Writing a website brief is a necessary evil for most in digital marketing. Here's how to do it wonderfully.
A successful web brief distills complex information into a short, well-structured document. For a simple site we're talking 2 pages (or 4 sides) of A4, maximum, If you incorporate images or an appendix for tricky technical details, then you might go over this - but the point is that it should be easy to read and understand.
This step by step guide will enable you to write your website brief in under two hours. Sure, you’ll spend extra time locating logos and branding details from your marketing folder, and maybe researching other sites on the web or doing some quick Analytics analysis. But otherwise, we’ll get the bones of this cracked in double quick time.
Let's break down your website brief document into 6 sections:
Your Business, Timescales and Budget
Look and Feel
What's Worked Before?
Website Brief Section 1: Your Business, Timescales and Budget
Start your brief as if the designer doesn't know your company, even if they do. Aim for a concise summary of who you are and what you do. Just the facts.
What does your business sell?
How big is the organisation – what’s the turnover, staff numbers?
How long has the company been established?
Why was it established? What needs does it serve for your customers?
If your company has a mission statement and a vision statement, explain them (briefly, we are aiming for under 2 sides of A4 remember!)
Give the URLs (and ideally social profiles) of your 5 main competitors
What is your budget for the project?
What is your budget for testing?
What is your budget for tweaks and changes over the next 12 months?
What are your hard deadlines? If the website needs to be live for a new product launch, a rebrand or a conference, then be clear about the deadlines right now.
Website Brief Section 2: The "Look and Feel" of Your Website
This section needs to clarify the design ‘boundaries’ – what must you absolutely include visually, and what look and feel do you aspire to? This will give your designer both inspiration and clear constraints for your site design.
What are your corporate fonts and/or corporate colours?
How is your logo to be used?
How is your branding to be used?
List 5 sites that inspire you*
What visual imagery do you like on other sites and why? Include screen shots if that helps.
*They don’t need to be in your sector, just great sites. Say what you like about each site. Limit yourself to one sentence per site
Website Brief Section 3: About Your Online Audience
This is your opportunity to clarify who the site is aimed at and why they’d use it. This will help to define the site’s functionality and structure, as well as the tone of the content and the type of images.
Who do you want to use the site? If you have target personas, include these as an appendix
What do you want people to actually do on the site? How does it help them make decisions about your products or services? Where are they in the buyer journey?
Where are you targeting geographically?
Do you want to encourage people to visit bricks and mortar locations? If so, where are the locations exactly?
Do you want people to share your content on social media? If so, which ones are important to your audience?
Website Brief Section 4: What Does Success Look Like?
Being clear about what success looks like for your website from the get go will give your designer a sense of the calls to action and visual nudges that are required. Take the opportunity to think about how you can improve your ranking in search - locally, nationally and/or internationally - so that this can be incorporated within the design and development scope.
What hard outcomes do you want from the website?
Ecommerce – maybe increased revenue. What are the easy wins? More repeat orders? Bigger orders? More traffic?
Service business – maybe more leads? Will they phone? Will they email? Do you prefer one vs the other?
Real world branches or locations – more foot traffic? Better local brand awareness?
Do you want people to be able to book events or appointments online?
Website Brief Section 5: What's Worked Before?
It can be easy at this point to throw the baby out with the bath water . . . But, if you spend half an hour digging around in your existing site’s Google Analytics you can ask your web developer for suggestions on how to keep the things that work, whilst updating the experience in line with the rest of the website.
What are the top performing landing pages on the site?
What is the new business funnel? What pages do you expect people to look at and is this borne out by what Google Analytics is telling you?
What are the top performing pages for goal conversions? Which pages appear to be essential parts of the sales funnel?
Website Brief Section 6: Technical Details
Finally, clarify the technical elements. This may sound like a step of geekery too far, but getting a handle on this can save you heartbreak further down the line. Maybe you are happy with your existing hosting set up, but it still worth checking these elements (read about why here).
Where is the website hosted now? Who has control of the domain?
Do you want your new web developer to take this over?
If so, how reliable is their hosting?
Hopefully, someone in-house or your content marketing partner will be regularly updating the content but who’ll be responsible for updates to the Content Management System itself? It's the real geeky stuff, such as applying updates to WordPress / Drupal / Joomla / or whatever platform the website is built on.
That's it for the website brief!
Whether you are commissioning a simple five page site or a huge, multi lingual ecommerce website turning over millions, the website brief itself needn’t be that different. Being clear about what you want to achieve and who your audience is without too many preconceptions will give your designer scope to be creative. After all, it’s their creativity you're paying for!
The Site Plan
After you’ve got the brief in place, the next step is to create a Site Plan. This is usually a separate spreadsheet which includes all the pages / page types and their purpose. This is of use to your designer and developer as it defines both the functionality and structure of the site as well as the pages that will need designs.
Given this often serves as a technical specification document, it’s sometimes easier to ask the web developer to create this as a kick off to the project (for complex sites they might charge up front to do this). So, leave this to the web dev geeks, because if you’ve chosen the right web developer, they’ll be able to inspire you with some awesome ideas at the start.
Want a little bit of inspiration right now? Download the guide below.