Your blueprint for success: producing a website brief
When you need a new website, producing a website brief is the first step. If you’re kicking the tyres of a few web agencies, trying to get a sense of who you should work with, it’ll be hard to draw reliable conclusions about them if your own side of the conversation is vague. Let’s give them some meaningful information to digest and respond to.
A good website brief sets the tone by describing your business, your customers, and your targets. This brings clarity and purpose to your discussions, helping you to find the right design partner and start the critical ‘discovery’ phase on the right foot. No-one can formulate an effective technical solution without a comprehensive understanding of the problem. The more detailed your project brief, the better equipped the web agency will be to set an appropriate course for the creative process. Your goal here is to communicate anything that might help to reduce uncertainty and risk on both sides, while initial estimates, agreements and plans are being drawn up.
The essential elements for your website brief
Let’s cover the things you should include.
1. Company background
The size of your company (eg. headcount or turnover), its products and services, its ethos, its position in a wider industry. What does your current online presence and marketing effort look like? If you’re a brand new startup with more limited history or context to share, an elevator pitch will help.
2. Target audience
Who are you trying to communicate with? Are they from a particular industry? What is the problem that your customers are trying to solve by using your product or service? Ideally you’ll already have good demographics data about your website audience, from Google Analytics or similar.
The core purpose of the website should align with wider business objectives and should be outlined in your brief. Measurable goals might include improving sales, increasing mailing list signups, generating leads, promoting brand awareness, improving your search engine rankings.
Who will be the main point(s) of contact at your end throughout the project? What are their individual responsibilities? Who else exerts a direct influence on the project, and will they be included in all comms throughout the process?
5. Existing website
If the brief is to replace an existing website, share some info and thoughts about it. Who designed and built it, and have they been providing support and maintenance since? What are the main things that you like, and dislike, about your current website?
Do you have analytics data about its traffic, performance and usage (eg. Core Web Vitals scores, percentage of visits from mobile vs desktop devices etc)? Do you rely mostly on search engines for traffic, or are your users typically from established relationships and referrals?
6. Competitor research
Who are your competitors, and what differentiates you from them? Have you seen website examples within your industry that you like? Have you seen anything to avoid at all costs? Your opinions could cover anything from aesthetic details, to the general clarity of message, or the ease-of-use that you experience on their sites.
7. Website content
Do you have a strong content strategy in place? If you haven’t fully accounted for the creation of your website’s content yet, then bear in mind that this can take far longer than you think to get right. Who will be responsible for completing the copywriting?
Do you have a library of photographic images for the site, whether custom or stock? If you expect the site to be more abstract or illustration-led, do you already have an established house style for this?
Also consider the structure of the site. A roughly sketched diagram mapping out the information architecture can help the designers understand how content will be grouped and organised, and how a user might navigate through it.
You might feel that there aren’t many concrete technical specifications to share yet, if you’re at the earliest stages of planning your new website. It is indeed a great idea to enter into a discovery phase with an open mind, as this process often challenges your assumptions and causes a perspective shift. However, you and your stakeholders may already have a hefty list of firm expectations that must be met. Consider which of the following features are must-haves:
- Admin user capabilities, including any editorial workflow requirements
- Blog / News, including categorisation and filtering of results. Should articles have associated authors and would they have their own profiles?
- Case studies
- Contact forms
- CRM integration
- Document downloads
- E-commerce or payment handling
- Events listings
- Live chat
- Mailing list sign-up
- Maps eg. google map integration
- Member portal, including user account management
- Multilingual capabilities
- Online bookings for meetings or appointments
- Other post types ie. types of content, other than generic pages, that would be grouped or share a specific format
- Site-wide search functionality
- Video embeds – what platform would you use to host these eg. YouTube, Vimeo?
It’s also good to indicate anything which you envisage to be part of a second phase of development. Timelines and budgets often dictate that a new website launches as a minimum viable product, with the intention to procure a further round of enhancements later. If an agency understands the full eventual scope, they can be smarter about laying good foundations for what will come.
9. Hosting requirements
Do you already have hosting set up? If so, it would be good to know about the platform and its technical requirements or limitations. Would you grant full access, or do you have an IT department we would liaison with to set everything up? Otherwise, are you open to recommendations for the best hosting provider?
10. Time frame
Do you have a deadline? Is this negotiable? Is it contingent upon a wider product or campaign launch?
If you have a definite figure allowable, then this is among the most important and useful things to know about at the outset. It dictates what is feasible, and as such prevents you and the agency from wasting time exploring unrealistic avenues. Even if a business case must first be made before a budget can be allocated, you’re likely to have in mind a vague price range. Share whatever you can.
Do you also have a projected budget for ongoing support and maintenance services post-launch? The agency that delivers your website might be your best option for looking after it over its entire life-span (read more about the value of a support package here). It can be mutually beneficial to get a sense whether your project might start a long-term relationship.
12. Next step
Finally, let’s make it easier for you to start off on the right foot with any agencies you submit your brief to. How would you like to hear back from them? Should the agency provide a formal proposal (you might need to allow a week or two to receive this), or will an estimate suffice at this stage? It would be helpful to communicate anything you can about your internal deadlines and milestones for appointing a supplier.
A palace begins with firm foundations
Don’t worry about formatting your brief, you can present the information however you like. The key thing is to thoughtfully cover the questions we have outlined today, so that a web agency can pick up the ball and run with it. Don’t be surprised to find that answering the above points is a little complicated. Once done, you’ll be well placed to let a web agency flex their expertise, work their magic, and ultimately make your life far less complicated. Good luck with your new website, and get writing!