At the initial web requirements stage of any development, we often find it helpful to slice a website into three different layers in order for the client to understand what they need to be thinking about when planning their website. We need to understand what the core functionality will be, what marketing messages the site needs to reflect and how the website will work as a marketing tool for the client (i.e. how does it fit with their overall marketing strategy). We call this a website hierarchy of needs.
Core functionality and usability
As part of a thorough requirements analysis, we will begin to plot out what the site areas, or sections are. The core functionality (or functional requirements) inform the web design company what user processes the site needs to support from within each section.
Usability and proven web conventions play their part at this stage, because core functionality must always be user-focussed, ie do users need this functionality in order to fulfil their objectives on your site?
Your website communicates marketing messages to a targeted audience. What are your key marketing messages, how are you differentiating yourself from your competition for instance? The design, content and information architecture of the site need to support and reinforce your marketing communications.
How you will use your site
The final layer is thinking about how your site will work as a marketing tool for your business. Your site will only work as part of your overall marketing strategy, it is a tool and any tool will only work well if it is used well. So how does your website support your marketing and work as part of your overall marketing strategy?
Does your website support the sales conversation by acting as a referral via search?. Do you point people to your site to reinforce your proposal? Does it reflect your creditability and market position?
Think how you will actually be using your site, how it can function as a tool for your organisation and what you need it be doing to work at its best for you.
The “3 Ps” (Purpose of your website, Profile of your target audience and the Processes your website needs to support) work on every layer and need to be your starting point for any web strategy.