A website brief is the foundation stone of any web build or redesign. In fact, no agency worth their salt would start a project without one. Not only does it give direction with planning, but it helps all parties stick to what has been planned and prevent that phrase that all project managers fear: scope creep.
But what constitutes a website brief?
Well herein lies the challenge, as there’s no standard website brief that agencies universally follow. In fact, a website brief can be as — well, brief — or as lengthy as you want it to be.
In this guide, I’ll give you some tips that are born from my 22 years of working on web build with businesses of all sizes and niches, where I’ve seen first hand what makes for a good working relationship between client and agency.
Why do You Need a Website Brief?
It takes time to come up with a brief, but there are several reasons why this should be ready even before you get in touch with any agency:
1. To Have Clarity Among Stakeholders
A website brief’s purpose, above all, is to provide clarity for all stakeholders involved in the project. That includes internal stakeholders like your marketing team and your senior management team. With a brief, everyone will get the chance to provide their input on what they want the website to do, what they think it should look like, and its purpose.
2. To Streamline the Process
Having a website brief will also help you streamline the process with other agencies that you’re looking to work with or invite to give you a quote, whether that’s another SEO agency or a design agency. With a brief that clearly articulates what you want, you can supply it to multiple agencies and get a consistent response and quotation for the same project.
Keep in mind that if you start working with any agency without a brief, they will eventually force you down the road of creating one — either with them or by yourself. And if you do it with them, they’ll invariably charge you for it. Doing it yourself will save you costs in both the short and long term.
3. To Have an Anchor Point
Throughout the lifetime of your project, the scope of your brief can change, especially for a big website. But your brief will always be your anchor point. It will keep you focused on the original elements that you were quoted for, giving the agency you’re working with a clear benchmark to compare interim versions and the final product against.
The Content of a Website Brief
Although there’s no industry standard, your website brief should cover as much as you can and be organised in a clear and logical manner. This includes:
- Brand and design elements: Include both the tangible elements of your brand (like corporate colours, logo, branding, and style of images) and the intangibles (tone of voice, positioning, and personality).
- Competitor research: Who are your competitors, which websites you like, and which websites that you don’t like.
- Content: The pages that you need to be done, all required content, and who is going to write the content (i.e. in-house, the agency, or a third-party copywriter).
- Features and functionality: These can include a contact form, newsletter signup form, calculators, widgets, key integrations with other platforms (e.g. estate agency integrations with your property management system, or any CRM like Hubspot or Zoho), how will customers contact your customer service department, live chat, a ticketing system, or a login system.
- Target audience: Who is your website aimed at (include demographics, their needs, goals, etc), what you want them to do on the website, what do you want them to achieve.
- Timeline: When do you want this project to start and what is your target live date.
- Technical aspects of the site: This includes website hosting (will the agency take care of this or will the business), languages, or any need for user access restrictions.
- Communication: How often do you want to communicate with the agency, will there be regular meetings with you or your team, and how often do you want to receive reports on your project.
Thinking About SEO from Day One
At this stage, you need to have an understanding of how you’re going to drive traffic to the website and, more importantly, how you’re going to monitor that traffic.
The SEO elements that should go into your brief include:
- Which keywords relate to what page
- Google Analytics, or any other tracking software that you prefer
- A map out of the structure of your website
- Whether you are going to use Google Ads and if so, do you need specific landing pages for them
- Whether you are going to use organic SEO
- Is social media marketing needed
- Is do content marketing needed
- Are you interested in blogs
- Do you have other existing resources that you want on your site, either published for free or behind a data capture form
- Do you want to include video or audio
A Note on Keywords
Let’s say you’re coming up with keywords for your service pages or category pages for your e-commerce website. Ask yourself: where, in an ideal world, would you want these pages to be found on Google?
Remember that at this stage, how you’re going to get to page one for those search keywords is less important. You only need to have a rudimentary understanding of what the most relevant keywords for particular pages are going to be.
Minimising Iterations and Maximising Efficiency
A website brief can be cumbersome if you don’t know how big or how small it should be, even without the challenge of getting your team involved and consolidating all their feedback. To minimise your brief iterations, do the following:
1. Know the Limits of your Brief
You don’t need to start trying to wireframe what the website should look like. That’s the next stage and can be completed by your design agency. At this stage, your brief should be as simple as a Word or Google doc.
You can simply say, ‘We use X piece of software and we want to integrate our website with that.’ That should be enough. Let the SEO agency then look at how they are going to fulfil that requirement. You don’t necessarily have to do a detailed investigation into how that requirement is going to be fulfilled at the brief stage. The main idea is to simply get your needs and wants on a piece of paper.
2. Limit the Cooks in the Kitchen
This is, ultimately, a collaborative effort among your team. However, too many cooks in the kitchen might be a problem, especially for businesses with multiple departments. So who should be involved in the process?
- Key stakeholders: This includes your marketing lead or the directors who have an understanding of this area (if you have no marketing lead).
- Managers: Also involve managers from other departments (e.g. customer service, sales) who might have a say on what the web pages will look like and include (e.g. features and functionalities like live chat, ticketing system, website logins, etc).
Understanding Costs and Budgets
Another crucial element is figuring out everything that you want to be done and if those tasks can be accomplished within your budget. There are three ways you can approach costing during the brief creation process:
1. Start With a Budget
Starting with a specific budget in mind is how businesses often approach this. However, you need to keep an open mind and be flexible with your numbers. It can be the case that some features that you didn’t foresee at the onset end up being necessary to your website after talking to an agency.
Also, if you’ve got a budget today, there could potentially be more available down the road, especially once the site is up and running. This can be a chicken-and-egg argument, but starting with a budget in mind is going to be helpful.
2. Prioritise Certain Features and Functionalities
You can also prioritise certain features and functionalities. For example, things like structural elements (e.g. how many pages are required) are less budget-dependent. They also don’t tend to cost a huge amount of money. The features, however, are the expensive parts of a website project as these may require development or the purchase of additional plugins.
In a situation where you have to choose which features to prioritise, it’s helpful to apply a project management method called MoSCoW Prioritisation. Think of the features that you must-have, should-have, could-have, won’t-have, or will not have right now.
This will give you a better idea of what your website needs to have that is absolutely critical at the beginning. Ask yourself: what would be really good for the website to have right now? And what could the website have, but you wouldn’t necessarily mind if it didn’t?
3. Divide the Project into Phases
If the website brief is getting quite large in terms of what you’re requiring, you can also split it up into different phases.
Breaking the project up will allow you to spend the budget that you have right now on your must-haves, and then initiate the second phase down the line once you have a bigger scope available. Think of it like this:
- Phase 1: Must-haves
- Focus on the features and functionalities that your website needs to get up and running so your business will kick off and start generating revenue.
- Phase 2: Should-haves and could-haves
- Once the website’s up and functioning and it’s doing what you’ve paid an agency to do, then you can start the second phase (or even the third phase) of building upon all these features that you already have.
It All Starts With Your Brief
Once you have a working brief, go over each section again with your team for them to sign off and/or include any last-minute changes. Remember that putting the effort into coming up with a clear and cohesive website brief will pay dividends in the long run because you are putting a plan in place. Be flexible with your plans as the project scope might change, but your brief will always be your anchor.
We have been helping clients put together robust website briefs for many years and we’ve seen what can go wrong, when there is critical information missing. If you’re looking to create a new website and have a brief for us to look at, then book a strategy call with us today and we’ll talk through it with you.