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Planning with post it notes

The importance of a website brief: The most common pitfalls

Building a website - or even refreshing an existing one - can seem daunting. There’s a lot of information to gather and cajole it into a format that creates a logical and engaging visitor experience. However there is some gain in this pain - doing this work up front will aid in the creative process and ensure the best possible results. You’re investing in an asset that will support your business for years to come, so it deserves a high level of planning that delivers outcomes by design, and not by luck.

Over the years, our team has read hundreds of briefs, and some mistakes always seem to repeat themselves. Here are the most common ones, as well as some helpful tips on how to avoid them:

Explaining the ‘why’

If you have your heart set on specific functionality it helps to demonstrate the rationale and reasoning behind this. For example, avoid statements such as ‘we need a mobile app’ without understanding how an app will add value to your audience or business. A better problem definition might be ‘shipping low-value orders is costly, so we need to increase our average spend per customer, and data tells us most of our customers are shopping on a mobile device’.

A popular quote, often (incorrectly) attributed to Abraham Lincoln, suggests that given six hours to chop down a tree, he would spend the first four sharpening the axe. This sits nicely with a phrase I often use myself, of slowing down to speed up.

Taking the time now to properly plan a website with a detailed brief will save you time (and cost) as the project progresses. When a problem is defined accurately, the solution will be most relevant and an agency can suggest alternatives that may be more effective in achieving the objective. There’s no point thinking you have the answer and being cagey about the intention. Websites are collaborative projects, and the right agency will guide you towards the best solution and support your intent when it's well-founded.

It often pays to slow down to speed up.

Andrew Armitage

Specifying platforms

You can’t afford to rebuild your website every year, so you must select the right technology platform from the outset. Granted, there are times when you might need to specify a particular technology to integrate with other apps or services, but you should avoid allowing the tech to define (or even limit) your desired outcomes. Ultimately you want a high performing system that's easy to use when it comes to managing content, with a low cost of ownership, minimal exposure to security vulnerabilities, and minimal risk of abandonment from third-party plugins. We often see WordPress defined in a brief, but without good reason? Different platforms excel in different areas, and by sharing your needs, priorities and experience, more appropriate recommendations can be provided.

Clean Design

Many website briefs talk about ‘clean design’ but depending on the product and audience, simple can be difficult to achieve. Writing less copy is more difficult than writing lots of it. Consider the difference between, for example, a complex product loaded with features compared to an experience that might demand more imagery, video or interactive content. The website still needs to explain the offering and the value to its customers; otherwise, it’s not doing its job. Think about what’s right for your audience instead.

When it comes to design, it’s also worth considering how many adjectives you’re throwing at it. And more importantly, what that means to you is subjective—asking for something ‘memorable’, for example. Does this mean a groundbreaking design that pushes the boundaries of website graphics? Or because it tells a story that people wouldn’t expect?

Lack of outcomes

If return on investment (ROI) is needed to show progress (and it should be), there needs to be clearly defined outcomes from the outset. ‘More sales’ isn’t an outcome. It’s too broad, and if achieved, will more than likely be the result of far more than just your website. Every business has multiple audiences, goals and products, each of which will influence your criteria for success.

In order to provide something to strive for and compare against, outcomes should be as specific as possible. E.g. five website enquiries a day/week/month. The difference in approach to achieving five enquiries a day versus a month is significant. Add in the baseline you’re starting from, other activities to support this, and you can quickly see how the questions add up, and the potential solutions can vary.

Without a brief, a website project is unlikely to be successful. Without definition of the desired outcomes, there will be a lack of direction, timescales without deadlines or milestones; no clear line indicating when done is done; and nothing to benchmark future performance against. You should be as detailed as possible but with an open mind. Your brief and website are likely to evolve, and that’s where the right digital partner who understands your business and its audience can support you.

Talk to us about a website brief

Writing a website brief isn't easy, but we're here to help guide your thinking into a project that makes a measurable and lasting impact on your business.

Andrew profile

Andrew is the founder of multi-award winning A Digital and believes that technology should be an enabler, making a positive impact on the way people live and work.

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