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How to write a killer website brief in 6 key tips

How to write a killer website brief in 6 key tips

Seb Harris

12 minute read03 Jan 2022

A website brief - also known as a creative brief or request for proposal - is an essential document for any website development project. It lays out the scope of what you have in mind and informs your agency about the fundamental details of what you want to achieve.

For us, the key word is creative. There’s an artistry to writing a good brief. Each brief is a unique and imaginative approach to a specific brand and a specific project. It's your opportunity to absorb us into your universe. You should enjoy the chance to bask in your brand and take us on a tour of the things you hold dear.

But we understand that this will come more easily to some than others so we have six tips for what to include. These can come in any order and can be presented in any way you think best. But in some shape or form, they must be there.

"This is your opportunity to absorb us into your universe".

Why do I need a website brief?

Before getting started, step into our world. As an e-commerce agency we see a lot of briefs. When writing yours, it’s important to keep in mind why these documents matter to us.

Website briefs are important because they streamline a project. In the beginning, your agency will be unfamiliar with your brand. If starved of information, they’ll waste a lot of time working through ideas that don’t match your vision, your aesthetic and/or your values. But with a creative brief, they’ll have everything they need to begin working on ideas that are both relevant and effective.

Deeper into a project, the brief remains important as a reminder of the project’s core objectives. If focus wanes and people lose sight of the vision that started the journey, they’ll refer back to the brief. It’s a guide that keeps everybody on the right track.

It’s therefore important to get it right. No two briefs look the same, and so there’s no singular right way of making one. Our advice is to give as much relevant information as possible. Relevant is the key term here. This isn’t your life story. We want to know about your brand, and the challenges keeping you from your goals.

So whilst we urge you to refrain from telling us what you studied at school that lead to building the brand, once you're talking about what your brand stands for, what it sells, who its target audience is, what challenges it faces and information of a similar nature: there really is no detail too insignificant. Every small insight you give fits together to build a larger picture of your brand and your project.

The worst case scenario is your brief being too vague. It slows the project from the very beginning and will be detrimental to your new website. A vague website design brief prevents us understanding exactly what a client is looking for and always always results in a lot of changes later down the line - costing clients both time and money.

How do I make a website brief?

As we've said, there's no template to the perfect website design brief. But if you've never made one before, you'll want something to go off right? Before we give you our 6 key tips for a killer website brief, here's a rough guide of how to make one:

1. Make lists

Make a list of all the things you like and dislike about your current website. Then list all the things you wished it could do or wished it had instead. If you don't have a site yet, just make a list of everything you want it to do.

2. Do competitor research

With your lists complete, trawl through your competitors' websites. Look at brands you're stronger than, brands you're equal to and brands that are out in front of you. See what their websites can and can't do and make a note of how they feel when you're exploring them. Refer back to your lists and make any necessary adjustments.

3. Decide on your top priorities

By now you should have a comprehensive list of the features you'd like on your new website. Prioritise these in order of necessity. It's unlikely you'll be in a position to have all of them straight away so make a plan of which are more important than others for the upcoming website project.

The best way to do this is to list all of the challenges you face as a brand and a business. Work out which challenges are most pressing and should be overcome the quickest and then align the website features to those challenges. It's not an exact science but if you follow this method you should arrive at a list of top priority features for your new website.

4. Write an intro to your brand

Every successful web design project has a clear focus and that's always the brand in question. Your website brief should always carry a section introducing your brand. Whether or not you place it at the start doesn't really matter, but it's a good place to begin writing a website brief because it keeps your brand at the forefront of your mind from the very beginning.

So write an intro to your brand, but as we've said, only the relevant stuff. Check our tips below if you're not sure what's relevant to a website brief and what isn't.

5. Write out the challenges you face and the features you need to fix them

This is a critical section of any website design brief. Your agency wants to know what you see as your key challenges and how you wish to resolve them. Perhaps you don't know this? Or perhaps what you think are your biggest challenges are actually not so big and instead you need to focus on something else? This is all fine. For now, write what you see and the rest can be decided in conversation with your agency at a later stage.

6. Find some design inspiration

With your brand intro and key challenges/resolutions written out, it's time to find some inspiration for your new website design. Quite simply, look for websites you like the look of. Not even necessarily in your field or your industry. Just find website designs you like, take some screenshots and write a few lines about why you like each of them.

These are the basic steps for writing a website design brief. It's by no means a comprehensive list but it's somewhere to start. Once you've done these steps, think more about what information you think should come across and how you should structure it. We're confident it's one of those tasks that once you get going, ideas start to flow.

For more inspiration follow our 6 key tips.

6 key tips for writing a killer website brief

Your new website is starting to take shape in your mind. So now let's get it into your agency's mind as well. Here are 6 tips to keep in mind as you write your website design brief.

1. Your brand

From start to finish, your website brief needs to tell a rich story of your brand. If you’re struggling to think of ways to do this, write down the six question words below and draft out some ideas for each of them. Think of answers to each question you write, and find imaginative ways of mixing them into your creative brief.

Top tip: Don’t just answer the same questions we’ve all heard before. These are important, yes, but they don’t reveal much. They don’t give us a personality. We want all the idiosyncrasies that make your brand, your brand.

Here’s some examples:

To be clear, we’re not suggesting you simply provide your agency with a list of answers to all of these questions. But if you have these in mind whilst designing your brief, and if you can engineer it in such a way that whoever reads it feels as though they could answer them, you’ll be on the right track.

Key section - your customers

Your brand would be nothing without its customers so pay special attention to them throughout your storytelling. Tell your agency about your customer base and (if they aren’t the same thing) your ideal customer. How old they are, where they live, how much they earn, their beliefs and values, their hopes and fears.

Tell your agency why you want to target specific customers over others. If you’re facing any challenges doing so, explain what those challenges are and how you hope to overcome them.

Top tip: If you don’t know much about your customers, Google analytics reports can provide good info for both demographics and psychographics.

2. Your current e-commerce platform

Our next piece of advice is to give your agency as much information as possible about the current state of your e-commerce platform - if you have one. Tell them what you like about it. Tell them what it does well and in what areas it’s improved your business. Simultaneously, tell them what you dislike. Where is it letting you down, and how do you picture it working for you in the future? If you have specific requirements - multilingual, multi-currency, augmented reality etc. - make sure to stress these (more on this later).

If you don’t have a site yet, and you’re writing a design proposal for your first e-commerce platform, tell your agency why you want to sell online. What stage is your business at now? What challenges do you face? And why do you see an e-commerce platform as the answer to these issues? Don’t worry, this isn’t a test. But the more information you provide about where you’re at, and where you want to be, the better your agency will understand the project.

3. Requirements

This is a big one. Alongside letting your agency into the world of your brand, telling them exactly what you want from your website is the most important aspect of your brief.

Must-haves vs nice-to-haves

A good task to perform before you begin writing is to separate your needs into two categories: must-haves and nice-to-haves. Pretty self-explanatory, but must-haves are those features that you cannot do without. Nice-to-haves are add-ons. If you already have an e-commerce platform in place, it’s quite likely that must-have features are the reason you’re writing this brief in the first place.

If your brand is on the brink of bursting into a new international market, for instance, but your store can’t handle more than one language and currency, multilingual and multi-currency capabilities are sure to be must-have features.

Nice-to-haves are features you want, but aren’t pivotal. They’re the things you’ll add if time (and budget) allows, but won’t be the focus of the project. Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between must-haves and nice-to-haves. Ultimately, there’s no right and wrong way to decide which is which. It’s up to you and depends on the things you want for your business.

If you’re finding it difficult to decide, or if you don’t know which ones will be most effective for your business, explain this dilemma to your agency. If you’ve chosen well, they’ll be industry experts with a wealth of experience. They’ll know how to get your brand from A to B, and they’ll know which website features will make that journey easiest.

It’s important, therefore, not only to write a good website brief, but also to pick the right digital agency.

Listing requirements as must-haves vs nice-to-haves helps you and your agency to collaboratively define the MVP (Minimal Viable Product, also known as V1 scope). This is the minimum set of features that must be in place from the moment you go live. We advise our clients to begin with an MVP and only expand functionalities later, once they have data analytics and user feedback to guide their decisions. This prevents them buying a Ferrari before they know how to drive.

How to structure your requirements

When structuring the platform requirements in your website brief, these are good divisions to follow:

1. Platform pages - the pages you need on your new platform and a brief explanation of what the page is about.

2. Platform features - the features you need and why you need them.

3. Platform integrations - state which other system(s) your platform needs to ‘talk’ to. If available, add a link to the API documentation of the tool (this is usually found on the company’s website).

4. Platform scalability - the languages and/or currencies you want to sell in.
Scope of responsibilities - stating what you want the agency to do for you. Design and development, or only the latter?

5. Migration work - Where necessary, state the work to be done for the migration from your previous platform, and who will be responsible for it.

Top tip: always remember this process is collaborative. The creative brief needs to be as detailed as possible but your agency will have their own input. You’re not expected to have the full website design ready to go all by yourself!

Requirement research

We’re going to bet that you have at least some ideas about which new features you’d like on your website. Even if this is the case, even if you already have the entire project mapped out in your mind, it’s still good to get as many relevant opinions as you can. You may not have thought of everything.

How to do this? Firstly, give everyone in your organisation a voice. Ask the people that’ll be working with your site each day which features they’d like to see. Perhaps they’ll have some requirements that you hadn’t previously considered, and which could ultimately streamline workflows and boost sales.

Secondly, ask your customers. They’re the ones that’ll be using your website, so it’s with the customer in mind that every change should be made. If there’s a feature that they unanimously request, you’ll know that it’s a must-have. Keeping the customer engaged like this is also a good way to make them feel appreciated. This will in turn boost brand loyalty and minimise the risk of them defecting to a competitor.

4. Don’t panic

In 2021 it’s more important than ever for brands to move online. However the digital world isn’t as familiar to some as it is to others. We know there are many people that want to run a business and build a brand, but have little-to-no knowledge of e-commerce. Our advice here: don’t panic.

Your agency will understand that not everybody is an e-commerce, design, and/or development guru. Even if you have absolutely no idea what you want your website to do and/or look like, any information is useful. Even down to the most basic suggestions like colour palettes and images you’d like to use can spark ideas from your development agency.

Alternatively, give a list of websites you use frequently. Name what you like about them, and anything that irritates you or you think should be different. Give a list of competitor’s websites you envy. Or ones you think are terrible.

Even if you think it is trivial, any scrap of information about your tastes and interests here will turn out to be useful.

5. Budget

This can be an uncomfortable one for some, but talking about your budget is an important moment in your briefing. A clear budget lets your agency know from the start what will be possible and what won’t. It’s all well and good having strong ideas about your website’s requirements. But some features will simply cost more than others to implement. If you don’t have the budget to match, it’s a waste of everyone’s time to start thinking about them.

Top tip: Give your agency a budget range rather than just one figure. They’ll then offer you a few options - a website at the top-end of your budget, and a website more in the mid-to-low range. You’ll see the differences between the two and you can decide whether you want to invest the extra money.

6. Schedule and measurability

A schedule is a massive asset to any website briefing. Deadlines, even if only rough estimates at an early stage, help to keep a project on track and give everyone involved an idea of the necessary hours. Managing expectations is an important part of any website development project and the website brief is where this begins.

But don't worry if you have no idea how long something should be expected to take. If your website briefing has an unrealistic schedule, your agency will explain why. You can then discuss whether to scale the requirements back, or extend the length of the project.

If you set off on the development journey without a clear schedule in mind, you risk a misunderstanding between all parties about how long each stage will take. So it's always best to propose a schedule that can be adjusted later than to give nothing at all from the very beginning.

Top tip: Together with your agency, discuss a schedule that has some room for manoeuvre. Unforeseen problems are all part of the process and can bring a project to a halt for a small period. If you don’t have any leeway in your project, you run the risk of missing your deadlines.

Measurability is a similar feature to a website brief. Goals are an important feature and the best goals are specific and measurable.

Here's an example:

Briefing 1: Brand X wants to increase traffic to their site.
Briefing 2: Brand X wants an increase in traffic of 20% by date Y.

Both are ambitious. They want to increase traffic to their site. That's great, however the added details in briefing 2 make it easier for us to prioritise how best to achieve the specific goals.

There’s a number of ways to increase traffic to a website. But giving us a target, and a date by which to achieve it, helps us to work backwards from the goal and select the best strategy for reaching it.

Top tip: Think of goals in terms of: conversion rates, average order value, sales, returns and so on.

Write it

We’ve been through our tips, all that’s left is to write it. Remember, your briefing can’t be ‘wrong’, but it can miss key pieces of information. Include everything we’ve mentioned here in a creative and engaging way, and your agency will have a great guide for building the perfect website for your brand.

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