How to write a website brief

Only 25% of new creative projects start with a clear brief.

Given the undeniable importance of a good brief, this figure is definitely on the low side. Worryingly, this means that 75% of creative projects are anchorless – left to navigate their way to their intended destination with all crew members crossing their fingers that they will somehow end up travelling in the right direction!

The reason why so few briefs are written is probably because they are a headache to get right. But by not writing a good brief upfront, you are risking an even bigger headache later down the line. Trying to articulately summarise into a concise statement what you need to achieve from your display campaign, a social media idea, a launch event or a new website, can be hard. Knowing that the entire creative process, as well as a whole heap of cash, will be spent based on a set of words you choose to write in the brief is intimidating. Writing a brief takes research and planning, focus and a lot of editing. So please don’t think it’s going to take 5 minutes, because it won’t! It’s all in the preparation and, if you put the time into writing a good brief at the start, the outcome will be so much more worthwhile. And you’ll definitely save yourself a few headaches too.

For now, we are going to focus on the inputs that aid writing a good website brief, as this is something that clients are turning to us for more and more. But the principles can be used for any type of creative brief writing. To make this easier, we have broken it down into 5 key questions to ask yourself about your website:

  1. Why is it needed?
  2. Who is going to visit?
  3. How should it feel?
  4. What should it do?
  5. Will it be kept up to date?
Why is it needed?

Firstly, start with the big picture and work back from there. Does your website need a re-fresh or is this a new website? If it is a re-fresh, think about whether there is anything you want to retain from your current site or anything you definitely want to do differently. Then ask yourself, ‘What do I need my (new) website to achieve?” Does your site need to be an e-commerce site (i.e. transactional) or is it simply a place to showcase your products or explain the services that you offer? Does it need to contain lots of information about your services or products, or is it simply to give visitors just enough information with the ultimate goal being to get people to contact you for more information. Perhaps the goal of your website is to capture people’s details so you can keep in contact with them and develop your CRM programme.

Whatever your website goal, make sure it is clear and everyone in your organisation buys into it.

Who is going to visit?

Next think about the audience that will be interested in your website – who are they and what do you know about them? Developing personas can be very helpful if you have the time and resource. Think about their mindset when visiting your site and the experience you want them to have when they arrive there. Will they know what information they are looking for? Will they want to browse, or navigate to answers as quickly as possible? What are their expectations and needs? What do you want your site experience to be like? We call this their ‘take-home experience’ e.g. easy to use, fun, enriching, informative, educational, surprising, helpful – these are all types of words that should be used in your brief to help your web partner get real insight to what you want your site to achieve. In fact, the more descriptive the words you use, the better.

How should it feel?

Then think about your brand i.e. the visual interpretation of your brand and how this translates online. Do you have assets available to achieve this? Do you already have brand photography or does this need to be created? What style of imagery are you after – photographic, illustration, typographical?. We often find clients come to us asking for a new website and, as an afterthought, they ask for a brand re-fresh as part of the process. This is fine, but should be thought about upfront so that it can form part of the scope and budget. Otherwise you could find your budget is quickly lost to various re-designs of your logo and identity, rather than on the site itself.

An extremely useful exercise to undertake before writing your brief, is to spend some time looking at competitor sites. Get a feel for what you like, what works well and what definitely doesn’t. Critiquing competitor sites and sharing those thoughts will help your digital partner get to the best solution quicker and more cost effectively for you.

What should it do?

Now think about what you want your site to actually do. This can range from extremely simple to highly complex. Site functionality encompasses everything from the actions a user can perform to dynamic content and interactivity. Providing the right functionality is crucial to the success of a website, and it should be an essential part of the planning phase and always included in the brief upfront.

On the simple end of the scale the functionality of your site could just have strong call to action buttons to help navigate people to where they need to be. Alternatively, if you are offering a booking facility or perhaps a member’s area, there will be an amount of form filling and data capture which may require plug-ins to be incorporated into the back-end build of the site. Some examples of website functionality include:

Will the site be kept up to date?

Once you are clear on what you want your site to achieve, what it should do and how it should feel, think about the practicalities of your site. Who will be responsible for keeping it up to date? If you or your organisation are responsible for this, the website should be built on a platform that is easily updatable and intuitive to use. Your digital partner can make recommendations about this. Ideally you should have control over a certain amount of your website updates, so that it regularly has fresh content. A dormant website will drop down on organic Google rankings.  Changes in search engine algorithms can affect your website’s ranking in search results, so it’s important to refresh your website regularly if you want to rank higher than your competitors.

At the same time, it’s important to take into account the quality of content and your SEO strategy. Regularly updated, but poor content can be your downfall, both with visitors and with search engines — for example, it’s widely known that Google’s Panda algorithm can lower the rankings of websites in search results for keyword stuffing (overloading text with keywords that lack proper context) and for low-quality or repeated content. So, if you are regularly writing blogs for your website, make sure they are adding value to your audience and are relevant.

Experts say that 2 to 3 years is the maximum lifetime for a website, design-wise. Longer than that and it faces the danger of falling into oblivion, becoming out of date in terms of technologies as well as design.

If you are keen to find out more about updating or refreshing your website, or you need a new website designed and built from scratch, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’d love to help!