How to write a website brief

Posted: 27th November 2016 • by Chloe Ingram

A successful marketing project always starts with a thorough brief, and websites are no exception. For the majority of businesses, your website is your most important marketing asset and is often pivotal in forming your customers’ first impressions.

Ensuring that the technical elements – easy to use navigation, fast page loading speeds and a good user experience across all devices – are in place is crucial in creating a website that converts customers. A great brief will help you to select a website developer or agency who can work alongside you as a partner in your digital marketing activities, and to advise you on the technical as well as aesthetic requirements of your build.

What to include in a website brief:

1) Background – how long have you been in business? Do you have an existing website? If so, how long have you had it and why are you looking to change? Provide the URL to your current website and briefly outline any strengths and weaknesses that you are aware of.

2) Your target audience – who are your customers? How do you usually communicate with them? Provide a description of your typical customer and what they might want from you.

3) Your goals – what do you expect the new website to achieve? Are you looking to improve your search engine rankings? Generate more business to business leads? Gain more sales through an ecommerce store? Give a list of two to three objectives. If there are websites that you admire, list them here to provide your developer or agency with some inspiration.

4) Technical requirements – modern websites need to be compatible with a range of browsers and devices, so responsive web design is essential. So too are fast page loading speeds – not all websites are created equal in this regard. Template sites that include lots of superfluous code for features that aren’t required should be avoided. You can test the page loading speed of your website using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. A bespoke website will cost significantly more to develop than one using an off-the shelf template, however.

5) Assets – will you be able to supply copy and images or do you expect your agency or developer to help with this? Will you need to work with a freelance copywriter or marketing consultant to create content? Your ability to generate content should influence the types of suppliers that you approach – if you need content to be created, you may need to use an agency or recruit a small team of digital marketing professionals to deliver your new site. Remember that commissioning new photography or video may add additional time to your project.

6) Timelines – when is your new website is required? A very short timeline may increase costs as your developer(s) will have to work extra hours or work exclusively on your project. As a rule, from go ahead to go live date, plan for at least eight weeks for the design and build of a simple brochure site and at least 12 weeks for a simple e-commerce store. Always allow at least two weeks at the end of your build for testing and review. For large websites for big corporate bodies, or e-commerce stores with complex inventory requirements, your project could take from six months to a year. Deciding in advance who will responsible for the sign-off of different design stages should significantly speed up the progress of your project.

7) Future proofing – who will be responsible for routine updates and maintenance? All websites require essential security updates and to renew domain names and hosting – who will be responsible for this? Who will update content? Can these activities be done in-house or would you prefer to outsource them?

8) Training and implementation – what will the workflow be for future website updates? Will your staff need to learn how to use a new content management system, and if so who will train them? Will you require documentation to be supplied?

9) Systems and requirements – does your website need to be able to integrate with any existing business systems (e.g. an ordering system for an e-commerce store)? Do you have social media properties that you need to link to? All websites should have analytics software installed in order to measure progress and visitor behaviour. Google Analytics provides free visitor tracking that is suitable for most small to medium businesses.

10) SEO – if your new website is a replacement for an existing one, 301 redirects should be implemented to send traffic from the old pages to the new ones. An XML site map should be submitted to search engines and Google Search Console installed to help troubleshoot errors.

11) Costs – do you have a particular budget in mind? Is your organization easy to work with, with a straight forward sign-off process? A company that is able to provide clear direction to their agency or developer at the start of a new website project can often avoid costly changes or revisions later. The more clarity you can offer at the briefing stage, the more likely you are to obtain a fair quote for the size of the job. Remember that generally you get what you pay for – more experienced designers and developers will be able to command higher fees. It is common for web developers or agencies to require a deposit for a new website before they begin work.

12) How and when will you make a decision? Outline the next steps in your process – do you expect to meet in person with potential developers? If a lot of face to face time is required this may bump up the cost. It is reasonable to expect prospective agencies to pitch for a large piece of work such as a £50K corporate site that will take a multidisciplinary team several months to build, but not for a freelancer to create a £3K brochure site – a meeting over coffee to discuss their proposal should be sufficient. Always allow time to provide feedback to unsuccessful suppliers and inform them as soon as possible when you have made your decision.

If you’re looking for a marketing consultant to help with your next website project, I can work with you to create a brief and liaise with your developer or agency to ensure that your site achieves your marketing aims. Please visit my contact page for further information.

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Chloe IngramI am a CIM-qualified freelance marketing consultant based in Birmingham, UK. I work with SMEs across the West Midlands region, helping with marketing strategy, planning and implementation. If you would like advice on marketing your business please get in touch for a no-obligation consultation.

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