How to write a great web developer brief

Whether your web project is multi-millions or barely into four figures (I’ve done both kinds!) I believe the key to success is investing the time in a really thorough brief for your developer.  It forces you to consider exactly what it is you want from your new or relaunched web-site.  You can also use a good web brief to help you decide which developer to use, and it can be enlightening getting several possible solutions to the proposed “problem”.   I often liken web projects to building projects; if you are creating a house from scratch or extending an existing house, you need to spend time working out what you want to do in which room and how you want the whole building to feel, and enlist a good designer or architect to help you create the plans.  You don’t just engage a builder recommended by your neighbour and give them instructions as you go along!  So here is my essential check-list for a great web developer brief:

1. Set your business objectives

How will the new site contribute to your business – does it generate leads, build relationships with existing customers, or sell products or services online?  Explain what your current site does for your business, and what your objectives are for the new site.  Describe your customers, your product or service and your competitive set.  Are there any specific constraints in your industry or within your business that limit what you can do?  Be clear about your marketing plan for the site,  how much you will rely on SEO, and your expectations in terms of traffic.  Allow for a marketing budget but don’t spend it all at launch.

2. Describe your functional requirements

For each user group (and you may have several) describe how they will use the site and what it will do for them (also what the desired outcome is for your business).  Try not to jump to a technical solution; just describe the “problem” accurately.  Think ahead to what you want the site to be able to do in future, so your developer can allow for expansion.  If you have specific preferences for open source solutions or want to ensure integration with your existing systems, spell this out.

3. Create design guidelines

Describe the look and feel for your new site.  Provide logos, colour schemes and any other preferred branding.  Select examples of sites you like – and those you don’t.  Explain any preferences on navigation and usability or any special accessibility requirements.

4. Build a content plan

Content is the main reason for sites being late, and it’s usually the client not the developer that creates the delay.  Work out exactly what you need to create and how long it will take to do this.  Think through how content will be updated, and how many people will want to have access to a content management system.

5. Budgets and timescales

Use your business objectives to set your budgets.  Better to be specific in the brief than leave it open and get a solution you can’t afford. Ask your developer to suggest different solutions for different budgets.  Build in plenty of time to load content and test the site, and fix any bugs.  Allow for a “beta” period once the site is live.  Be clear about any specific deadlines, and also how much time you and your team can devote to the project, as this will affect the timescales.  Ask about hosting and maintenance costs once the site is live.

Good luck!  See also my related posts on working effectively with web developers , some tips on soft-launching a new website and tips for web project management.  I’m keen to hear about your experiences in writing briefs and your own checklist.

Carolyn Morgan’s consultancy business, Penmaen Media, creates practical digital media and marketing strategies.  If you would like to discuss your web strategy before you write that all-important brief, just contact us for an initial discussion.