How to write the perfect website brief

How to write the perfect website brief

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The website brief is an absolutely essential starting point that will guide the entire creative & build process. The more clear you can be, the better the agency's response.

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A website brief provides an overview of the client’s web requirements. Its purpose is to provide the web agency with a clear understanding of what’s expected in terms of project workflow, deliverables as well as post-launch services.
Of course, we understand there may be many areas the client may not know or even think to mention but providing an outline of what you do want is preferable to having nothing at all.

We have been on the receiving of many project briefs and RFPs (Request for Proposals) and, understandably, every one of them is different. Some will focus on the overall business philosophy and values, whilst others will drill into explicit detail of what they want every single button on every single page to do.

Of course, due to the fact no two websites are designed & built exactly the same, there is no standard methodology for writing a website brief. However, by taking on board the following 12 pieces of advice, we are sure your website brief will be perfect for any agency to recieve.

A website brief does not need to be War and Peace. More often than not, long-winded briefs are very poor at conveying any sense of what the most important requirements are. Worse still, the longer the document is, the more likely it is full of contradictions, often because a number of people have contributed to the document.
Even the most complex projects can usually be summarised in just a few pages and this is enough for the agency to quickly understand the key requirements and formulate an appropriate response.

When no budget guidance is provided, the agency has to guess whether to offer their absolute best solutions and risk being too expensive or alternatively, they can try to find a ‘cheap-and-cheerful’ approach. Ultimately this means the client may end up selecting an agency solely on cost. However, if a budget is provided within a brief (even if it is a rough ball-park figure) then agencies are competing on a like-for-like basis – and you can then compare how much value they can deliver for the figure that you have in mind.

While it is possible for a small site to be launched within a few weeks, most websites take several months to scope, build and test. It is useful to provide an agency with your thoughts on the project delivery, particularly if there is an event on the horizon that this project must synchronise with.
Like the budget, even a rough indication of timings is better than none.

Company information is often overlooked in a website brief but the web agency will want to know all about your business. So, do include information regarding your company, its history, brand, size, staff and locations. And don’t forget to include a summary of the solutions, services or products you provide. Moreover, it will also help to include any plans for future growth that are leading the decision for a new website.

For the majority of website builds we undertake, it is because the current website is no longer good enough and we are asked to replace the existing version with a better version. It would be useful therefore if your brief explained not just the goals and objectives of the new site but also where and why the current website is not doing well (ie the ‘pain points’). For example:

  • it no longer portrays the company values / quality / solutions / range
  • it is not attracting enough relevant enquiries
  • it has poor performance / slow speed
  • the Content Management System is not easy to use

Whilst there are many other issues that might be affecting your existing site, listing the core issues in a website brief is a very clear way to guide an agency towards the appropriate solution. And this will ensure that you will benefit from genuinely useful recommendations rather than receiving a long list of features that are hard to interpret.

The website brief should include information regarding the content: what’s needed and where its coming from. For example, will the agency need to pull existing content and database from an existing website or do they need to provide content services such as copywriting, imagery, illustration, video and translation? Let the agency know what you will be providing and where you would look for their support.

Provide a list of the required functionality in the website brief. The earlier the agency has sight of that, the more specific they can be when providing a quotation. And the less change of ‘project creep’ occurring along the way. The brief should include details regarding whether your website require bookings, e-commerce, translations, log-in areas, API-integration, databases, CMS needs, etc.

Where possible, it is always a good idea to provide the analytics data for any active system that may be replaced. A good agency should be able to tell a lot about a current set-up from information such as the bounce rate, average page duration, exit pages etc. This will also help to ensure well-considered responses when it comes to creating a search marketing plan.

Unless you add it into your brief, most agencies will not automatically know what or who the new site should be benchmarked against. It will help enormously if you provided a list of sites that you perceive to be relevant to your new one. Better still if there is a description next to each competitor site link regarding what you like or dislike.

It is easy to assume that an agency will work this out for themselves but stating the main audience types and their demographics can help agencies put forward good ideas to appeal to these audiences. The more information you can pass on about your current, future and target audiences, the more tailored the solution can be that the agency provides.

More often that not, a website brief focuses solely on the requirements of the actual build and completely misses any associated or post-launch considerations.
Do you want your website to benefit from ongoing search marketing activity? Do you want the website code to be handed to your team to arrange hosting? Who do you have in place to ensure ongoing web maintenance?
It may be that you have different providers in place or that you want the web agency to include these services as part of the proposal. Whichever it is, it would help if these are included as part of the website brief.

If your brief is being sent to more than one agency, then it would be very helpful to provide details regarding the pitch process and also the factors that influence the decision-making. For example, does the agency’s response / proposal need to consider / build in?

  • design concepts & wireframes in advance
  • several trips to various offices round the country
  • presentations to the company heads
  • multiple forms to be filled in &/or documents to be provided

And, as for the decision-making process, agencies always like to know how they are to be judged / benchmarked against others.

In conclusion, a website brief is an essential tool for communicating your requirements to an agency and providing them with enough information to make an informed response & proposal. Follow our advice above and you’ll create the perfect website brief.

So, what happens next?
Obviously we cannot talk for all agencies but the following steps explain what happens if Design Inc were to receive your website brief…

Stage 1: Acknowlegement. We will contact you by email or phone to confirm receipt of the brief and explain what the next stages are.

Stage 2: Consideration: The brief will be initially looked over by an account manager &/or project manager to make an informed decision regarding the suitability and ‘fit’.
As is the case with the majority of briefs, if all is acceptable, this moves to stage 4. However if there are requirements which suggest a ‘non-fit’ (eg too low budget, too short deadlines, unfamiliar code, too complex, etc), we would arrange a call to discuss.

Stage 3: Non-fit call. Here we will discuss the issues and see if we can resolve (in which case, we move to stage 4). If no resolution is made then it may be in both parties interest for us to politely step away from the opportunity.

Stage 4: Internal discussion. The brief is passed to the web team who will digest the information and arrange an internal meeting to discuss the opportunity between them to gain the necessary insight (and potential questions / issues / options, etc).

Stage 5: Client discussion. We will arrange a suitable time to discuss the project with you. This will provide us with opportunity to gain more relevant information and expand upon (or narrow down) the brief.

Stage 6: Proposal. An account manager will put together an informed proposal, covering proposed methodology, processes, timescales and costs. This will be sent to you for consideration.

Stage 7: Proposal discussion. Should you wish to discuss this proposal further, another meeting shall be arranged.

Stage 8: Acceptance. The client confirms acceptance of our proposal in writing and the project is booked in.

Stage 9: Project Scoping. The web team onboards the client as a customer, and commencing the project scoping exercise, establishing personas, assumption testing and building the functional specifications.