How to write a rock solid website brief

Have you ever been tendering for your website only to receive three extremely varied estimates?

A client of mine –before they became a client– told me a story of when she asked three companies for an estimate for her website and got back costs ranging from £500 - £15,000. Naturally this made her think some web designers were trying to rip her off.

In reality, the real issue was that they were not given a solid enough brief to be able to quote against. A real problem. She ended up wasting her time and theirs.

It doesn’t have to be that way if you know how to write a good brief. During our Clarity for Websites workshop (you can do this once you book a Clarity Assessment) we supply you with a full Request for Proposal document which is a fuller brief and outlines all the key elements of your website that a designer would need to know about, to more accurately quote for your project.

So what are some key features of a good website brief?

1. Talk about your company

Imagine –and assume– the person reading this document doesn’t know anything at all about your company. Tell them things like:

  • when it started
  • what is it you do
  • why you do what you do and what problems you are solving
  • how many staff you have and who the key personnel are
  • the company structure
  • your turnover

Include here your vision and values and anything you can provide about your brand personality, so they can get a really good picture of who you are.

2. Where are you currently?

Explain how long you’ve had your current website (if you have one) and any goals you had for that website. You don’t need to go into great detail here. If you have the information, it just helps to see if the goals were or weren’t met.

It’s even better to give screen shots of the existing site and, if possible, any changes over the years.

Describe what you feel is wrong with your current site and the reasons you feel you need to have it re-designed.

3. Share your goals for the website

In this section, explain how your website goals match up with your overarching business goals. For example, you may have a target to increase new business by 10%. Will the website be expected to contribute to that? How much?

4. Explain in detail your target audience

This is a key section which can often get glossed over. Your website is not being built for you. It is being built for your target audience. So you need to know everything you can about them.

What are their basic demographics? Better still, include personas that break down the demographics by giving a real name, personality and biography to your audience, so that designers have even more specific and accurate information to work with.

What are the requirements of each audience type you are targeting (i.e. why would they use your website)? What function are they fulfilling by using your website?

5. What features should the website have?

Off the back of knowing your target audience –and the reason why they will come to your website– here you list each key feature your website should have, to meet those needs and more.
Include everything, even if you think it is obvious. For example:

  • blog
  • photo gallery of our events
  • contact form
  • booking form (or system)
  • events listings
  • shop (with facility to buy multiple products)

6. Your plans for content

Some clients already have in-house content writers. This is the section where you share that information and also whether you need to keep any of the current content –if you already have a website– versus what needs to be re-written.

7. Describe how the website should ‘feel’

When a visitor lands on your website what is the instant impression you want them to have of your brand? Write down all the words that describe this, alongside the feeling they have once they leave your site.

8. Who are your competitors?

It’s always a good idea to get a picture of the competition. List between 3 and 5 companies, closest to what you do. Include their web addresses and your comments on the good and bad things about each of them.

9. What is your budget?

This is not a trick question. ALWAYS include your budget. This is the key factor to make sure you get quotes that actually fulfil your goals and you don’t get companies who quote so low to get the job but then can’t deliver.

You’re serious about your project right? Then share how much you expect/can afford to pay to fulfil your vision. Remember, this website –if this is one of your goals– should be an investment that eventually pays for itself and starts generating more income for you. Your budget shows how much you are willing to invest in this business channel.

Make it clear what your budget covers. It should ideally cater for:

  • website design and development
  • monthly maintenance –including website hosting, email account management
  • advertising such as Google AdWords/Facebook/Instagram ads, to make sure you are visible
  • ongoing content development –support on mailing list templates, creation of landing pages etc.

If your budget doesn't cover all of the above, make it clear what it does cover.

10. Technical requirements

In this section, include all of the technical requirements. This should include:

  • Domain names - what you currently own, details of registrars
  • Hosting - will you require this or do you have to use existing hosting?
  • Intranet/extranet - some larger clients require a separate website for internal use only, as well as the public-facing one; this can be a completely separate project so make it clear if you want to investigate this too.
  • Accessibility - are there any specific standards your need your site to meet? Should it have browsealoud functionality for example (this is a plugin that allows the website to be read aloud for the blind and partially sighted)?
  • Browsers/devices - are there any specific requirements you have in terms of what browsers and devices the site should work with? I’ve had situations before where we were only told after the site was developed that it needed to work with a particularly old version of a web browser; this can end up costing a lot more if not known about at the beginning.
  • Systems integration - are there any business systems that need to be integrated with the site? Again, it’s paramount that this is known as soon as possible.
  • Content management system (CMS) - will you be needing to update the site yourself? This is very common these days and most sites will be built based on a CMS like WordPress. If you have specific requirements, let the designers know. Some companies specialise in specific systems. We only tend to use WordPress and Squarespace these days.
  • Maintenance - larger businesses may require a service level agreement for support, so that they know if something goes wrong they can have it fixed within a matter of hours rather than days. Put your requirements and expectations here.

Wrapping it up

There are other things you could include in an appendix, depending on how far you have already got with your website such as a sitemap, personas and what you don’t want from your site. Otherwise these are the key elements that will help any designer give you a more accurate cost in line with your budget.

Get a rock solid website brief for your business

I hope you can see the importance of having a request for proposal. A rock solid website brief will save you time, money, and a lot of frustration.

However, a lot of this information can be hard to gather on your own. We can run a Clarity for Websites workshop with your team to develop answers to some of the key questions, such as your website goals, target audience, website features, look and feel and more.

We’d then write up the brief or Request for Proposal document for us to quote against or for you to send out to other suppliers.

If you have any questions or would like to share your experience of receiving quotes for your website, please post it in the comments below. I’d love to hear them.