Update - do yourself a favour and read this first

Good news!

Since I wrote this post, the way we approach our projects has changed; to the point that I now fundamentally disagree with what I originally wrote.

We’ve found the best outcomes for projects come when we engage with our client before any sort of detailed brief has been written.

So I just saved you several hours work ;o)

We add value right from day one - from the very first conversation we have with you. You need us to help you create your brief, based on what you want to achieve from the project. Instead of deliberating about what you need and slaving away writing a long document, you’re better off getting in touch now so we can chat about your project in a bit more detail.

Call me on 01273 814019, or contact us through the website, so we can start helping you right away.

I thought about deleting this post entirely, but I know people still find it useful when they want to approach their website project the old-fashioned way.

So if you’ve been asked to put together a brief for your company’s new website, and there’s no way out of it, go ahead - knock yourself out, and feel free to use this post and the download to help you out.

But if you want to do things a better way, get the best results from your project and receive envious looks from your colleagues as plaudits come your way, don’t bother - pick up the phone or drop us an email and let’s talk.

Mark Vaesen

So you’ve been asked to create a brief for a new website.

Our guide, How to create a website design brief will help you understand the process from the point of view of the agency or web designer, so you know what to include and how much detail to provide.

We’ve broken the guide down into sections to make it a bit more manageable. There are 14 sections in total.

Have a read through the guide first, then

Download the website design brief template

Creating a brief for a brand project? Read our post How to create a brand design brief.

Why a good website design brief is important

If you’ve got to this point, you’ve already established that you need a new website, and given some thought as to what sort of website you need.

The next step is to make contact with the right people to work with you on the project to design and build the website you need. These people might come in all sorts of shapes and sizes; from freelancers and one-man-bands to small or large creative agencies.

Whoever you decide to approach, you’ll get a better, clearer response from them if you can give them a good website design brief.

A good website brief tells the designer everything they need to know to give you an accurate quotation for the project.

You should certainly expect a good web agency to give you guidance or ideas that add value to the project, and you should always have a detailed consultation period before any work gets underway, but by following this guide you can tell them everything they need to know about your business/organisation so they can give you an accurate quote.

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About you

First of all, the agency needs to know a bit about your company to understand the background to the project and get an idea of what you do. In this section, try and include:

  1. Basic company information - the company name and website address
  2. What you do - try and sum this up in one or sentences
  3. When the company was established - don’t worry about an exact date, but it’s useful to know if you’ve been trading for 2 years or 20
  4. A brief history charting key changes of direction - if you started doing one thing, then moved into new markets, this is useful to know
  5. Where you’re based
  6. How many staff work for the business
  7. Annual turnover - this is the quickest way to get an idea of the scale of your operation
  8. The short and long term goals of the business - try and keep this to one or two sentences. For example “We want to increase our sales by 50% in two years, aiming for a 20% increase after the first 12 months.”

Download the website design brief template

Aims of the project

A good web agency will design a website that helps you achieve your business goals, so it’s important they understand what your aims are. The more specific you can be here, the better.

  1. Why do you want a website? Sum up in one sentence what you’re hoping the website can do for you
  2. What needs to be achieved for you to consider the project to be a success? This could be a specific volume of sales or an increase in website traffic, or conversely you may be looking to save money through efficiencies. What targets do you want to set?

Target audience/markets

The new website needs to be designed for your customers, so the web company needs to understand as much as possible about who your customers are. Include all the following points that are relevant to you:

  1. What specific industry sectors do you work in?
  2. Geographically, where are your customers based? Are they local to you? How local? Within 10 miles, an hour by car? Are they nationwide, or even global?
  3. What does your existing customer base look like? Try to sum up in a couple of sentences who you work with at the moment
  4. What would you like your customer base to look like? Is it simply “more of the same”, or would you like to get more of a particular type of customer?
  5. Describe your ideal customer - this could obviously be more than one type, but try to keep it to just two or three - the aim is to give the web company a bit of a steer as to the direction you want to go in
  6. Who are your three main competitors? These could be existing competitors or those you would like to become competitors. Give the company name and website address for each
  7. When they land on your website, what do you want your customer to do? What’s the end game? Do you want them to buy something through the website, or make an enquiry? Maybe you want them to subscribe to a service. List out the thing(s) you want the customer to do.

A good website isn’t going to be designed for you – it’s going to be designed for your target audience

The current website

If you have a website already, knowing a bit more about it can help the web company understand where you want to go with the new one. Obviously if this is your first website, you can skip this bit.

  1. When was the current website built?
  2. How much traffic does it get? Log in to your Google Analytics (if it’s set up) and take a look at the number of Sessions per month. An average over a year or two is as much detail as we need
  3. What devices are people using to visit the current site? It can be useful to know whether there’s a particularly high percentage of users viewing your site on mobiles or tablets. Check your Google Analytics for the percentages over the last year or so
  4. How many sales or enquiries does the current site generate per week/month? How do you feel about it?
  5. What’s wrong with the current site? What don’t you like about it, what’s annoying, what could be better?
  6. What’s good about the current site? What do you like, what works well?
  7. How well does the existing website reflect your brand? Do you feel it represents you well? If not, why not?
  8. What’s being re-used from the current site, and what’s being chucked out? Are there bits that absolutely must stay?

The more the web company knows about why your existing website isn’t working, the better, so include anything else you feel is relevant.

The new website

Now you need to focus on what you need from the new website.

In a previous post, we explored the different types of website, and the list of potential features is too long to include again here, but you should consider the following:

  1. What are the aims of the new site? This provides more detail on the earlier question of the Aims of the Project. Some aims we often discuss with our clients are:
  • To increase traffic to the website
  • To raise the brand profile of the company/organisation
  • To generate enquiries/sales
  • To move into new markets
  • To attract the best new recruits

What’s the approximate size of the website? Typically this is expressed as an approximate number of pages

What are the key features you want/need to include? Some features we often talk about are:

  • Portfolio/Case Studies/Gallery of previous work
  • Ecommerce (include an approximate number of products, and any ecommerce-specific features you want to include)
  • Events calendar
  • Online bookings
  • Listings (properties, cars, jobs)
  • Interactive map
  • Filters, to help users find specific information
  • Members-only areas - content that can only be accessed via a secure login
  • Blog or News section
  • Social Media integration - a Twitter or Facebook feed, for example
  • Discussion Forum
  • Current Vacancies

What content needs to be updated frequently, and who do you see doing it? Do you have the resources and skills in-house for someone to make changes using a Content Management System (CMS) or would you prefer the web agency to look after any changes for you?

  • If you want a CMS, are there any specific requirements (for instance, allowing access to multiple users)?
  • What’s the website’s Call to Action? (also known as a CTA). This adds more detail to the earlier question about what you want the customer to do when they visit your site. If you want to generate enquiries, do you want them to fill in a contact form, send you an email, or pick up the phone to talk to you?
  • Are there any third party systems you need to integrate with? If you’re an Estate Agent, do you need to link in  to RightMove or Zoopla? Do you need to link to a CRM or Accounts software?
  • Does the website need to be available in other languages, and if so, who’ll be doing the translations?

Download the website design brief template

Future developments

In order to deliver the best return on your investment, your website should be future-proofed as much as possible. If you can help the web agency look further down the road, they can make your new website work harder for longer.

  1. What future plans does the business have that need to be taken into consideration at this point?
  2. Will you want to add ecommerce or one of the other features listed above? Maybe there are some features on your wishlist that you don’t have the budget for right now
  3. How does the website need to cope as new content’s added? What happens when, in two years’ time, you”ve got five times the blog posts you do now?

Content

Start thinking about the content for the new website as early as possible.

  1. What copy have you got already? It’s tempting to just move all your existing content across to the new site. We strongly urge you not to do this. If your current site’s no longer up to scratch, a big part of this might be because the content needs to be overhauled
  2. Do you need a content audit? We suggest taking the time to review all the content on the current site. Some of it will probably stay, or form the basis for the new content, but a lot of it will need to go, or be restructured
  3. What new copy needs to be written? And who’s going to do it? Do you have the resources in-house to not only do it (copywriting can take up a lot of time), but to do it properly? We frequently see clients spending a big budget on a new website, only for it to be let down because there’s been no investment in proper copywriting
  4. What images do you need, and what have you got? Poor images can undermine even the most beautiful website. Consider employing a professional photographer to take the exact pictures you need
  5. Have you got the right quality video clips or other assets that you need, such as graphics or downloadable documents?

If there’s one thing you can do to help make your web project run smoothly, it’s to get your content sorted early.

Design brief

The web company needs to have an initial design brief to understand the direction you want to go in. The best web agencies work closely with their client in the early stages of the project to define the brief fully, but this gives them a good starting point.

  1. List 5 words to describe your company
  2. What are your USPs? What sets you part from the competition? Why should a customer come to you instead of someone else?
  3. Provide a bullet list to describe your company values
  4. Provide any other brand collateral you might have - the website needs to fit with the rest of your brand material, so it’s useful to provide examples of things like business stationery and any brochures you might have
  5. Reference websites - provide 3-5 examples of websites you either like or those of your competitors. Note any aspects about the sites that you either like or dislike, being careful to be objective and put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Remember to avoid one of the most common mistakes when creating a website design brief; a good website isn’t going to be designed for you - it’s going to be designed for your target audience

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Marketing

To get the most from your new website, it should work alongside your other marketing activities, both online and offline. To deliver a website as part of a properly joined-up campaign, your web agency needs to know what else you’ve got going on. Tell them about:

Online marketing - what other online activity will you be doing?

  • SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
  • PPC/Adwords
  • Social media (if so, which platforms are you active on?)
  • Email marketing - is this something that needs to be included as part of the project?
  • Content marketing

Offline marketing - what other traditional marketing are you involved in?

  • Direct mail campaigns
  • Brochures, flyers, leaflets
  • Outdoor advertising
  • PR campaign
  • Sponsorship
  • Vehicle livery
  • Is the website project part of a rebrand? Is the rebrand part of this project - do you need the design agency to quote for this too?

Download the website design brief template

Budget and timescales

Don’t be in any doubt; providing a budget is extremely important.

Agencies can propose the right solutions for your circumstances, and you’ll be able to compare responses on a like-for-like basis.

Timescales are also important to know from the start - if your deadlines can’t be met by the agency, it saves everyone time if they know up front. In your website design brief, be sure to include:

Timescales - provide both your ideal start and finish date. Have you got a specific deadline to work to (perhaps a product launch or another marketing commitment)? If you’re not sure how to work out timescales, or don’t know what’s realistic, here’s a rough guide as to what to allow for each stage:

  • Planning and specification - 2-3 weeks
  • Design phase - 3-4 weeks
  • Development phase - 3-4 weeks
  • Content population and initial testing - 2-3 weeks
  • Final snagging and pre-launch testing - 2-3 weeks

Budget, for:

  • Initial site design and development
  • Web hosting
  • Ongoing support and maintenance
  • Ongoing digital marketing

Maintenance

This is often overlooked in a website design brief, but is actually very important. Any good website needs to be maintained to some level, otherwise it will go stale and won’t fulfil its potential.

  1. Who’s going to be responsible for updating the site - will you do it in-house, or would you prefer to outsource it all to the web agency? Consider whether you have the skills and resources to do it properly; oh, and what happens if that person leaves the company?
  2. What needs updating frequently? These might be the updates that it makes sense for you to do yourselves using a CMS. Less frequent changes, or changes requiring creative input might be better carried out by the design agency
  3. How much input will you need from the web agency and how often?

Download the website design brief template

Technical

Outline the key technical considerations for the project.

  1. Is web hosting required? Do you have specific requirements from an SLA (Service Level Agreement) regarding back-ups, guaranteed up-time etc.
  2. What domain name’s being used for the new site?
  3. Do you require email as part of the project? Bear in mind that changing email providers is fraught with danger - it it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
  4. Do you have any particular requirements or preference for the platform used to build the website? This is usually a consideration if members of staff are trained on a particular system and you want to stick to it, but unless you have a specific need, we suggest letting the web company come back to you with their recommendation
  5. If your project’s for an ecommerce website, do you have your payment provider set up? This can take several weeks or months to sort out, so if you haven’t got started already, now’s the time to get the ball rolling
  6. Do you have any special technical requirements? Maybe you require a particularly high level of accessibility or know that your users are likely to be using very slow connections

If you haven’t got your online payments provider sorted already, now’s the time to get the ball rolling

Contact points

It’s a good idea to have worked out who in your organisation needs to be involved with the project and who’s doing what.

  1. Who needs to be involved in the project
  2. Who will be the main point of contact
  3. Who’ll be responsible for collating content
  4. Who needs to be involved in sign off at each stage
  5. Who will be updating the site

Next steps - what you need from the agency

Finish your website design brief with a short summary of what you want to get back from the design agency.

At Tomango, we usually provide a full written proposal, outlining our intended approach from a creative and technical point of view, the costs (for both the initial website build and any ongoing fees), timescales and any assumptions we’ve made. Remember to include:

  1. What you want from the agency (proposal, tender, outline quote, examples etc.) and when you want it
  2. Who they should send it to
  3. How you can be contacted if there are any questions

Write your website design brief

Download our free website design brief template

Save time creating your website design brief by downloading our template. Our example’s based on a fictional company that needs a brochure website, so some sections might not be relevant to your project, but the format’s the same and it should save you a lot of thinking time.

Good luck with your website design brief, and don’t forget to include Tomango on your list of agencies to quote for your project ;o)