What is a website brief and who is it for?

Recently I’ve decided to have a carport built at my house. Nothing fancy, just something to put two cars under to get us and them out of the weather. Who’d have thought a seemingly simple little carport could be such a nightmare! It’s not just shape, size and style, it’s positioning, plans and approvals and about a thousand other things.

The thing is, I’m not a carport builder. The only stuff I know about carports is what I find on Pinterest or searching Google. But what I do know is what I want it to look like, how it should function for me and my family.

Just like my carport you need to know what you want your website to be, what it should look like, the general content, how it should function and what you want it to deliver to you and for you. Don’t get me wrong, if you are going to an external supplier feel free to ask their opinion (in fact you should, they’re the experts!) but you need to go to them with a description of what you want in order for them to understand your expectations. Even if that description changes once you’ve chatted with them the whole point of a brief is to have a starting point.

Don’t underestimate the power of a website brief.

Whether you are building the site yourself or hiring an external team getting your thoughts, ideas and wishlist down in one concise document is key to producing an end result you will be happy with.

What is the benefit of nailing the brief at the beginning?

Building a website is not as simple as ‘I want one of those’ as you point to an existing website you like. For a start most of the ‘I want one of those’ statements are pointing to sites that have 20 times the budget.

Nailing the brief from the beginning has a number of advantages. My top three are:

  1. Reworking is costly
    When you are employing someone else to do the work regardless of whether you have recevied a quote to do it or not, reworking can be very costly both in terms of time and added hours for the extra work not allocated in the quote. I get frustrated by people who are doing work for themselves and feel because of this they can do whatever they want and spend as much time as they like tweaking and finessing. Even if you are doing it yourself you really should be seeing your time as a dollar figure.
  2. Your time is valuable.
    Reworks can create problems
    I’ve seen it so many times. What starts out as an XYZ build suddenly turns into an XYZ with a little bit of ABC build. Reworks no matter how experienced your developer is can create problems, like old code being muddled with new, content in the wrong places, automated emails firing off at the wrong time.
  3. We’re all on the same page
    I wish it was possible to do a Spock on my clients. Put my hands up to their template and voila into my head came their website brief. I knew exactly what they were thinking about and could then translate that into a website. While it’s not possible to do a Spock I can get my client, myself and my team on the same page by working through a thorough brief at the start of the project. Don’t underestimate the value of a website brief for getting your team on the same page.

What should be included?

  1. About your business
    Write down everything you can about your business including your company overview, who are you and what do you stand for and your target market and competition.
  2. Key performance indicators
    What do you want to get out of your site? Is it sales through the door? Is it calls to your call centre?
  3. Timeframe and budget
    Nobody likes to give a budget but you’ve got to be realistic. Without a budget I could have gotten estimates to rebuild the Taj Mahal when I just wanted a neat, functional carport. Budgets provide expectation.
  4. Design and creative
    What is the look/feel/mood/direction your are going for?
    Do you have a company logo?
    Do you have a style guide?
    What existing materials do you have?
  5. Graphics and images
    This is important. If you don’t have great images don’t expect they will appear out of thin air. Be realistic about where you are going to get your images from. If it’s from a stock library put a budget in for this. Websites need to be visually appealing, skimping on your graphics and images will produce a sub-par result I can guarantee that.
  6. Devices
    What mobile devices are your end user using. If you don’t know then it’s time to find out. Check out your old sites statistics. Do some research.
  7. Content management
    Do you want to manage the content of your website? If so, what type of content will you be managing and what control is important to you?
  8. Content
    Do you have existing copy? Who will be doing the copywriting? How much time can you put aside to write this content?
  9. Search engine optimisation
    Are you wanting to do search engine optimisation? Are you prepared to spend a monthly amount on it or do you just want your site to be ready for it as it’s something you’ll ‘do down the track’?
  10. Maintenance and support
    What level of website maintenance and support are you expecting?
  11. Hosting and email
    Do you have a website host? If yes provide the details and if not ask for help in setting it up.
  12. Marketing and reporting
    What type of analytics to you need? Would Google analytics suffice? Do you have an account?
  13. Getting social
    Do you have a social media presence? How would you like content on your site shared? Have you considered a social aggregator?

Remember – anything you can tell us about your business, even things that you don’t think are relevant can be relevant and can help to nail your brief and produce a fantastic website for you.

Anything you should never include?

Producing a website brief is generally a multi-stage process. You prepare a basic brief and then between you and your team discuss each of the elements of the brief and then rework it until you are happy with it.

The final brief you come up with should be final especially if you are briefing another party.

Your inner ramblings or discussions between your team should not be part of the final brief. The website brief is not the place to ask questions between your team or to state opinions from each of you. It needs to be concise, accurate and leave no room for interpretation. The designers and developers need to understand you and your business and so the more accurate and succinct you can be the less that is open to interpretation.

If you do need to ask questions – make it clear that you want an opinion or advice and from who.

Written by Raeleen  |  3 April 2020