should be outlined in terms of how they'll work and whatever other information is needed. An example of an integration is the site owner's Twitter feed showing on the page.
- Multi-lingual functionalities
- User roles and capabilities
- Payment gateways for e-commerce platforms
- Search functionality
- Analytics and tracking
- Performance requirements
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The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) ensure that web developers build accessible websites for everyone regardless of location, technology, or ability.
This section should outline technical requirements to ensure all browsers and devices are supported. Supporting older browsers like Internet Explorer, will add to the expenses of the project.
This section of the document should show on which browsers and devices the website should be tested.
Here, the hosting requirements are outlined. If you already have hosting, provide details of the platform.
Ongoing support and maintenance
Building a website isn't the end of the work. They are in constant need of updating, maintenance, and improvements. If this doesn't happen, there will be issues with site performance, compatibility, and security.
In this section, explain any ongoing support or maintenance you will need.
In this section, list everything that needs to be done for the project. A few assumptions include:
- Design and layout
- Ongoing maintenance
- Content creation
Milestones are phases of the project where the team will be working on different aspects of it. The addition of timescales or deadlines is an excellent idea to keep things moving at a productive pace.
An example could be designs or testing and feedback.
Even if you choose not to establish milestones, deadlines will help everyone work more efficiently toward the goal. So ensure that your document includes any relevant deadlines.
Include a breakdown of the project's budget, maybe in terms of its phases or milestones. You could also include your preferred pricing model - time and materials, or fixed-price.
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A detailed, properly prepared website requirements document will ensure that your project progresses smoothly and that your expectations are met. The document will take time to prepare, but it will be well worth it to communicate clearly and succinctly with the team creating your website.