Top Tips | What makes an effective website brief?

Follow our 10 rules for creating the perfect agency website brief...

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Your organisation’s website is one of the most important marketing and communications tools you have. And for many arts organisations it is also business critical, directly contributing to the bottom line through features such as online ticket sales or shops.

Periodically, usually around every three to five years, you’ll want or need to rebuild and refresh your site and as most organisations are under budgetary pressures, it’s vital that the end result is as effective as possible.

This process starts with writing a good website brief. A website brief doesn’t have to be a huge document but there is certain information that should be included if you want to be sure that the pitches you receive are relevant and that your chosen agency has made their recommendations in possession of all the key facts.

So with that in mind, here are our 10 points that should be covered in a website brief:

  1. Overview of your organisation: don’t assume that agencies will know what you do. Always provide a brief introduction to the aims of the organisation, how it operates, plus any other relevant contextual information.
  2. Objectives of the site: again, don’t assume this will be obvious and you’ll have more than one, so include them all, e.g.: to sell tickets, encourage newsletter sign-ups, promote training courses, act as an information source for current events etc. An added bonus to including this is that it will force you to focus on the real purpose of your site. Is it predominantly a communication channel to promote your off-line activity, or is it itself a delivery channel for your organisations key activity?
  3. A list of your different customers: you may have many different types of visitors to your site, customers, potential partners, schools, journalists. Write a short overview of each type of website visitor persona, whether they are an existing visitor or a target for the new site. What do they come to the site for? What platforms do they predominantly use? And what do you want them to do on the site?
  4. Technical considerations: Do you use a third party ticketing system that needs to be integrated into the site? What email software do you use for your marketing newsletters? Does it need to draw information from a collections database? Make sure the brief includes anything that may have an impact on the technical build of the site.
  5. Content Management System: how much of your site will need to be regularly updated and do you want the ability to do this yourself (the answer will likely be yes!). Don’t fall back on saying you want to be able to update everything though, unless you really need to be able to, since this may limit design choices.
  6. Content creation and management: How much of your website content do you create yourselves? And what in-house capacity, if any, do you have for jobs such as image editing? It’s useful to provide some detail on this since there’s no point an agency designing a site that requires frequent updates of beautifully touched up images, if you don’t have the in-house team to be able to do this. Similarly, if you’re dependent on third party promoters or lenders of collections for promotional images, this may affect how standardised your approach can be.
  7. What sites do you and your team think are effective and why?: A good agency won’t be driven by trying to create something based on imitation but providing this information can help them to better understand what you see as being important for your own site. Do be realistic with comparators, though: as good as sites like the Rijksmuseum or the Southbank Centre are, you may not need the same style or content. Including details of your overall brand guidelines will also save time later.
  8. Timings & budget: You should always include an indication of budget as it will prevent you receiving pitches that are unrealistic. If money’s tight, indicate which aspects of the specification are essential or desirable. It’s also good to include a basic timeline plus any critical dates (such as major projects, season launches or on-sale dates). Give some thought to who internally will need to be involved in the development and sign-off process and factor in time for their feedback. Do also give yourself a buffer before any critical sales points.
  9. Measurement: One of the most commonly missed out parts in website brief documents, how will you measure the success of the site? This isn’t only about ensuring that you have a tracking package set up (e.g. Google Analytics – most agencies would switch this on by default) but about whether it will need some bespoke configurations. For example, if you want to be able to measure downloads, video plays or clicks on external links (and you should), the agency will need to implement Google Analytics event tracking. Although this can be switched on at a later date, it is a much better idea to build it into the development process. Think about how what you want to measure varies by the customer types you’ve already listed. If you’re already using Google Analytics proactively, do provide the agency with any relevant information on current user behavior.
  10. The future: It’s very difficult to know where you’ll be in one or two years and impossible to make a site future proof, but do include anything that you think it would be useful for an agency to know, for example if the artist director wants to live stream your next show or you have plans to start selling products online. Where possible a good agency will build a site that is as flexible as possible or will suggest a phased development process.

Building an effective website is not an exact science and there will inevitably be changes and developments as you go through the process, but the clearer you can be from the beginning, the more smoothly it will run.