How to successfully write a website brief

You or your company have decided that it is time for your first website or to revamp your old one. What steps should you take to make sure you get it right? The first step is to write a website brief – this states clearly what you expect to get from the website and provides the web designer with the information to get started and explore design ideas. As a starting point, many web designers will ask you to complete a website brief or your company may ask you to write one. What should you include in your brief? There’s a lot to consider.

1.   What is the purpose of your new website

It is important that you and your web designer are clear about what it is you want from the website. Is it increased sales, greater brand awareness, email addresses, a reduction in brochure requests or a reduction in phone calls for information? Be clear about your priorities for the site.

2.   What have you gained from your current site?

If you have an existing site, why do you want to change it? What works well on your current site and what does not? What business priorities is your current site meeting or not meeting?  For example, are there not enough sales or enquiries? Is it getting enough hits? What improvements do you wish to make and why? What feedback have you had?

3.   How does the website fit in with your company’s goals?

What are your company’s wider goals? What is its vision or mission? Where is it going and what is its history? Describe your company in five to ten words (e.g. vibrant, traditional, young, professional etc.). How big is your company? What is your company’s USP (unique selling point)? If you and your web designer have a good awareness of how the site is intended to fit in with these wider considerations, then the site is more likely to succeed.

4.   Who is your target audience?

Who are you trying to reach through your website? Don’t just think of your existing customers or audience, but potential ones too. Are you aiming at other businesses (small or large?) or the regular public? What characteristics do they have in terms of age, gender, disposable income, nationality, interests and so on?

5.   Who are your competitors and what are they doing?

Who are your main competitors? What online presence do they have? List your competitors and their websites. How do you want your website to be different from theirs and what will make you stand out?

6.   How will the website complement your image and brand?

How important is it that the website reflects your company’s image and brand?  Does your company have a corporate style or a strapline, a logo, preferred fonts and colours? Be clear about these from the outset and you should get the look and feel of the site just right.

7.   What other websites or features do you like?

List three websites you like and explain why. Equally important, list three you do not like and again explain why. What features do you like or dislike? Is there anything you would particularly like to see on your website?

8.   What is the budget and timescale?

From the outset, be clear about what budget you have available for the site and the timeframe involved.

9. Do you have a web host and domain name?

Do you require a domain name (e.g. funkysausages.co.uk)? Do you have your own server or do you require a web host (to provide you with space online for your site)? Will you or your web designer organise this? If you are a small company, it is often easier to leave this to your web designer but state any preference clearly.

10. Do you know the content and structure you would like?

What content will you want on the site and what sections or pages? Most sites have a home page, about us, a products or services page and contact page, but you might also want want a gallery, forum, wiki or blog? Do you want an online shop or e-commerce features? If so, how will you process payments e.g. will you require a PayPal account or other means of accepting online payments? Do you have a sitemap? Do you have photos, graphics, and logos? Who will write the copy? Do you have in-house photos or do you or your web designer need to find appropriate images from online photo libraries.

11. How will social media fit in?

Do you want to integrate social media into the site? Do you have Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter or other social media accounts? Do you have a blog or a forum? If not, would you like any of these? Do you want people to ‘follow’ you on your social media and ‘like’ your products and services? Social media can be an excellent way to keep fresh content coming to your site but it is important that you are realistic and are able to update your social media regularly.

12. Who will maintain your site?

Who will be responsible for updating and maintaining your site, including content such as copy and images? How often will it be updated? Do you want to do it in-house or are you happy for your web designer to do this for you? Be honest and realistic – maintaining a good website takes time – do you have the in-house skills, time and resources?

13. How will you promote the site?

A website needs visitors. The look, feel and content might be great and will help to attract visitors but most websites need promoting. Will you or your web designer be required to ‘optimise’ the site so it ranks highly Google’s natural search results? Do you want to use pay per click advertising? Do you want to complement your website with an email newsletter?

14. What will success look like?

Be clear about what will indicate the success of the website? It might be increased sales, number of website hits, number of enquiries, email subscriptions etc. Be specific, make it measurable and time-bound. For example, 10% increase in online sales 6 months after the launch.

15. What next?

Once you have answered these questions, you should use the brief to approach website designers or design companies to obtain details on how they propose to meet your requirements and the costs involved (short-term and long-term). Although the brief provides a comprehensive starting point, there are still likely to be further questions on both sides as you progress towards a website that meets your requirements.

Download this article, How to successfully write a website brief, as a PDF document.

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