What type of website do I need?

Marketing / 14.01.16
Mark Vaesen

So you’ve decided you need a new website.

Your next step is to create a brief for the project. But before you do that, you need to work out a framework of the functionality; in other words, what type of website you need.

Lots of clients come to us without a fully developed brief, so we work with them in the planning stage to make sure everyone’s clear on what the project’s trying to achieve.

In this post, I’m going to walk you through the process I go through with a client in our first planning meeting, and show you how this helps you think about what features you need to include in your new site.

We start by finding out what the point of the website is, and how it fits in with your business goals. We can do this by asking three key questions:

1. What are the aims of the website?

This question helps frame the whole project, and establishes the reason you’re getting a new website developed.

Ask yourself: What’s the website there for? What do you want to achieve?

You might be aiming to:

  • Raise your brand profile
  • Increase sales by getting more customers
  • Sell more to existing customers
  • Sell more of a new product or service
  • Get more customers or orders of a particular type

Or maybe you want to:

  • Improve communication with your customers
  • Make your service quicker by taking it online
  • Reduce costs by being more efficient
  • Save money on postage

These are some of the more common aims we discuss with our clients. Some come to us with a completely new idea, or something very niche to their market, but your website should be doing something to improve your bottom line.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

2. Who’s the website aimed at?

The next thing to consider is who’s going to be using the site.

You need to know who your user is to know how to make the site easy (and enjoyable) for them to use.

Who’s your target audience?

Perhaps you want to work with small independent retailers.

This is your type of customer.

But you also need to look beyond this to the actual person using the site.

How old are they? How tech-savvy are they? Do you think they’ll be using a desktop machine (a PC or Mac, or a laptop) or a tablet or phone? Is your website going to be used by them at work? Or at home, on the sofa with a glass of wine in their hand?

It’s worth putting in a bit of time and effort to create Personas – it really helps everyone involved in the project visualise the people who’ll be using the site (and it’s quite good fun, too).

How will they find your site – where will they be coming from?

Is your customer going to search for what you sell, or will they already know about you from somewhere else?

Exhibit A: One of our clients operates in a very tight-knit industry where everyone knows everyone else; a potential new client wouldn’t ever search for what they do.

Exhibit B: Another client sells a niche product to enthusiasts. These users will definitely search for a supplier of these products because they’re hard to find.

If your users are searching, what will they search for? Will it be the type of product (“purple leather diary”) or the product name (“Thunderbolt 2000 vacuum cleaner”)?

This question leads into what other marketing you do, away from the website; but more about that later.

What will they be looking for?

Once they get to your site, what information are they looking for?

Usually a buyer has a set of questions in mind that they want to answer before making a decision to purchase.

The order of their questions, and the answers you need to give them, can help you structure your content effectively. You may have heard this referred to as a User Journey.

Here’s an example of a typical thought-process:

  • Do they do what I want? Show your full range of services clearly, with links to details
  • What’s their track record? Show examples of work you’ve done for other customers
  • How will they go about it – will I like working with these people?Describe your processes and get across your personality

If you work out how to help your user through the site, answering their questions along the way, you’ll turn more of your visitors into customers.

3. How does the website fit in to your other marketing plans?

A website’s rarely the only form of marketing a business does, so you need to think about how it fits in with the other stuff you’re doing.

Are you doing mailouts, exhibitions, seminars, cold-calling? How does the site need to fit in with these other marketing activities?

If you’re doing a direct mail campaign, you might want to include a specific URL for the user to go to (e.g. www.mydomainname.com/offer). If you’re planning on running seminars, it works both ways; you can promote the seminars on the website and then later, refer the delegates in the room back to your online resources.

What about digital marketing?

If you know your customers use search, plan your online strategy early.

Your content – including page names and titles – should be created around your target search terms, so you’re better off thinking about it now, rather than later.

What about social media and email marketing?

If you’re going to be active on social media, how will this affect the planning of your website? You might want to include “follow us” links on your site, but do you want to have feeds of your social media too?

If you’re planning email marketing campaigns, it’s crucial to have a sign up on the site, so you can build your list. Think about where this will appear, and what copy you’re going to use, to maximise conversions.

Examples of common types of website

Commercial websites often fall under one of the following headings, but it’s more common to find a mix of elements from each, working together to suit the specific needs of the business.

Brochure site

This type of site helps your business raise or position your brand profile and tells your customers what you do and how you do it.

Brochure sites range in size from just a handful of pages to several dozen, but functionality is at the basic end of the scale. A good brochure site positions a business correctly within its marketplace, helping it win more of the right type of business.

Brochure websites aren’t complex; but done well they present a business properly, helping it win more of the right customers

Portfolio website

If you want to show off your work, your new website needs to include a portfolio/case studies/gallery. If customers want to see examples of what you’ve done for others to help them decide whether to buy from you, this is something you need to do effectively.

You should think about how your work is presented, what information customers will want to know about each project, and how best to organise your work to help them find what they’re looking for.

Ecommerce site

If you want to sell your products online, you need an ecommerce site. You might want an online shop with categories of products, product details pages, basket and checkout etc., but equally you might want to use some of these features to show your product range, without taking online payments.

For Sussex Oak, we created the framework of a shop, but instead of paying online, customers add products to an enquiry list, which is picked up by the site administrator.

And don’t forget, ecommerce doesn’t just mean buying tangible, physical products. If you want to take online payments for subscriptions, digital (downloadable) products or something else, the opportunity’s there to improve how you do business.

Listings site

If you’ve got a list of assets that change regularly, you’ll need a listings site.

Often used by estate agents and car salesrooms, a listings site gets updated by the site administrator daily or weekly as properties or cars are sold or rented.

Work out what information you need to show, and what needs changing most often, to help your developer design an admin system that’s easy for you to use.

Bookings website

If you’re running a holiday cottages business, or running ticketed events, you’re going to need facilities for users to make an online booking.

There are plenty of good third party systems out there that can be integrated into your site to handle calendars and availability which can easily be hooked up to your preferred payment provider.

Membership site

Membership sites offer premium content or extra services for select users.

Access might be charged for on a subscription basis, or made available under the terms of another arrangement you have with them. Users login details can be managed by the site administrator or automatically linked to billing.


Intranets can come in many shapes and sizes, but what they all have in common is that they provide a means for a restricted group of people to communicate with each other in specific ways.

For example, we’ve developed several systems for clients who wanted an alternative way to deliver coursework-based training courses.

Slow and expensive postal systems were replaced by online portfolios, where students can login and add or edit coursework whenever they want. Notifications get sent to the course administrator so everyone’s kept up to speed, and a marking and moderation process eliminated the hassle of getting lots of people together in one place for meetings.

Information sites

This sort of site suits charities, not-for-profit groups and local government.

If your organisation needs to make information available online to service users, you need a well-organised site with a structure that’s easy to follow across all devices and for all users. Other considerations like accessibility might need to be included in your brief too.

Common interest site

These sites are used for sharing information and resources on a particular subject. They might include directories, online resources, social elements and blogs.

Let’s say you’re an expert in the haulage industry, and you’ve spotted an opportunity for a site that carries news stories, blog posts, premium content and a directory of operators. Build relevant traffic coming to the site, sell advertising space and job listings and hey presto – you’ve got a self-sufficient business.