Critical Website Definition Documents Every Business Needs

Developing a website is like building a house. When you want to build a house, you ask an architect to draw up the plans. The architect will get building permits, city licenses, oversee a geological survey and more, all before any actual construction begins. Without these plans and documents, the house cannot be built, and if you have shoddy plans and a weak foundation, your house could quickly become a money pit.

Intelligent website development works the same way. Even small business websites need some degree of strategic planning in order to answer questions like:

  • What is the overall online strategy?
  • How will the business brand be applied to the website?
  • What is the best site navigation to promote sales?
  • What programming framework will be used?
  • What are the website features?
  • How will marketing be integrated?

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The more complex a website is, the more planning you need to do. In the web business, this planning phase can be referred to as “Definition”, “Scope” or “Discovery.”  During this preliminary planning phase, your website professionals will create documents that define website architecture, and identify key technical and creative requirements. For simple websites, this may take less than a day. For complex websites, this phase can consume weeks or months. Whether it takes a day or a month, this discovery and planning phase is critical to the overall success of the project.

In this article, we are providing basic descriptions and samples of important definition documents. The Definition documents you need will depend on the complexity of your particular website and your specific requirements. Every web services agency should have their own version of these documents within their methodology.

As you read through our list, feel free to use the samples as a reference and contact us if you have any questions, since we provide these planning services with our projects, and separately if you already have other design and development partners.

Our definition documents are created after we have discussed the project with the client and/or the client has provided us with a business plan or a website requirements document (RFP). If you need help getting your requirements started, please see our online Client Questionnaire, (but try not to feel overwhelmed.)


web redesign strategy video

Definition Documents List:



A sitemap shows the bird’s eye view of the structure of the website. The standard template lays this out as a series of boxes linked by directional arrows that indicate relationship and hierarchy. The top level is usually the main navigation areas or sections and below those are the pages or subsections. A sitemap can provide a web developer with a quick overview of the entire website. Note: We have a sitemap video here.




Click image for Sitemap sample

Brand Guidelines

This is a creative/marketing document that describes and dictates the correct way to represent the brand. This can include a Style Guide that provides logo usage, color palettes, font styles, graphics, etc. The website designers will use this document to guide the visual design of the website. if you don’t have one, we can help you to create one. We also provide complete logo/branding design services. Note: We have a style guide video here.




Click image for Style Guide sample


These are simple, blocky representations of website pages, devoid of graphics or color. A wireframe indicates key content and functions required on a page. Designers and developers will reference the approved wireframes. Wireframes are usually created by an IA (Interface Architect) in a program like Axure or OmniGraffle. Key wireframes should be created for both mobile and desktop devices to indicate how the structure and function is meant to adapt to different screen resolutions. Note: We have a wireframe video here.




Click image for Wireframe sample

UX Recommendations

This document is generally prepared by a usability expert who has knowledge of best practices within website design and has researched the client’s industry. The document spells out the best method to engage visitors to achieve the website’s business goals. For example, if the client is in the accounting industry, the usage of the color red may not be effective for buttons and calls-to-action.


Technical Brief

This document is prepared by the Technical Project Manager. It covers the hardware requirements such as the hosting environment, type of server, application framework, database structure, and lists website components, 3rd-party applications and plugins. These documents can get very extensive, with diagrams and system architecture schematics, etc., since this is usually where the bulk of a website effort resides.



Click image for Technical Brief sample

Features and Functionality 

This is a list of the proposed website features and the functions. Features are a website’s capabilities, like; the ability to have a member profile or streaming video. Functions are how those features are implemented, this is usually behind-the-scenes in the code – the functions make the features work. Many times this matrix will be separated by website area/section. each feature and function will be accompanied by a short description and an LOE or (Level Of Effort). Later this document can be tied into the project budget to show what the cost of various features may be, so the client can determine how best to proceed based on the intended budget. Note: We have a features and functionality video here.



Click image for Features and Functionality sample

Creative Brief

The website project’s Art Director or Creative Director will prepare the Creative Brief after meeting with the client and/or the client’s marketing staff. The businesses branding and how it will be represented within the website is a key component along with the types of graphics, color palette, and photography that will need to support the brand. A Creative Brief should also address the target audience(s) and what will appeal to them. Note: We have a creative brief video here.



Click image for Creative Brief sample

Marketing Strategy

The marketing strategy is based on the client’s specific business goals. There are general best-practices that should be observed for any website but beyond that, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Marketing strategy should be customized to the specific client, and audience, and business goal(s).


sample-marketing-brief-website development documents

Click image for Marketing Strategy sample

Website Project Estimate

Most clients will get a rough estimate or estimate range before the Definition phase but this rough estimate may change based on what is discovered during this initial round of investigation. For example, initially the client may have mentioned a website “search” feature, and this was initially assumed to be a basic, out-of-the-box feature. But during the Definition phase, the team discovers that the client wants additional functions that will customize the search results in specific ways. The “search” feature may now jump from 3 hours of effort to 100 hours of effort, thereby changing the project estimate. Once the Definition phase is complete, a much more accurate estimate can be generated.


sample-scope-website development documents

Click image for Project Estimate sample

Project Timeline

The timeline shows the various project phases broken up into sections that include milestones for deliverables and client approvals. Timelines may be merged with Resource Allocations, which is a list of the required staff for each phase. The unfortunate truth is most web projects don’t launch on time, learn why with our short video on website timelines.


sample-timeline-website development documents

Click image for Project Timeline sample

Each web agency’s versions of these definition documents will vary based on their website definition & development process.

There are another ten or more documents we could have listed that may apply to certain projects and specific tasks. The client should sign-off on the definition documents in order to begin the next phases of the website project. The Definition documents set expectations on both the client and agency-side as to the final website deliverables. If the client has contracted with the web agency to conduct a definition phase before committing to a full project deployment, then at the end of this phase, the client owns all of this documentation, which can serve as a project road map for any web services agency.

So if you’re building a house or a website, remember to define your requirements, and document your plans before you begin. If you’d like to discuss your project or see additional examples of sample documents please contact us.


Richard Parr
by Richard Parr
Posted: June 15, 2015