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How to write a website brief

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Writing a brief for your website is one of the most important things you can do for your project. It doesn’t take long to do, and getting it right will save you a whole bunch of stress, time and money later down the line.

In this article we explain how to write a successful website brief, which you may be surprised to learn doesn’t focus on the website at all to begin with (until later on).

What is a website brief?

A website brief is a document you give to potential suppliers so they can start to understand your company and requirements, determine whether they can help, and if so use the brief alongside information gleaned from subsequent meetings to create a proposal and quote.

Out of the many website briefs we’ve seen the majority have focused on the website itself; particularly the pages and features the customer is looking for.

However, one of the keys to a successful brief is painting the bigger picture. Pages and features play their part in helping to form the quote, a bit like knowing the floor size and number of rooms helps a builder to estimate the cost of building a house.

But a website brief is more than just a tool to gather quotes. Done properly, it helps suppliers understand what your company’s all about, what’s strategically important to you, who your customers are and how they think.

It can give suppliers the understanding they need to recommend the right things in the right order (what to do now, next and in the future) to take you from where you are now to your aspirational place.

Without this understanding, the quotes you get may be based on pages or features you don’t actually need or fail to include things you didn’t consider (or weren’t aware existed) that could help your business to accelerate.

So, for now, we’re going to forget all about the website. This part is all about your business, your customers and your goals. Read on to find out the key questions to answer that will help you to paint the bigger picture for potential suppliers.

What do you do?

Be explicitly clear about what products or services your business or organisation provides. What constitutes to your bread and butter? What are your best or most profitable lines? What opportunities have you got to grow existing services or products, or add new ones? Are there any that aren’t profitable that you’re looking to phase out?

Who are your customers?

Describe your target customers. Do they share any common characteristics such as age, gender, location? For business customers (B2B) what is the company size/ sector and the key roles/ people you’d be dealing with within that business? For end consumers (B2C) does their financial status, family status, beliefs or interests tie them together? If you have more than one type of customer, describe each one.

Why do they need you?

It may be obvious to you why your customers need your services or products, but it won’t always be apparent to someone outside of your business or industry. What key problems or challenges are they facing to make them contact you in the first place? What goals or outcomes do they want to achieve? What ‘job’ do you help them to get done?

How do you benefit your customers?

Think about how your services, products and customer service make a positive difference to your customers. How do you improve their businesses or enrich their lives? What extra things do you do that deliver exceptional value and make your customers happy? What do customers say that they love about your products or working with you?

How do you benefit your customers?

Think about how your services, products and customer service make a positive difference to your customers. How do you improve their businesses or enrich their lives? What extra things do you do that deliver exceptional value and make your customers happy? What do customers say that they love about your products or working with you?

How would you describe your organisation?

Describe the values, beliefs, behaviours and personality of your company or organisation. What do you want your customers to say about you when describing you to others? How do your fellow team members describe what your company’s like?

What makes you different?

Summing up the unique essence of your company or organisation is no easy thing, but once you understand it, it’s incredibly powerful. If you had to pick just a few key things – no more than 3 – that make you different or better than your competitors, what would they be? Don’t worry if there are parallels here with some of the benefits, influencing factors or behaviours you’ve already mentioned; this is about focusing on the handful of things that truly make you different.

What is your current size and structure?

Detailing the size and structure of your organisation helps suppliers to tailor their recommendations; a plan that may be achievable for a company with a dedicated department of several people may not be realistic for a startup with just 1 entrepreneur doing everything. How many people work for your company? What are the different roles or departments? How is your company run and managed? How do decisions get made?

What is your long term vision?

Understanding where your company is heading will colour the recommendations you receive. Where do you want to be in 5 years time? What do you want to have achieved? What would you love people to be saying about you in 5 years time? What’s your aspirational place?

What are your one year goals?

The short term picture is just as important and will have a bearing on what gets prioritised first. What are the key things you want to achieve in the next 1 year to help you achieve your long term vision? Do you have any specific targets or measures for the next year?

Take a break here

Take some distraction free time to review and answer these questions and put all of your responses into a document.

It’s a good idea to get other key people from your organisation involved, not just to take the full scope of insights, goals and requirements into account, but also to get everyone invested from the start. Creating a new website is a big undertaking that requires input, effort and sign off from generally at least several people within a business, so it’s important for all key people to have a stake in the project from the outset.

Once you’ve answered the questions above, move onto the next part of the process below.

Summarise the project and your goals

In a few sentences explain the main thrust of your project. For example, are you a new business looking for your first website? Do you already have a website but it’s outdated and needs a complete redesign? Do you already have a website that you want to improve, and you’re looking for a new partner to help you do this?

Crucially, what’s driving your project; what challenges do you want to solve or goals do you want to achieve? Common goals and challenges include:

  • Having a website that no longer reflects who you are or what you do
  • Having a website that was built years ago and now looks outdated
  • Needing to bring your website in line with your new brand/ rebrand
  • Developing new/ bespoke features and functionality
  • Standing out from the competition
  • Better demonstrating your value and personality
  • Reaching a new audience
  • Increasing enquiries/ sales/ conversions
  • Increasing your website load speed
  • Making content updates and editing easier and quicker
  • Needing a better working relationship/ communication with your website partner

Targets and measures

Do you have any specific results you’re hoping to achieve? What specifically would make it a success and return on investment, and how could we measure this?

Target website audiences

Who will be using your website and what do they want to do or find out on it? There’s often more than one type of audience, and they may visit your website at different times and for different reasons. Common ones include:

  • Prospects
  • Existing customers
  • Job seekers
  • Partners
  • Press

Within prospects and customers, you may differentiate between different groups, e.g. identifying those from different sectors or job roles, or whether they’re business customers (B2B) or direct consumers (B2C).

Depending on the nature of your organisation, you may also distinguish between the end consumers and key influencers. For example, if you sell sports holidays for teenagers, the teen will be the end consumer, but the parents are the key influencers and purse string holder/ decision makers.

Some of the most common things they may want to do on your website include:

  • Understanding more about your products and services
  • Finding out answers to their questions
  • Evaluating your company credentials/ experience/ trustworthiness/ track record
  • ‘Meeting’ the key people within your team – their background, skills, roles etc.
  • Getting a quote
  • Booking something
  • Buying something
  • Downloading something
  • Making an enquiry
  • Finding out your contact details
  • Finding out where your premises are located

Competitor websites

What are the websites of your main competitors? What do you think they do well/not so well?

Key pages

As a starting point, what pages do you think should be on your website? Sometimes this question can feel a little daunting, and certainly when working with a professional web designer it’s part of their job to help you to discover or refine this list. But it’s really useful to know what you initially feel should be considered as part of the page scope. If you have an existing website, you may already have insights, feedback and data that will inform this.

At a bare minimum, your site would need a home page and a privacy/ cookie policy page (this is required for GDPR purposes). Other pages could include services/ products pages, about, team, testimonials, case studies, image gallery, FAQs, news/ blog, contact, book/ enquire. If your site is e-commerce, pages would also include basket, checkout, order confirmation, account login, returns/ delivery info and terms of sale.

Be aware that this list may change after discussions and analysis – for example, if you have a certain budget or timescales, some of these pages may have to be pencilled as phase 2 or 3. Or, after reviewing your existing google analytics, it may become apparent that no-one’s interested in a certain section of pages on your website, meaning they could be retired in place of something more relevant and useful.

Key features and requirements

Some features and requirements are important for almost all websites. These include a Content Management System or CMS (so you can edit your content without having to go back to your designer each time you need a change), responsive design (so the website adapts for mobiles, tablets and desktops meaning each user gets the best experience for their device), google analytics tracking (so you know how the site is performing), cookie notices and opt-ins (for GDPR compliance) and general usability and accessibility standards (so everyone can access your website and have a pleasant time using it).

What other features and requirements could be useful for your website? Common ones include the ability to search the whole website (or maybe a specific section such as products, news or team) social media feeds, newsletter sign ups, contact or enquiry forms, the ability to pay online, compatibility with old browsers, integrations (e.g. integrating new enquiries with your CRM, integrating online purchases with your ERP/ stock management system),

Again, if you’re not too clear on what should be included a professional should be able to tease out your requirements, and be aware that your initial list may change after discussions and analysis.

Copy

Who’ll be in charge of writing the copy for you website, or reviewing/ updating your copy if you have an existing site? It’s rare for a website quote to include copywriting; typically you provide your copy, although many web designers have in-house or partner copywriters options. Although copywriting is an additional cost, well written copy is the difference between a site that looks great and is easy to use, and a one that delivers and brings in the enquiries/ bookings/ sales. Writing copy is also a far more time consuming job than most people realise, and can be difficult to fit in amongst a day job. Explain where you are and what level of help you’re looking for with regards to copywriting.

Images

Who’ll be in charge of sourcing and potentially editing images for your website? Some website quotes do include images, others don’t, or images will be included at a variable rate depending on how many you need. You may already have photos/ images (taken by a photographer or purchased via stock image sites) that you’d like to consider using. Some of your images may need some touching up in Photoshop. Or, you may be starting with nothing. Explain where you are and what level of help you’re looking for with regards to images.

Population

Who’ll be in charge of populating your website, i.e. uploading all your copy and images to your website, for all of your pages? Some quotes do include population, others don’t, others may offer it as a variable rate service. Providing you’ve specified a site with a Content Management System, anyone can upload content, including yourself; it doesn’t require any special technical skills and your web partner would typically provide training and support. Doing it yourself can help to keep costs down, but if you simply don’t have the time, you may want your partner to do it for you. Explain what level of help you’re looking for here.

Hosting

Are you looking for your partner to host your website after it’s live? If you don’t know what hosting is, the answer is probably going to be yes. Hosting refers to the server (a computer connected to the internet) where your website lives, enabling your visitors to find and access it online. All websites must have hosting otherwise they can’t be found online. Or, you may already have hosting that you’re happy with and would like to continue using.

Budget

Roughly how much are you looking to invest in your website? Sometimes you may have a top fixed limit; other times it’s a case of it costs what it costs. However, it’s valuable to at least indicate a top figure or range you’d feel comfortable with (e.g. no more than £2.5k, between £5-10k, up to £20k).

This is because your budget dictates how much time can be put into your project and what options will be available. Left completely open ended, you may get proposals and quotes that are too big or too small, meaning you have to go back to the drawing board to look at alternative options and new quotes, sucking up extra time and delaying the process.

If you don’t know how much you should invest, check out our blog on How much should you invest in your website? or our CEO Aaron’s vlogs on budgeting for your website.

Timescales

Do you have any hard or soft deadlines for when the website must be live? E.g. an upcoming event for when the website absolutely must be live, or an ideal month to launch? Or, is it a case of as soon as reasonably possible to do a good job and get it right?

Worries, concerns and risks

Is there anything you’re worried about for this project? For example, are there any risks that could impact the project, or anything that could make things harder or block/ negatively affect it? This question can often address the elephant in the room. Tackled early enough, the proper solutions and/or mitigations can be put in place to keep the project on track and successful.

What to do next

Take some more distraction free time to review and answer the questions in the second part of this blog and add them into the same document.

Our web designers start every project with an in-depth, comprehensive website brief. If you have any questions or need help writing your website brief, get in touch with our team – we’d be happy to help.