Top 10 Tips for Writing a Brief for a Website Project

1 | Keep it short

I have been on the receiving of many project briefs and RFPs (Request for Proposals) that are over a hundred pages long. It implies great importance is being placed on the project, and yet normally these long documents are very poor at conveying any sense of what the most important requirements are. Worse still, the longer the document is, the more likely it starts to have contradictions embedded within it, usually because a number of people have contributed their own sections in the document. Even complex projects can usually be summarised to under ten pages and this means that an agency can quickly understand the key requirements and formulate an appropriate response.

2 | Provide budget guidance

If no budget guidance is provided at all, then an agency has to guess whether to offer their absolute best solutions and risk being too expensive or alternatively, they can try to find a ‘cheap-and-cheerful’ approach. Ultimately this means that you may end up selecting an agency largely because they simply guessed the budget that you had in mind. However, if a budget is provided in a brief then agencies are competing on how much value they can deliver for the figure that you have in mind. Furthermore, most agencies will see the sense in trying to offer a solution for less cost than the maximum figure set.

3 | Spell out the issues with the current solution

Naturally this assumes that the project is to replace an existing online presence rather than a completely new venture. It is very helpful to know what the biggest issues are, and here are some of the most common we come across:

Whilst there are many other issues that might be affecting your existing site, listing the current issues is a very clear way to guide an agency. This should ensure that you will benefit from genuinely useful recommendations rather receiving a long list of features that are hard to interpret.

4 | Provide analytics

Where possible, it is always a good idea to provide the analytics data for any active system that may be replaced. A good agency should be able to tell a lot about a current set-up from information such as the bounce rate, average page duration, exit pages etc. This will also help to ensure well-considered responses.

5 | List competitors

Almost everyone has competitors, or at the very least they will have organisations that are comparable in some way. It is easy to assume that an agency will know who you perceive to be relevant to you by way of benchmarking your current online presence. However, in reality, most agencies are unlikely to have a good feel for this and it helps enormously to have a brief list of sites that you perceive to be relevant. This is even better if there is a sentence next to each competitor site link to briefly say what you like or dislike about the example given.

6 | Provide timings guidance

Most clients tend to duck this topic, or they have an unrealistic launch date in mind

While a small site can be launched in a few weeks, most websites take several months to scope, build and test. It is useful to provide an agency with your thoughts on the project delivery, particularly if there is an event on the horizon that this project must synchronise with.

7 | Consider the scoping or discovery phase

Many clients provide a brief that amounts to little more than a ‘wish list’. This is fine but it is worth considering whether you are expecting an agency to quote to address the points you have raised or whether you are open to a more consultative approach. Agencies vary enormously in terms of the way that they tackle the project specification phase. Some agencies will offer a clear process to ensure that all the project goals are met and that the final project specification does cover all of your organisation’s needs. In other words, it is a very good idea to specifically ask how the agency will tackle the process to finalise the detailed project scope.

8 | List your audience types

It is easy to assume that an agency will work this out for themselves but stating the main audience types and perhaps ranking them in order of priority, if this is possible, can help to ensure that agencies put forward good ideas to appeal to your audiences. The more information you can pass on about your audience demographics, the more tailored the solution can be that the agency provides.

9 | Support, maintenance and hosting

Documentation provided to agencies are often so focused on the delivery of a new project that they often completely miss the post-launch considerations. Do you want to have the code handed over to an in-house team at the end of the project or should the agency be available to offer support services? If so, it is a good idea to ask agencies about their support packages. The same is true of hosting, will the agency offer a joined-up solution or is the hosting to be handled separately?

10 | The relationship longer-term

It is a good idea to make it clear to agencies whether your project is seen as a ‘one-off’ or are you ideally looking for a longer term ‘digital partner’? If it is the latter, then it is a good idea to ask agencies how they plan to ensure a successful long-term digital partnership, and perhaps they can provide some case studies or other evidence for how they go about this. You should also consider whether you are looking for an agency that can help with other relevant services, such as search marketing services like SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and PPC (Pay Per Click) strategies or possibly graphic design work for web design or for print. Full-service agencies, that can provide these other services, will naturally be keen to highlight these and it might make your final decision much easier.

Good luck!

By Steve Wilson, Managing Director, Moore-Wilson


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