Writing your website brief: The Do’s and Don’ts

Writing a website brief - tips from an agency

Our Glass Mountains WordPress agency has been running since 2001, so you can imagine the number of website briefs businesses have sent over the years!

In this article, I want to share with you some do’s and don’ts to help your business write a more effective WordPress website brief.

Creating such a brief may well be a little stressful for you, as the web and digital technology may not be your area of expertise. Fear not, this article is for you. Read on.

The Objective?

However, before we get into the nuts and bolts of what you need to include in your website brief, let’s consider what we’re trying to achieve here:

  1. The ultimate aim of your brief is to shortlist qualified suppliers.
  2. You’ll then want to speak to the shortlist, to find the best match.

Your website brief is not meant to be an all-inclusive blueprint for the actual finished website, where deviation from your brief is not allowed or encouraged.

So don’t feel the need to be too prescriptive when writing your website brief.

After all, you are looking to enlist the help of a specialist third party here – you don’t want them to simply blindly follow your orders. Instead, you need them to intelligently analyse your requirements and offer you carefully thought through options, based on the considerable industry experience that they are bringing to the table.

Considered in that light, the website brief you are creating is only the start of the conversation.

How to find suppliers?

Let’s jump ahead slightly and see where you’ll find potential suppliers to circulate this brief to.

Obviously there is social media but, trust me on this, if you put an “Any recommendations for a web designer?‘ post on LinkedIn, you may as well take the next six weeks off work to deal with the shark like feeding frenzy of responses – none of which will probably move you any closer to your goal.

A much smarter approach is this….

You more than probably already have a trusted circle of business associates that you can turn to for advice & recommendations. Recommendations from such trusted sources are worth their weight gold and remove so much uncertainty from the process.

We receive about 95% of our work from referrals like this. From our perspective, this is great because we are then not in a blind beauty contest with 47 other agencies – desperately trying to win the attention of the snow blind client.

A further benefit of this referral approach is that, in my experience, I have found that great clients refer you to other great clients – they seem to travel in herds (sadly, the inverse is also true!).

Another thing that should be noted is this: if we are referred work then we are acutely aware of the burden of responsibility here: i.e. a client has trusted us enough to recommend us – we need to repay that faith by doing a fantastic job. Anything less and our referring client would look bad, and we can’t have that.

What to include in your website brief

Now that we have discussed the purpose of the brief, let’s dive in and discuss what you should (as well as what you can leave out).

Firstly I would start your project brief with key general help information about your company:

  1. What does your company/organisation do? (Give a brief background)
  2. What are your products and/or services?
  3. Who are you trying to sell these to?
  4. Try to talk about the market(s) within which you operate & how they have changed/are changing.
  5. Summary information about your existing brand & brand assets (e.g. do have a formalised logo? Brand guidelines?)

Next, let’s discuss key information about the project itself.

Information about this project:

  1. A simple, clear definition of what you want from this project
    Try to focus on the WHAT you want to get done, rather than the HOW.
  2. An idea of your budget range
    This is a biggie, there is a whole section on this later in this article.
  3. Timescales
    If you have any set timescales you are looking to work to, please lay those out and, importantly, explain how they’ve been arrived at. E.g. if the go-live is the 1st of Sept, why is that? Is there a radio campaign already booked etc?
  4. If you have an existing website, can you discuss its successes and its failures?
  5. An idea of what you are hoping to get out of the project
    How do you imagine the future? How will it be different? What does success look like?
  6. Information about your supplier selection process
    I.e. how will you evaluate these proposals? And when?

After you’ve sent your brief out to agencies, a potential supplier may ask a clarifying question; it’s useful if that question & answer is then distributed back out to all the prospective partners.

Specific website & WordPress points:

We specialise in WordPress sites, so these questions are relevant to those projects:

  1. Copywriting
    For any website content which needs to be rewritten, or new content provided – will you be creating that? Or are you additionally looking to hire a copywriter? If you need help with writing copy, perhaps provide some idea of the number of pages you’ll need help with – it’s ok not to know an exact number at this point.
  2. Who will be entering the copy on the new website?
    Someone will need to do the heavy lifting and input your new/amended content and copy onto a new version of your website. This process can be very time-consuming so it’s important to give a steer as to who you are expecting to be doing this work. Some of our clients have very hands-on WordPress admin teams – who are itching to get started on such tasks. In such cases, we provide the design system & the training, and off they go. Or on the other end of the spectrum we have very hands-off clients where the agency does everything – that fine, there is no right or wrong answer here, but it does have a big impact on the resource required (and therefore level of investment required).
  3. Off-the-shelf theme or custom design?
    This is a big, impactful decision – which is why we wrote a whole blog post on it. If you don’t state this, agencies will assume. 95% of our WordPress work is based on bespoke WordPress theme designs – so our natural response is to quote based on that. However, if another supplier can only deal with off the shelf designs (which may not be suitable for you), then their price point may be accordingly lower. You need to be sure you are not comparing apples to oranges when assessing proposals from potential suppliers.
  4. Are you looking for (or open to) changing your website hosting?
    (If so, please give an indication of your current traffic levels etc).
  5. Are you looking for ongoing support after the website is live?
    If so, perhaps give a steer on how much attention you’ll be requiring as, for example, there is a different level of investment required for just making sure your plugins are up to date every quarter, to the agency being poised like a coiled spring ready to react to any of your requirements or issues on your website (day or night).
  6. Functionality
    The ethos of WordPress is that if you ask for non-trivial functionality like an events calendar or e-commerce, then there are pre-built, off-the-shelf functionality out there called ‘plugins‘ which can help (e.g. Events Calendar Pro, WooCommerce). The benefit of using plugins is that the agency does not have to do costly bespoke coding (and the overall project is cheaper because of this). However, that swings both ways, if you are looking to realise the significant time & cost savings of using off-the-shelf plugins, then you need to align your requirements to what the plugins offer, how they work, and how they can be easily configured. If you are not able to compromise, then WordPress & plugins may not be the route for your requirements and a bespoke project may be a better fit.

What not to include:

  1. Don’t feel the need to supply a sitemap
    By all means, discuss the pages that will need to be on your site but, unless there is a specific point you want to make, a professional agency will lead you through this stage as part of their design process. Don’t be too worried about website navigation either (it’s not a problem for this stage).
  2. Don’t feel the need to supply wireframes, designs, or sites you like.
    If you have reviewed an agency’s portfolio, and are comfortable with what you see, then the above points will all be handled in the design process. Again, if you have a specific point to make though, feel free to state it.
  3. List of competitors
    Unless there is a particular, crucial point which needs to be made at this brief stage, we don’t need to know this yet as we’ll get to that later.
  4. Responsive / mobile-friendly
    All websites are typically made to be mobile / tablet friendly so this does not ordinarily need to be stated.

Key points

Let’s delve into certain areas a little more deeply…

Budget Range

If we don’t see a budget in a proposal then we will typically ask you to make sure that we are on the same page. E.g. if you are looking for an all-singing, all-dancing, bespoke designed, & was fully managed eCommerce site but expect that figure to come in at £2,500 rather then £25K then we need to know that early so that we know the range of options that are applicable to your projected level of investment (or if the project is simply not for us).

Some companies, for whatever reason, are uncomfortable with putting exact budgets in briefs, that’s fine, but perhaps then put an indicative budget range. Feel free to play poker with that figure (i.e. set it lower than you are prepared to go up to) but also be aware that high-quality agencies will be aware of how much companies of your size & ambition should be investing in quality digital projects, and how much value & ROI such successful projects can bring (which typically dwarves any investment cost).

Put another way, as opposed to poorly built websites, our WordPress websites can perform at the highest level for our clients for five years+ (before a major redesign is required). How much value can such a website bring to your business in half a decade?

Fixating on Cost

In my experience, clients default to making decisions on price when they have no other comparable attributes they can understand. Simply going for the cheapest supplier might seem the lowest risk but these tend to be the same clients who say “we’ve had no end of bad luck with our web designers!“.

A quality redesign project can turn a website from one that repels (yes repels!) potential new customers, to one that is constantly helping leads & prospects convert into lifelong paying customers – adding value to your bottom line. Do the maths yourself – how many new customers does your website need to attract to pay for itself? And bear in mind that happy customers recommend your services to other paying customers – so there is a network effect here.


Accessibility is all about making websites easy to use for people of varying degrees of ability.

Most modern websites, by default, are much friendlier in terms of accessibility than used to be the case. However, if you have specific accessibility needs, then please state them.

If advanced accessibility is critical for your website, then be prepared to pay for additional services like those provided by the Digital Accessibility Centre in Neath, Wales (we worked alongside this amazing team when redesigning a County Council website).

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Nobody wants to pay a company to redesign their website only for it to harm its SEO rankings. And, in fairness, this simply will not happen with the vast majority of skilled web development agencies.

If there is an SEO area which specifically concerns you, then don’t be surprised if the agency asks for your empirical data on how your existing website ranks for your chosen keywords etc.

Cookie Banners etc

Do not underestimate the legal requirements involved with creating, privacy documents, terms and conditions etc. Also, be mindful that most agencies cannot give you anything which could be deemed legal advice when it comes to questions such as “Should I show a cookie banner?” as the reality here is that question throws a broader net of questions involving GDPR and, further afield, California’s CCPA etc – which need professional legal input to fully address.

Unless the agency is huge and has a trained legal department who are qualified to answer (and happy to take the responsibility of for giving legal advice), then do not expect the agency to advise you. E.g. we make it clear to clients:

  • We can point you to specialist UK or US legal advice (if required) e.g. DAC Beachcroft.
  • We can list out the cookies the site emits and explain that in the language of a cookie policy
  • We can implement a cookie banner if you explain the scenarios within which it needs to work
  • We can point you to privacy policy templates etc

Design mockups

Do not expect the proposals you receive for potential suppliers to contain design mockup of what your new website could look like.

It’s not so much that this requires a solid chunk of work here (though it does), it’s more that designing at this stage is very much like throwing paint around in the dark and hoping to come up with a work of art: we simply do not know enough at this stage to make a good fist of it.

Worse still, a preemptive design can lead us down the wrong path and precondition thinking in a poor direction, which is then more difficult to unpick later on.

If you are satisfied with the quality of bespoke design work that the supplier has previously show in their portfolio, then their ability to design should not be the question here – it should be more about the supplier’s attitude to approaching the project.

Final Thoughts

I hope this helps as I genuinely want you to not waste time with your briefs and, instead, state only the key information.

Finally, please bear in mind that most decent, thriving agencies are weighing you up in this process as much as you are weighing them up. From a brief, and from initial interactions with a prospect, I am gauging them in terms of whether they are someone who is open to ideas and if I will enjoy working with them closely for the next 6 months.

Hope that helps – if you need help with writing your brief, please get in touch.


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