How to write a good brief for a website?

Good preparation for the competition is one of the factors ensuring its success. To invite digital agencies to compete for a chance to create a website, the commissioner should create optimal conditions for the tenderers as it will also be to his benefit. The key tool which will facilitate us in such a situation will be a well written brief.

What is a brief?

Brief is a document which allows the potential contractor to obtain key information about the commissioner’s needs along with the basic data about him – these are necessary to prepare an offer. To create a brief, one might use a briefing form which is a kind of template, a set of questions, into which the customer inputs information which, in his opinion, will be sufficient for the preparation of an offer. Therefore a brief might consist of a filled briefing form. The information included in the brief should be divided into sections to facilitate digital agency’s work and to prevent overseeing any important details by the customer during the preparatory phase.

The primary objective of creating a brief is to provide every tenderer the same information in a comprehensible and transparent form.

The brief should consist of complete data concerning the project. The commissioner has to ensure that the brief is not omitting any significant information, but at the same time he can’t afford to lose his and his tenderers’ time by including expendable data. It might be said that the less additional questions digital agencies’ representatives have before submitting the final offer meant to satisfy the commissioner’s needs, the better the brief is.

What should be included in a brief?

The “mother” brief should be a document which is constantly developed by the company. It should concern many elements which might be potentially useful in different situations. To make it refer to a particular project, it has to be modified by simply deleting the unnecessary paragraphs.

When preparing the first version of the brief, one has to remember about including in it all the elements which will be indispensable, no matter for what kind of a project tenderers are sought after.

The basic data which should appear in the brief might be divided as follows:

  1. Information about the commissioner
  2. Website’s type
  3. Project’s boundary conditions
  4. Website’s goals and agency’s task
  5. Business processes
  6. Content architecture
  7. Technological requirements
  8. Design requirements
  9. Website’s functional features
  10. Benchmarks
  11. Additional services
  12. Contact details

All of the above mentioned elements should be described in detail as it will be presented in the next part of this text.

1. Information about the commissioner

One shouldn’t assume that an digital agency will collect the data about their company by itself. Firstly, it’s a waste of its employee’s time. They are supposed to concentrate on providing the best offer possible. Secondly, there’s a big possibility that the information found online or collected through other sources will be incomplete or erroneous. That’s why it’s worth to make the effort and include in the brief everything that might help the tenderer to quickly orientate himself in the situation of the company inviting him to participate in the contest.

The information about the commissioner should contain the key elements which will allow the digital agency’s employees to understand its customer’s business. Among all the useful information, these few most important points might be specified:

  • short historical background,
  • information about the offer,
  • brand’s characteristics and unique values,
  • description of the market position (competitors and partners’ characteristics etc. included),
  • definition of the target group,
  • link to the website.

These key issues should be included in the part describing the organization inviting to a contest as they will facilitate understanding the commissioner’s needs. They should concern both the company and its brand, product, service or an activity which is to be presented on the website – the competition’s subject. It’s important to make a distinction between these. Thanks to such an approach, the agency might eliminate right away those ideas which would be great for the brand, but not so good for the company itself or the other way around. Keeping the integrity or purposefully breaking it up might prove to be impossible without the right knowledge.

2. Website’s type

The basic information about the commissioner’s needs includes the type of a website for which the competition is held. The customer should describe it in the brief – given that he really knows what he wants. If he only knows what kind of targets he has for the website without defining it, it should be made clear. The agency will surely find a suitable tool to reach the targets anticipated by the customer.

There are many types of websites, the basic ones are:

  • company or organization’s website (corporate website),
  • brand, product or service’s website,
  • small website (microsite, landing page) used for a single activity or campaign,
  • online shop (e-commerce),
  • extranet,
  • intranet,
  • web-based application,
  • web portal.

Of course the website which is desired by the customer can combine characteristics and functions of few different website types.

3. Project’s boundary conditions

The elements, without which one can’t expect digital agency’s full commitment to the process of creating the idea and offer, are budget and a deadline for the service completion. The commissioner can also indicate whether the deadline and budget are final or whether they are only an indication.

The projects finalized up to now and information available online will be helpful in estimating the required funds. It may prove to be necessary to employ an external expert to create the brief – especially in the context of budgeting decisions. Those agencies which will conclude that the budget is too small will inform us about it. However commissioners who estimate their budget wrong by an order of magnitude won’t be taken seriously by anyone. In the worst case the agencies will give up the bidding.

Receiving feedback might turn out to be beneficial for the commissioner as it may become a reference point for changing the terms stated in our brief.

It’s worth remembering that indicating the budget by the customer is not necessary. It allows the agency to propose solutions and services which are suitable for the funds intended by the commissioner to be spent on the website. However even without the knowledge about the financial terms the agency’s specialists will be able to prepare a sensible proposal.

It’s the same with the deadline. Those companies which won’t be able to complete the task in question within the period of time indicated by the customer will make it clear. Again, it’s an important information for the commissioner. It may so turn out that completing the project within the established boundary conditions is impossible or achievable only within the scope of one of the requested aspects.

Sometimes it turns out that completing the task in even shorter time is possible, but it will involve additional costs. The experience proves that it’s impossible to get a product or a service cheaply, fast and in a good quality… From those three factors only two are achievable at the same time.

For the benefit of the competition, aside from the winner selection date, also the deadline for submitting the offers and optionally the proceedings schedule should be listed. The commissioner’s engagement is also very important. The experience shows that not accepting the elements quickly or not supplying the materials by the customer in time etc. generates a delay upon which the agency has no influence. That’s why the commissioner has to be aware that certain tasks are to be done by him. It might be a good idea to agree on a reaction time in the schedule and to decide that the lack of feedback equals agreement and that the agency won’t begin another phase before it receives the materials.

4. Website’s goals and agency’s task

Aside from defining the type of website which the contractor is to deliver, it’s also important to provide detailed targets which are to be attained through it and to define the markets on which they are to be realized. It’s especially important because the online industry develops very quickly. Therefore it may turn out that the digital agency will propose to the commissioner an unconventional solution expected to bring better effects than the one chosen in the brief. Giving the agency the scope for more when it comes to coming up with ways to reach the targets might turn out to be a really great idea. It’s worth to take a look from various perspectives at the issues connected to the Web activity and to decide after that.

The targets, which are to be achieved by the website, might be very diverse. The agency must be well informed whether the solution chosen by the customer is meant to generate direct or indirect sales, provide information for the market, promote an idea, product, service, cooperation within the company or to share the knowledge.

It’s good when the targets are measurable. It allows the agency to verify their rationality when it comes to the website’s type, available tools and expected budget.

One could spend long time listing the targets, there is as many of them as different ideas for a business. Defining them and putting them in a right order is essential.

If the agency knows what kind of effect the commissioner expects, it can propose not only the website itself, but also a range of services which will facilitate achieving the targets listed in the brief. The goals, which the customer wants to realize, are the most important element of the brief. The customer has the right to be not too well versed in the online solutions. However he has to know his business well.

The customer gives the agency specific responsibilities defining the range of tasks which are, in his opinion, to be completed. In turn, the agency with the goals, which the commissioner wants to achieve through the website, the budget and its own vision as basis can propose a little bit different set of measures which may facilitate achieving success. The tasks most often realized by the agencies are the overall creation of a strategy for the online marketing communication, preparing a website in line with the commissioner’s strategy, creating a website, that is its technological implementation (also according to an existing project), modification of an existing website or an adaptation of another country’s version, implementation and maintaining for a given period of time.

5. Business processes

The issues which are no less important and also should be defined in the brief are the processes which are to be handled by the website or with which it will interact. The website might be related to processes concerning sales, after-sales, recruitment, informing, affiliating, finances and accounting, production etc. It can also handle few processes at the same time. Well described processes are not only a key tool facilitating the website management, but they are also a base for the logical construction of a website.

6. Content architecture

The special nature of processes and targets has to find its reflection in the content architecture. Its preliminary outline and hierarchy vision should be included in the brief. They will allow the agency to understand the goals and the nature of commissioner’s business even better and they will become a basis for the proposition of the website’s final structure.

The content architecture should be understood as a structure, hierarchy, content layout and a division into pages and subpages. A website may accommodate an infinite amount of information. The issue here is, however, to implement only that data which will facilitate us in achieving the goals set for the website. The content architecture should be transparent and created in a way that will allow a user to quickly and simply find the desired information.

7. Technological requirements

The technical matters often are a necessary element of our brief. Depending on the knowledge of the company preparing it, they will be precise or general. In extreme cases one may come across a brief containing the information concerning only the goals and a clear message that the company expects the agency to propose a solution which might be defined, in a joking manner, as: “do it anyway you want, just bring the good result”. One may conclude that that the more online solutions do the company creating the brief have and the more knowledgeable and experienced their employees are, the more detailed will be its brief’s technical part. In such a case it will contain more details and allow one to analyze the technical context. Describing the currently utilized solutions, which are in any way connected to the commissioned website, may also facilitate the agency’s work.

The key data in this situation concern:

  • company’s infrastructure and technical solutions (e.g. servers and bandwidth within the office, external hosting services, data stored in a cloud etc.),
  • suggested programming technologies (programming languages, types of databases),
  • preferences pertaining to the possible use of ready-made solutions (e.g. certain content management systems – CMS),
  • applied solutions with which our new website is to be integrated, e.g. accounting system, CRM or other systems which because of various reasons (costs, legal requirements, network company’s requirements) cannot be changed.

The above mentioned data not only allows one to determine what’s already applied and what are the restrictions, but it’s also a basis for a precise definition of the additional services such as hosting, maintenance, development works etc.

8. Design requirements

Defining the issues related to the website’s design is one of the elements that determines the offer put forward by the agency. The commissioner should specify in the brief whether he needs a website designed from the very beginning to the very end that would be based on the customer-agency cooperation or whether the designers will have to strictly follow a very detailed guidelines along with an imposed website project.

It is worth emphasizing what kind of materials will be delivered to the agency, because working on the basis of very precise information (brand book) is very different from working with directions like “make it somehow like this”. Sometimes the starting point might be the logo or an element characterizing the customer’s business. It might be a product, the target group, company’s place of origin etc.

9. Website’s functional features

The right description of expectations about the website’s functionality is a key element for designing and pricing the whole solution. Some of the customers know exactly what do they expect in this aspect. Those less knowledgeable might count on the agency’s support as it follows all the trends and knows what kind of functions will facilitate realizing the commissioned targets.

According to the needs, the website can offer basic or less standard functions. The first ones include the main page, subpages, navigation and content modules, galleries or downloadable files.

An important feature, which might be a key issue for many companies, is the search engine optimization (SEO).

In the case of websites focused on sales the key functions are: a catalogue of products, shopping basket, online payments support with an optional integration with external systems, invoicing module etc.

Many websites contain various promotion elements – such as sliders or banner modules. Other often seen functions are contact forms, newsletters, registration system securing the content dedicated only to a certain group, search engines or a blog.

The commissioner might also demand to have the website prepared in more than one language.

Because of the increase of the mobile appliances’ role in our everyday lives, in many cases the necessary function will be also adjusting the website’s layout to tablets and smartphones.

All the required functions should be listed in the brief.

10. Benchmarks

A big facilitation for the agency will be a presentation of website examples as they will depict what does the customer expect when it comes to the design, colors, structure, functions etc. It will present what inspires them and what do they like. Pointing to specific websites is also important because it allows to precisely understand the terms used by both sides, as each person can understand a given term in another way.

The commissioner can also point to websites which will exemplify the unacceptable solutions.

The agency, after obtaining such knowledge, will be able to present ideas which are closer to commissioner’s expectations and also it will express its own opinions concerning the coherence between the website’s goals, its specificity, customer’s brand etc. and the design.

11. Additional services

As early as on the stage of the brief, the additional services which the commissioning company will expect of the agency should be defined. Aside from the above mentioned issues – such as hosting – among the additional services for the digital agency might be found:

  • creating content, both the text and the visuals (photographs, pictures, videos),
  • design of the visual identification,
  • SEO,
  • analytics,
  • website management upon its launch (e.g. publishing new content),
  • website promotion in the Web (social media included).

Depending on the range of the digital agency’s activity, there might be a lot of different additional services. An agency which is well organized and operates on the market for a long time can adjust itself to the customer’s needs, even those outside of its range of services, and it can offer a quality service thanks to its cooperation with freelancers or small and very specialized companies.

12. Contact details

The last element which should be included in the brief are the contact details.

To implement a website creation project one has to establish a team or at least to dedicate one employee to it. Regardless of the size of the unit responsible for this project, the best practice is to choose one person responsible for contacting the digital agency. Contact details of that person should be available in the brief. Regardless of the contact person’s position in the company, it should be clearly indicated that it’s a person responsible for the project, contacting the agency or the coordination of website implementation project as the customer’s representative. It subconsciously gives the agency’s representative a feeling that he is dealing with a competent person on the other side. The contact person should not only be well versed in the company’s needs regarding the project, but as well have the basic knowledge about the online solutions and – what’s very important – be communicative and able to monitor the process and lead it through the next stages.

Other issues

To simplify one’s work when analyzing the offers and ensure one’s own comfort, it’s good to precisely define in our brief the form or format in which we would like to receive the offers. Some people prefer to read text, others prefer tables and there are also those who like to interact during a personal presentation.

As an additional attachment one can ask for examples of similar finished projects which each of the companies invited to the competition have implemented. In this case the commissioner might precisely specify the criteria for such examples, e.g. he can ask for a certain industry, type of website or realization of similar targets.

One can also request contact details to agency’s past customers who can provide reference.

Summary

As seen above the brief doesn’t really have to be – as it would be suggested by its name – short. It must be adequately long. It has to contain all the information necessary to create an offer which would satisfy the commissioner and allow a smooth realization of the project without any unpleasant surprises.

It’s a good practice to constantly develop one’s “mother brief” and then adjust it to the project’s requirements by deleting the unnecessary elements. The key issue is its transparency which may be achieved only through dividing it into logical sections as well as clear and explicit description of elements included in it. Thanks to such “mother brief” one can always input into the briefing form that data which is relevant to the needs of a website for which implementation we want to receive offers.

It’s a good practice to have a refined brief.

It’s also worth remembering that the brief is a beginning and a basis for the further cooperation with a chosen agency. From the moment of choosing the agency and signing the contract, both sides become partners pursuing the same and common objective. A well prepared brief facilitates the company in receiving competent offers. Both documents should contain sufficient data to minimize the possibility of misunderstanding which slows down the dynamics of the website implementation process. A well prepared briefing form will be useful more than once.

Good preparation equals saving time for two reasons. Firstly, it allows one to minimize the time needed for the agency to collect the data necessary for creating a concept, an offer etc. Secondly, a good brief allows one to quickly receive feedback from those agencies which are not willing to undertake the project. Wrongly prepared brief might lead to a situation, when many agencies chosen by us decide to give up our project and then we have to look for other ones to invite them to the competition. Such a situation is a waste of time, it generates costs (no matter what’s the type or extent of it is) related to waiting which equals to, for example, lack of savings or revenue which the new solution was supposed to grant.

Website brief template

Lastly something special – a .docx document containing briefing questions which facilitate the preparation of a good brief for a website.
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