17 Tips on How to Write a Great Website Brief

Posted By Andi Wilkinson
Creative Director of Made By Factory. UX Designer & SEO Nerd, Andi is also a board member of Manchester Digital, and speaks and writes on a variety of web-related topics.

Time to read: 18 minutes

In this guide, we will establish what is needed to deliver a web design project and how to write the perfect web design brief.

A great agency will establish a detailed brief with you before starting on your project.

Starting with a killer website brief is a great way to get on a good footing with any digital partner you choose to work with. It can help you get like-for-like quotations and can help you manage expectations in terms of your budget.

A huge variation in estimates from one agency to the next can be due to different assumptions in the scope of work expected.

You know you need a good website, but you may need guidance on the end goals, technical aspects, and how best to achieve them. For businesses of all sizes, websites are generally a large investment and require serious thought and careful planning.

So, when writing a website brief, follow our 17 tips below.

1. The Brief Summary

Do you have a starting point? Before you pick up the phone to discuss your website project, it is good to have the following information to hand.

  • Give us five words to describe your company
  • Tell us your USP. What makes you different? Why would your customer choose you and not the competition?
  • List your company values
  • Do you have brand collateral, such as stationery, signage, documents.
  • Typeface and colour preferences or dislikes.
  • Websites for inspiration. Provide links & say what elements you like for each.

2. About You

When creating a website, Agencies will want to know more detail about your company and its background. Include the following:

  • Name, web address, what you do. (keep it short)
  • How long have you been trading?
  • Where are you based and where do you operate? Do you plan on changing this?
  • A brief history. What has changed over the duration of your history?
  • How many staff do you employ?
  • Annual turnover:
  • Short term goals. For example, we want to increase our sales by 25% per year for the next three years. Use SMART goals

3. Project Aims

Make sure your chosen agency is asking the right questions. If not, they may lack the proper experience to deal with your project. Don’t forget to tell your agency:

  • Why you want a website. Be specific and be short. For example, you could say “I want to reach a wider market by selling my skincare range online” or “I want to take online bookings for my classes”
  • Do you have a specific goal in mind, such as increase bookings for your classes by 50% in the next year?
  • How will you measure success? Please share this info with your agency, as it can make all the difference to the project.

4. Budget

Website pricing is a minefield. Making enquiries may result in wildly varying quotes and no one wants to pay through the nose.

Why one agency quotes you £5k and another £25k may seem a mystery to you and yet one agency’s idea of a thorough and complete job may differ significantly from another.

We have included this high up on the list of priorities, as it is a critical factor in working with the right agency.

Some agencies won’t work on small projects and some aren’t equipped to deal with larger and more complex projects. Don’t be afraid to reveal your budget.

A brief and a budget will help you get like-for-like quotations instead of just attracting agencies that may undercut prices but also undercut services. It helps if you break this down. Here’s some suggestions:

  • Budget for web design and build
  • Hosting
  • Ongoing support and maintenance.
  • Digital marketing

If you can’t separate them just yet, don’t worry, but bear in mind you should budget for all of these things. Don’t think you can leave any of these things out if you want a successful website.

For example, a site with no marketing of any kind will have little to no traffic. It’s a sure-fire way to make sure your initial investment goes down the drain.

5. Time Frame

An agency needs to know if they can meet your deadlines. Deadlines are the responsibility of both parties.

Are your team on hand to ensure the project runs smoothly at your end? When we start a new project, we ask our clients to help us with the following:

  • An ideal start and finish date
  • Is there an absolute deadline? What will actually happen if you don’t meet it?

Deadlines are also your responsibility, so check what will happen with your agency if you don’t send them what THEY need on time.

Typically, our web projects take 2-3 months to complete if we have everything on time. Smaller ones can take much less. Here’s what you can allow for.

  • Planning and finalising the brief 2-3 weeks
  • Design phase 2-3 weeks
  • Development (building it) 3-4 weeks
  • Content population, revision and testing 2-3 weeks
  • Snagging and testing 2-3 weeks.

All these steps will take longer if we don’t get the info we need, so if it takes six months to finalise the brief, then the rest of the work can’t reasonably take place in a couple of days.

6. Point of Contact

Let your agency know who the key point of contact is in your organisation, and also that the point of contact has the necessary skills and decision-making power to move the project forward. Too many contacts can mean the project just doesn’t move along. The agency will want to know:

  • The key stakeholders in the project.
  • Who is the singular point of contact?
  • Who is responsible for providing content?
  • Which person signs off at each key stage?
  • Who will be updating the website when it’s done?

7. Target Audience

A well-designed website should be designed with your customers in mind. We ask for the following information from our clients:

  • What sector do you work in?
  • Where are your customers?
  • Who is your existing customer base?
  • Do you have any kind of web analytics the agency can look at?
  • Do you want your customer base to remain the same or are you looking to expand into new markets?
  • Who is your ideal customer?

8. Competition

It is always good to know who else is operating in your sector, and how well (or not) they are doing so.

  • Tell us who you believe are your main competitors. At least 3.
  • You could also tell us who you want to compete with. For example, as the IT startup, you may not be on the radar of the well-established company, but you may want to get there.
  • For each competitor, provide their name and website.

9. The Customer Journey: Call To Action

Why you think you need a website and what customers want out of a website can be completely different.

You may be really proud of all that running you do for your local charity, but as a company who sells bespoke fitted kitchens, is that what your customers want to see when they land on your site?

Getting this wrong then can be the difference between that potential customer abandoning your site and finding one that has better information on it.

  • So what action do you want your customer to take when they land on your site? Call you, buy something, subscribe to something?
  • Tell us what you want the customer to do. We once had a client who didn’t want emails, he wanted customers to phone him. We need to know this!

10. Your Existing Website

Do you have a website already? Most businesses who approach an agency will usually have some form of digital presence but have outgrown it and it may not address their current business goals. We ask our clients the following client brief questions:

  • When was your website built and last updated?
  • Do you have Google Analytics set up and can you share this information with us?
  • How many visitors do you get and how many sessions per month. An average over a year or so is useful info.
  • What devices people use most to access your site, for example, whilst most traffic is heavily mobile, your particular industry may still be heavily desktop.
  • How many enquiries does your site generate monthly on average?
  • Are there any seasonal variations we should know about? For example, a luxury watch brand may see a huge spike around Christmas and others around times like fathers day and valentine’s day.
  • What do you like about your current site? What is working and what is absolutely critical if anything to keep? A site appearing top for a search term that generates you 100 customers a month – we need to know this.
  • What do you dislike about your site? There’s a reason you want an update overhaul or redesign. This is obviously important to you and is niggling at you. Tell us.
  • Do you feel the website reflects your current brand well, or represents your business properly and if not, why not?

Basically, the more we know about what’s good, what’s bad and what’s ugly, We can do a better job of absolutely nailing a brief.

11. Your new website

So this is the most important bit, the bit any agency needs to nail. Here are the things you should consider.

  • What are the aims of this site? We mentioned this earlier but include more detail here. The aims of the site could include things like
  • Increase online sales
  • Generate more enquiries
  • Attract new and skilled recruits
  • Getting more relevant traffic to your website
  • Increase awareness and visibility of your website and brand
  • To expand into new areas or markets

Considerations

  • What is the size of your new website? You can use an approximation and your agency may also make suggestions.
  • What features do you want to include? For example, products, case studies, galleries.
  • What’s the call to action? We asked this earlier under what you want your customers to do.
  • Do you want users to download your cheat sheet, sign up to a mailing list, make a purchase, fill in a form or phone you?

E Commerce

  • For an e-commerce website tell us the approximate amount of products you want to sell and whether you will require us to add them.

Other features you may want to include could be:

  • A content management system. (It’s unusual a site won’t have this nowadays)
  • Online bookings
  • Listings (could be jobs, properties, cars and so on)
  • Filters – will your customers need to filter this information.
  • Customer portal. Will your customers need to log in for any reason?
  • Blog section
  • Map
  • Contact forms
  • Any other type of forms
  • Mail signups
  • Member areas for specific content
  • Event calendars
  • Social media integration- do you have accounts set up and will you require
  • that?
  • Forums
  • Careers listings

Other questions to consider:

  • Will the site need to be updated frequently?
  • Which sections will and won’t need updating often?

Do you want to do this yourself or would you prefer the agency to take this hassle away from you.

12. Content Management System

Most websites use a CMS. Some examples are WordPress, Drupal, Umbraco. Some websites are completely bespoke.

If you plan to keep the website up to date yourself, it’s important to be aware that someone in-houseneeds the skills and resources to be able to do it.

Although an agency can give you a login and full control, you still need to know how to do this, or employ someone who does.

Remember. It’s not automatically the responsibility of your agency to coach you through how to update your website (unless you have paid them for a training package). If you are building a site with a CMS your agency will need to know:

  • Will you manage all of it, or just be able to add and edit some the more frequent information whilst leaving the less frequent content for the agency to edit (most common)
  • Do you want to allow access to multiple users and what kind of access do they need?
  • Do you need the CMS to integrate with any third party systems or APIs (this can be critical in deciding what CMS is appropriate) For example an estate agent may want to integrate with Rightmove.
  • Would you need to link to a CRM or accounting software, eg Salesforce?
  • Does your website need to be translated into other languages? If so do you have someone to translate them properly?

13. The Technical Stuff

We as an agency really don’t expect everyone to know all the technical requirements, but here are some basic things you will need to think about:

  • Do you have a domain name? Is it appropriate? (Example jakescakes.com may not be useful if you now do full event planning)
  • What are your web hosting requirements? How business critical is daily backups and uptime?
  • Is email hosting part of the project?
  • What payment gateways if any, do we need to connect to? For example, Paypal, Stripe or Worldpay.
  • Are there any special accessibility requirements? Is it a website for people who need a specific level of accessibility, for example, the visually impaired?

14. Future Proofing

website is an investment that needs to return. A good agency will want to help you get maximum Return on your investment.

The more we can understand at the outset, the more you will get from your website down the line. Your agency will want to know:

  • Any future business plans we need to take into consideration now? For example, you may currently offer a bespoke service where you process orders over the telephone, but you may wish to do this online at a later date.
  • Are there things on your website you don’t particularly have the budget for right now but you would like to do later? For example, a customer portal.

15. Content

Bill Gates tells us over and over again, content is king. The key is relevant and high quality content.

For example, if your website is vague on its delivery information might lose you valid customers over a site that has very specific information, even if you blog every week.

Remember, your customers are completely in the dark unless you inform them. Your agency will need to know:

  • What do you have already? If you need a new website, then it is because something isn’t right about your existing one, so now is a really good time to think about your content. Remember, your agency can’t accurately quote you if you don’t have any content or you don’t know how much there will be.
  • Do you want an audit of the current content? Some of it might not be in line with your current business goals, or you may be being found for the wrong keywords.
  • Who will write the new copy?
  • Do you have images or are you happy to use stock images? Poor images will ruin the best-designed website. Hire a photographer and either use stock or send high quality, high-resolution images.
  • If there is downloadable material on your sites such as PDFs, videos or graphics, do you have them at full quality?

As you can see, getting content right at the start is the best way to have a successful outcome.

16. Ongoing Maintenance

Every website needs maintaining, otherwise, it won’t do what it is supposed to do. Browsers change, technology changes, and Content management systems update.

  • Who will be responsible for this and do they have the necessary skills to do it?
  • What will need updating frequently? Ask for these parts to be editable. Content that doesn’t change or content that requires changes to the design would be best left with the agency.
  • How much input will you need from your agency?

17. Marketing Strategy

We work mainly with established companies who are on their second or third website, so they know that traffic is earned, and paid.

So then, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can just put a site online and people will start flocking to it. Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking that all you have to do is write a blog. You need a solid strategy.

Your website needs to work consistently with other marketing elements. Tell your web agency about any other campaigns you have going, online or offline.

Do you currently do any of the following? And what results are you getting? If this will form an advertising brief, Think about:

Online

  • SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
  • PPC/Google Ads or Facebook Advertising, Linkedin and others.
  • Social media. What platforms and how often do you post, what kind of content are you posting?
  • Email marketing, what service do you use, will it need to be integrated?
  • How big is your mailing list and what results do you get from it?
  • How are you using your mailing list and do you have any current funnels?
  • Content marketing

Offline

  • Is the website part of a whole brand overhaul? Would you like the agency to help with this for consistency?
  • Any printed media, brochures, flyers and so on.
  • Outdoor advertising.
  • Any PR Campaigns with PR companies.
  • Direct mail campaigns (Good old snail mail)
  • Vehicle wraps. How many, what where?
  • Sponsorships
  • Merchandise
  • Affiliate advertising
  • Anything else? Telemarketing or other lead funnels.

What Next?

Finally, Don’t be a one site stand. A successful website happens when you have a meaningful relationship with your agency. We want to help.

Be honest and frank and you’ll get good results. Are you looking for help on writing a paid media brief? Read Ben’s article on how he creates a digital marketing brief template. for more creative brief questions read part one.


Useful Links:Creative Brief Sample Ogilvy,
how to create a digital marketing strategy


Get Our Template Here


Factory is a boutique digital agency in Manchester. We value client trust and relationships, gained by clear communication and quality outcomes; if you want honesty, advice in your interest and straight-talking people who give a damn about your business, then we are a great fit.

We have built a number of websites, you can find them hereContact our team if you are interested in working with us here at Factory.



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