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Front end developer coding at desk

How to write a website brief

Having a website brief for your new project can save you a huge amount of time and energy when you’re looking for a digital marketing agency to help with a design or development project.

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A good web project brief tells your design agency what you expect from this website, in terms of functionality, style and ultimate goals, and it gives them a starting point so that they can offer suggestions, advice and strategies that will achieve those goals in the best way.

It can take a bit of time, but creating a website brief helps you to arrange your thoughts and ideas, so that you can be confident in what you expect from your new website.

Getting in depth with your website brief is great - but remember that it is just a guideline.

No good agency will expect you to have a full plan, strategy and sitemap for your new site without any input from them. 

Ideally what you want to create is a framework that you can flesh out with your digital agency and turn into a full plan for your project.

All the steps:

If you've already got your website brief sorted, feel free to send it in to us, we'd love to take a look! 

 

Background

The first bit of your website brief should give an outline of your business, your customers and this particular project.

Even if you’ve spoken to a design agency before giving them your brief, they won’t have the  sort of insight into your business that you do.

So it’s really helpful to them to get an understanding of who you are and what you do.

About the company

Getting to know your company well enough to design a spectacular website can’t all be done through the website brief, but it can create a great foundation to build on. 

The essential things to include are a general description of who you are and what you do, some company history (especially if you’ve been around for a long time), and some information on who the main contacts for this project will be.

About your current website

Naturally you can skip this if you’re working on a completely new project! 

But if you’re redesigning an existing site, it’s really helpful to go into a bit of detail about what is no longer working with the old design.

It also helps to know what IS still working, and why you’ve decided to make the change now.

About the project

Not every project is a straight redesign of your main website.

You might be looking to build something for a new product, be breaking into a new market, trying to reach different customers or have a completely separate side project.

Whatever your plans, this is the place to explain what the purpose of THIS website is.

About your competitors

Knowing who your main competitors are, having a look at their sites and seeing where they place themselves in the market is also really useful. 

It’s good to consider the things they do well as well as the things they aren’t so great at.

By seeing what other companies are doing, your digital agency can start to get some ideas about how to make your site stand out.

 

Goals

The background information you give is definitely going to help establish some of the goals for this project.

But making sure you’ve got clear objectives for your new site is essential.

It’s not just important for any web agency bidding for the work, but also for you to set some targets for success that you can review once the project is completed.

How are you going to know whether this project has been a success if you haven’t identified what success is?

User personas

Customer profiles or user personas are a really important aspect of establishing your project goals. Knowing your target audience is the most important starting point for digital marketing. 

Essentially you want to set out:

  • Who your customers are
  • What they’re trying to do on your site
  • What their motivations are (are they looking for the best price, most in-depth service, help, reassurance?)

You might only have one customer profile that covers everyone, but most companies will have a few different user personas.

As those personas are likely to have different motivations and goals when on the site, you’ll need to do this exercise with each one.

Outcomes

Once you’ve outlined who your customers are and what they’ll be looking to do on your site, it’s also important to know what YOU want them to do - it’s often not the same outcome!

Your ultimate goal for the site might be to generate more leads, to get more direct sales, to provide online information that saves people phoning you, or maybe to create an online resource that didn’t previously exist.

Whatever your goals are with this site, your digital agency will need to know before they can start understanding what your project needs.

 

Assets

Very often, content and assets are a bit of an afterthought when approaching a design project.

But a bit of thought that you can put into a website brief is not only going to help your web design agency understand the scope of what they need to offer you.

It will also prepare you for some of the essential tasks that you’ll have to do before the project can be launched.

Branding

Step one with content is the branding. 

Do you have the branding in place already? Do you have a style guide that needs adhering to? 

Your logo, brand colours and styles will impact the design choices your digital agency makes.

Let them know whether they will be creating these along with the site, or whether there are assets in place already that need to be considered.

Images

Knowing up front what your plan is regarding imagery (even if that’s to take the advice of your web designer), can be really helpful.

For example, if they know that they will only have the images you have on your current site, they will know they’ll need to source any additional images from a stock library.

If you have plans to take more photos specifically for the website, then your designers might want to take a hand in guiding you to the sorts of pictures they need.

To find out more about how to source the perfect images for your site, have a look at our guide.

Text

One of the most important things your digital agency needs to know about your website content, is how much of it to expect. 

You don’t need to have a full plan for every web page, but an outline of the important information you want to get across about your company, as well as your products or services can really help.

Of course you’re not going to know that absolutely when writing your brief, but having a general idea of how much content, or how many different content types you expect to have on the site is really important.

It really helps to know who is going to be writing content for you too. 

Some clients expect their web agency to either write, or edit content for them as part of the project, and some have already gathered text ready to be used. 

Either way, putting that information into your brief is really useful - as well as giving an idea of when you expect content will be finalised and ready for the digital marketing agency to use.

 

Functionality

This is probably the section that most people immediately think of when writing a website brief, as knowing what the site needs to DO is obviously a massive part of the project.

Development

You’ll probably have a good idea of most of the functions you need, and it’s great if you can provide a list of things that are essential to the site, as well as more of a wishlist of things that would be nice to have.

Your digital agency can then take a look and advise you on what they think will work best.

This could change based on who your customers are and what might work for them, but also based on your budget and how to make the most of your money.

If your website project is more of an online tool, you might not have a clear picture of how you actually need it to work, but you might have an outline of what you want it to do. 

In this case it’s often best not to make a list of functions, but instead giving more of a description of what you’re after.

CMS

CMS stands for Content Management System, and this is the side of the website that allows you to edit and make changes to your website.

If you have a clear idea of what CMS you’d like to use already (perhaps you’re used to dealing with Wordpress, or are really familiar with Drupal), then it’s important to set that out in your brief.

But if you don’t have any particularly strong feelings about what platform the site ends up on, it is helpful to include in your brief how much editorial control you expect to have on the site.

Lots of clients only really want to be able to update basic text on the site, and modify any editable areas, like your products, blog posts or case studies, for example.

But sometimes clients need a deeper level of editorial control, for example, to be able to build new pages using the existing design styles, or add new plugins to the site. 

Knowing how you expect to edit and develop the site over time helps your digital marketing agency guide you to a CMS that’s going to work for you, so that’s great information to put into your website brief.

3rd party integration

Occasionally clients have external systems or software that need to integrate with their site. 

Always make sure you list these out in your website brief, and let people know how they’re going to be interacting with your site.

For example, do you need your contact form to feed information into your CRM, do you plan to use a 3rd party booking service to list your courses, or do you want your vacancies to push information through to services like Monster?

If a web design agency knows about the software you’re using up front, they can check they can integrate with that system - which might also impact their advice about a CMS.  

 

Design

This is actually the easiest section of all! 

All you need to do in this section of your website brief is let your digital marketing agency know if you have any strong likes or dislikes in design.

It just saves them putting together a dark, moody concept for you, only to find out that you’re passionate about clean colours and white space.

Remember that you don’t want to be too prescriptive with this. After all, it’s your digital agency’s job to make the design decisions. 

But make sure they know if you have any particular likes or dislikes, as that will factor into their decision making, so they can design something that you love as much as your customers do.

 

Ongoing

Knowing a bit about how your expectations for what happens AFTER your website has been launched is also really helpful.

Hosting

Lots of people prefer their design agency to also handle their website hosting, but some clients already have their own setup that they’d like to keep in place.

Let your digital agency know if you plan to use your own hosts and try to provide access to the hosting service as soon as you can

This saves lots of time when the site is ready to launch. You don’t want to get to the end of the process and then be waiting for weeks for your hosting company to release details to your web agency!

If you’re not sure about hosting and how it works, we’ve got the ultimate guide on Domains, Emails and Hosting, which will help you understand what it is, and how it affects you.

Marketing

Your marketing strategy is a really important part of your website’s success.

If you expect your digital marketing agency to play a part in the ongoing marketing support of your site, including ongoing Search Engine Optimisation, make sure that’s in your website brief.

If you’ve not thought about SEO and ongoing marketing, maybe have a quick read through our Getting Started with SEO guide, which explains all the basics of what it is and how it works.

Support

Most digital agencies will have support contracts or other services that are available to you once your site goes live.

It’s not necessary to ask for these upfront, but it’s good to know whether you expect to be needing regular developments and updates, or whether you expect the site to tick along nicely without too much input from your agency.

 

Essentials

And lastly we come to the most important pieces of information for your website brief. Time and money.

Timescales

9 times out of 10 you just want your website as soon as possible, but if you have specific deadlines, a product launch or special event coming up that you want the website to be ready for, you need to let people know up front.

If you have a really tight deadline for the work you need, a digital agency might suggest a different working pattern for you, with a Minimum Viable Product ready for your deadline, and growing the site afterwards.

Budget

No-one ever wants to give a budget for their website, but even a rough idea, or a maximum figure really helps an agency understand what your expectations are.

It can be the difference between you wasting hours of your time in meetings that never amount to anything, or employing a digital agency that doesn’t really meet the standard of work you’re looking for.

If you need more convincing - have a read of our article why should I provide my budget for some additional persuasion!  

A complete picture

Writing your website brief shouldn’t feel like a chore; in fact, it’s an opportunity.

This is your chance to evaluate and understand what you expect from your project, and can really help you understand your own requirements before speaking to a digital agency.

If you've now got a brilliant website brief, why not share it with us? We'd love to hear from you!

sam.jpg

Sam Orchard

Creative Director