An insider’s guide to writing the perfect web brief

Creating a web brief can be a daunting task. Your website is your main communication channel, and even if you have a vision for a redesign or a new site, it’s often difficult to be objective and articulate that vision to an outside agency.

You may have a specific problem — an out-of-date content management system (CMS) or a design that no longer reflects your brand — but often it’s not so straightforward. You and your team might feel like it’s time to get the decorators in and update the website with a new look and feel. Whatever the reason, a clear and detailed brief is the first step to a successful project.

What is a website brief?

A website brief is the first phase of the web design or development — a document that outlines your project goals, stakeholder expectations and how success will be measured. It also helps an organisation decide if the web agency is the right fit for your budget, deadlines and technical requirements. Do they have experienced staff who will listen to your needs and become the objective voice of the end user?

Most importantly, it’s the first step towards transparent collaboration, and helps kickstart the discovery process.

Since we launched our agency in 2000, we’ve received hundreds of web briefs in our inbox. We dread sprawling War and Peace-style briefs, but we also shiver at the ones written on the back of a postage stamp. If we don’t have enough relevant information, we’re left trying to tease out why the potential client is reaching out to us — how can we help solve their problem?
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We have compiled our top 10 (ish) things you should include in a detailed web brief. In the immortal words of Benjamin Franklin: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

1.   Overview of your organisation

  • What are your main products or services?
  • Have you have any new products coming online in the future?
  • What industries and markets are you active in?
  • What market are you planning on targeting?
  • What message do you want to get across with the website?
  • Who are your main competitors?
  • Who is the main point of contact for this project? Are they the decision maker?

2.   What is the main issue (pain point) or set of problems with your current website?

  • Poor or dated visual design?
  • Confusing user journey?
  • Slow upload speeds?
  • Lacking quality content?
  • Issues with traffic or customer retention?
  • Poor SEO — not ranking on search engine results pages?
  • Security issues?
  • Poor integration with social media?
  • Room for improvement in billing or invoicing?
  • Do you have content prepared for the website?

3.   Who is your target audience / stakeholders?

  • What sectors and domestic/international markets do they operate in?
  • Have you developed detailed personas for your typical client?
  • What are the main problems they are trying to solve?
  • Is your target audience segmented into specific groups with different needs?

4.   What features do you want for the website? (remember you have to answer #8 yet)

What features and functionality are required? See below for examples:

  • Blog or news section
  • Registration or login
  • eCommerce integration
  • Search functionality
  • Social media integration
  • Help desk or chat
  • Third-party integrations for example CRM, ERP etc.

5.   What are your expectations for the remit of the agency?

  • Do you prefer a hands-on, collaborative approach?
  • Are other third parties involved?
  • What sites do you like or would like to emulate?

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6.   Brand guidelines/UI toolkit

I f you have an official brand guidelines document the agency will use this as an essential visual reference for all UX design in the project. If your company doesn’t have an official set of brand guidelines, the agency’s design team will create a new toolkit before embarking on the design phase.

7.   Key project timelines

The two biggest sources of potential conflict during a project are costing and timeline, and the cost is greatly influenced by time. It’s important to clearly map out and estimate the time taken to complete each project task, and create deadlines and contingency plans.

  • Kick-off date
  • Delivery date (is there a hard deadline?)

8.   Project budget

It is important to be upfront about what you can spend, so the agency can offer a reasonable proposal. Your budget will affect all aspects of the project, including:

  • Bespoke design vs website package
  • Functionality — a brochure site with fewer integrations will generally cost less than a complex eCommerce site
  • Size — not necessarily the number of pages, but the number of different types of pages
  • CMS support and updates
  • Web and email hosting
  • Essential features and a ‘nice to have’ wishlist

9.   How will the success of the project be measured? What does success look like?

It’s crucial to have specific key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of the upcoming project. This will help visualise your goals, and the agency will be able to use these KPIs to develop a roadmap for achieving these goals.

10.   Legal and technical requirements

  • Multilingual
  • GDPR
  • Accessibility
  • Third party integrations
  • If it’s an eCommerce site, payment gateways / product list
  • Hosting — where is it hosted currently? DNS and website? The required technical stack or environment, as set out by the IT dept.
  • Support and maintenance
  • Realistic SEO expectations (don’t simply request to rank #1 on Google)

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Choose your agency wisely

If you are preparing a brief for the public sector, you will be bound by some procurement rules and guidelines, but this shouldn’t stop you from providing as much information as possible within the boundaries of the public sector procurement rules. This will help outline your vision and define the issues that need to be addressed.

Our next piece of advice is to both public and private sectors — choose an agency who you feel will offer a transformative solution, and that you can work with over an extended period of time. You’ll be having meetings with the agency team for eight to 24 weeks or more, depending on the scope of the project. They’ll become an extension of your team, and if you sign up for ongoing support you could be working with them for three years, so choose wisely.

Don’t just judge the agency on the request for proposal — it’s crucial to set up a meeting to see if they complement your working style. This will give you an insight into their processes and help the process run smoothly.

This is obviously harder for public sector clients.  Before going to tender, identify who you would like to work with and get some inside knowledge — offer them a small job and see if they are responsive. Internal users’ expectations differ from the goals of the IT or marketing departments, so find an agency that complements all departments.

When clients ask us to prepare technical briefs, we make sure they’re asking the right questions and asking for all the relevant supporting evidence from the tenderer. This guarantees the best response, and confidence that the tenderer can resolve any ongoing issues.

At Matrix we love the opportunity to talk, whether that’s face-to-face or over the phone.  If you’re wondering where to start with a website brief, we’re happy to offer you guidelines, introduce you to our team and give you an insight into how we could help solve any of your problems and work on a roadmap to digital success.

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