How to create a website brief for your launch or redesign
Creating a website or blog from scratch or re-designing one you have is always an exciting and sometimes frustrating experience. Like a house renovation or build we can’t wait to live in our new online home but the creation process is always that little bit slower and more difficult than we expect.
Today I want to help you create the best website brief you can before you engage anyone to help you launch or create your beautiful new digital space.
The reason you need a kick-arse brief is to help your designer/developer understand what you need up-front before the project even starts. As there is nothing worse than working with a professional or a team of them to see the long awaited first templates of your website and discover that it looks nothing like you imagined. People are not mind-readers. They come with a skill-set and amazing ideas that should take your concepts to the next level. But if you don’t share those concepts in a clear way your website may end up not being something you love.
The Website Brief Document
A website brief should be a document that guides the entire web design and development process. It will evolve as you start working with someone, but it still should be as comprehensive and detailed as possible. Because this document will serve as a common point of reference for all parties involved until the design concepts and technical requirements are signed off.
A great briefing document will help others understand your website vision, your brand, your audience, quote accurately, and avoid miscommunication and costly re-iterations. It is also a great exercise for you to get clarity around what you need and what you don’t.
Note: Many agencies and freelancers will have their own briefing documents that you fill in when you want to engage their services. These are a great things to complete but coming with your own ideas from the start just means you can fill these in more easily and bring even more information to the table.
Sections to include in your Website Briefing Document are:
1. About you and your business
Give an understanding of who you are, what your business does, where you are heading, and how your brand should be portrayed. In your introduction make sure you have answered the following questions:
- What do you do?
- What are your products and services?
- How long you have been around?
- What is the size of your business?
- Are you a local, national or international brand?
- What is your vision?
- What are your brand values?
- What is your unique selling proposition?
- Where do you want to be in 3 – 5 years time?
- How do you want to be perceived in the marketplace?
2. Your users
Giving a good amount of information about who your ideal website readers and customers are will help ensure that the design, features and functionality can be tailored accordingly.
You should already know your ideal customers from your current customer base or your business planning research. So the main information to include about them in a brief like this is:
- demographic information like age, sex, language, location, occupation, income levels etc.
- why they are visiting your site. Is it for entertainment, research, news, making a purchase etc?
3. Your current website (if you have one)
If you already have a website then this is the time to tell them about what you have and provide the URL (web address). Straight away people can understand the current structure, design and functionality. But the key is to then provide all the details about what works and what doesn’t work and why you need a change. Answer questions like:
- What is good about the website?
- What is bad about the website? (i.e. design? navigation?)
- How long ago was it built?
- What levels of traffic is it currently receiving?
- What percentage of the traffic is from phones and tablets?
- How many sales are you making through the site?
- What issues do you have updating the site?
4. Your new website
You now need to state what you need from a new website. This is an important section so have a good think about what your business objectives are and how your website is going to help you achieve them. Things to think about include:
- Outline the aims of the website ( e.g. to increase traffic, generate more sales, have an online shop, promote a particular offering)
- How will your target audience be accessing your site? From their phones, tablets or desktops?
- Is the new website part of a re-brand, or a new product launch?
- Is there other advertising/branding taking place that the new website should tie in with?
- Who are your main competitors?
In this section you can also specifically address content. If you currently have a site don’t just think you have to pull all your old content across to the new site. Think about what content works and what doesn’t and how you want this site to be arranged. Equally if you are starting a website from scratch having a handle on what pages you need will allow your developer/designer to quickly understand how complex the website will be. A sitemap is a great way to represent all your content pages in a visual way.
5. Your design
You have touched on your brand in section 1 but now is the time to really express all your visual ideas for the site. Describe how your new website should look, the impression you want to give, and any brand and style guidelines that need to be met (this will include logo, images, fonts and colours if they are already determined).
Great things to mention here include your brand values again. For example feminine, professional and trustworthy looks different to lively, fresh and fun.
To get some sort of idea of what web designs, colours, fonts and images you do like go out and look at lots of different websites. This does not have to be competitor sites, they can be anything. A good way to collate these ideas is through a private Pinterest board (that you can then share with people you invite). Use this board to pin anything you like that could relate to your design and make sure you write some good comments so your designer can understand what it is you like about that font, navigation or blog header.
6. Technical requirements
Don’t get too stressed out about the technical requirements if you are not technical in any way. But it is good to think about what you need the site to do and write those things down in a way that makes sense. This might include things like do you already own the domain? And will you require hosting? through to functionality on the site like:
- a blog
- a search box
- homepage slider
- social media integration
- Google maps integration
- galleries and light boxes
- newsletter opt-in
- membership area
- analytics setup
- landing pages for particular products
- SEO tools
- SEO friendly URLs
You can then decide to select one of these items like e-commerce (or your need for a shop) and break it open with a list of functionality you need within that component. This might include:
- tracking inventory
- easy shipping configuration and carrier integration
- payment gateway options
- tax settings
- customer filtering
- easy collection management
- reporting to analyse tracking and sales
- discounts and promo codes.
I know this can all sound overwhelming but it is good to do some research before you talk to a developer as otherwise you might end up with only the functionality their preferred system has. Remember right now you have choices.
Most likely a CMS of some description will be chosen like WordPress, Squarespace, Expression Engine, Shopify, Big Commerce, Magento. But it is good to identify your needs first.
This is where you should think about the things you need to control and update. For example if you want to easily update homepage images, navigation items and promo tiles on your shop in line with the next seasonal shopping event then this needs to be included in here. Basically the level of control you want over your website (managed through your CMS) needs to be clear. There will most likely be compromises as the project progresses but you want to have a website that you can easily maintain without having to call your developer every time you need something changed.
You should also ask here about any training that is offered in the CMS that is chosen. And what ongoing support and maintenance from your developer costs.
8. Budget and timeframe
Depending on who you are contacting it can be a good idea to include your potential budget (approximately) and the time-frame you would like the site to be delivered within.
Being clear about your budget up front will usually mean you will get better, more accurate quotes in response. Or that business will let you know if they don’t work with clients under a certain value, as some agencies have a lower limit. If you have no idea what your budget is you can leave it out but get a few quotes to see what a range of businesses suggest (this is best practice whatever you include).
If you have a defined timeframe make sure this is also included as some designers and developers have long waiting lists and if they can identify immediately they can’t meet you desired launch date then this information saves a lot of time and frustration.
I hope this post provides you with a good foundation for a great website brief for your re-launch or new online home. Obviously bring your own flare, needs and ideas to the document and be prepared to compromise and take on the awesome suggestions of those you hire!
If you have any questions or if you need more help to create a detailed website brief then send me an email or write a comment below.