How to Brief a Website Development Agency
Published on September 6, 2021
If you’re in the market for a new website, then you must undertake significant planning and due diligence to ensure that what you want developed, translates into what you get as an end product.
Building a tourism website can be quite challenging, mainly because:
- You may not understand technical lingo
- You don’t really have anyone to help you work through the project (paying a consultant can be cost prohibitive)
- You know what you want, but unsure of how to communicate it
- You are unsure of what you want, and don’t know where to start
- You have to put your trust (and significant $$$ investment) in the hands of a business you hardly know
- You are good at what you do, and not building websites!
So in this article I share with you tips on shortlisting agencies to work with, and also how to prepare website project brief to ensure you get the end result you are needing.
Step 1: Shortlisting Agencies
Below are a few key questions to help narrow your field in terms of finding the right Agency to work with, prior to sending them a website project brief to respond to.
Q1. Have you built any websites for the tourism industry in the past?
Like anything, proof is generally in the pudding, so it’s always good to have a look at an agency’s portfolio. My tip is to first look at the functionality of their work (what functional inclusions they have built into sites) and design second, because in a lot of cases the design elements are highly influenced by the business owner (colours, elements, font choices etc) and a generally not reflective of what a website designer can ‘actually’ do. Also remember, that just because an agency may not have built a website for the tourism industry in the past, doesn’t mean they can’t.
Q2. How do you build your websites?
There are two main ways to build a website: Content Management Systems, and HTML Based Software Programs.
Content Management Systems (CMS) are an online computer software program that allows an author to edit, publish and modify of content.
Open Source CMS – There are many developers working on the functionality of the program (building different elements for people to use on their website) and the program is not owned by any particular individual/company. Also, you can easily switch your project to another developer if you are not happy with your current developers work… and there is no cost to use the software – ever!
Licenced CMS – This type of CMS has been developed by a website development company / marketing agency, for the specific needs of their clients. Clients have to wait for the company’s developers to create new functionality for the CMS. Once you have built your website on a licenced CMS, you can not switch developers unless you build a completely new website – as you are using their technology to power your website.
HTML Based Software Program – Websites can also be built using HTML or web design software programs such as Adobe Dreamweaver and Magento. This format is great if you know how to write and edit code yourself, but is generally not as user-friendly as a CMS.
For most businesses it is our recommendation to build a website using a Content Management System (CMS) as it is the easiest and most flexible platform to use, and can be adapted to suit most businesses requirements.
Q3. And are there any one-off, monthly or maintenance fees in addition to the build quote?
Sometimes with a Licenced CMS there is usually a once off, annual fee or development update fee for using this type of CMS, prices vary depending on the company – so if you are looking at this website build option, you may need to know what these ongoing costs could be. Also, you need to know what the hourly rate will be for any updates you want to make to the functionality (development) or design of the website – just so you are aware for future budgeting purposes.
Q4. Do you design websites that are compatible with the most popular internet browsers (Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox & Safari), and that are also responsive for any device?
It’s important that your website displays EXACTLY how is should on any browser, and on any device. So do ensure that your website developer and design build responsive designs that are populated on the leading internet browsers to ensure your visitors get an optimal viewing experience.
Q5. Who will host my website? Will my domain name and hosting be registered under my name?
If you are wanting to change your hosting solution for your new website, be sure to have a good understanding of the hosting options and costings. Your hosting requirements will vary depending on the content you have on your site. For example, a 5 page website with links through to a book now button will never need the same hosting solution as Wotif.com, as the content on the site is completely different, and storage requirements are polar opposites. So, when working through the hosting solutions, do your research with your website developer, to ensure you signup for the most appropriate hosting solution for your requirements.
Q6. How do you manage your website projects?
Project management of a website build is crucial, as it is easy for these projects to ‘blow out’ from their original timeframe. So you really should ask your agency to provide a timetable of milestones for each stage of development, which will help you keep track of their progress. Also, to ensure your website is developed on time, budget and as specified, ask your agency how they will provide constant communication to you on the status throughout the development phase too. It’s important to note that you do not want to be managing upwards in terms of delivering on timeframes, rather, your agency should be proactive in keeping you up to date with the status of your project.
Q8. If I need to update my website (design/functionality) what is the likely turnaround time for any updates? And who do I speak to about getting updates done?
This is a good question to ask up front, as often agencies place a lower priority on website updates than they do new website builds. So it is good to have an idea of what to expect when the time comes to make updates to your website, that way you will avoid potential disappointment in the future.
Q9. What will you do to make my website Search Engine Friendly?
Search Engine Optimisation is one of the most important parts of managing a tourism website, as ranking high in search engine results is critical to the success of your website. So, as a website owner, you need to know that you have the ability to optimise each web page for your relevant search queries to give your website the best chance of being visible in Google’s search engine result pages.
Q10. What is your backup solution? And, what is the step by step process of restoring my website if it gets hacked.
Probably the most important question you will need to ask your web developer, as the last thing you need is for your website to be out of action for an extended period of time. You will need to know who you need to contact, on what number, and what outcome can be expected. Sometimes this type of additional service will form part of an initial quotation, and sometimes it will be an additional cost – so it’s best to clarify these details up front.
Q11. What is your risk mitigation procedure / solution?
When you are investing in a website it is critical that you know what will happen if your website developer goes into administration. All agencies should be able to answer this question easily for you, and if not, perhaps continue your search for an agency that has all bases covered.
Step 2: Writing your Website Brief
Once you have a handful (or could be less) of shortlisted agencies, the next thing you will need to do is develop a website brief. This process just allows you to succinctly identify what you need, and helps you to match apples with apples when it comes to selecting the right agency to build your site.
Use the headings below as a guide to prepare your website brief, then once you’ve created your brief, send it through to your prospective agencies for response.
1. Project Scope
To prepare a website brief, you will firstly need to share some details of you organisation. To do this, you should be as transparent as possible, and include information such as:
- A couple of paragraphs about your business
- What tourism experience you sell and key distribution platforms
- Share a snapshot of your Ideal Customer Personas and their Journey Map(s)
Agencies will need to know why you want to update your website. If you have an existing website, share your web address, and offer answers to the following questions:
- What needs improving on your website and why?
- What platform is your website built on, and how long ago was it built?
- Share high level visitation stats from your Google Analytics Dashboard (or other available user data)
2. What Success Looks Like
To determine the best website development solution for your organisation, an Agency will need to know what a successful website means to you. Therefore, you should share your expectations of what you want your website to do for your business in your Brief.
3. New Website Requirements (Content, User Experience, SEO, Design)
List out your exact requirements for your new website. Be as specific as possible with your detail, as this will be the base for your website build – it is very important to get it right.
Your website ultimately offers an authentic brand experience – when visitors come to your website, they should understand what your experience has to offer. In addition to providing a list of the design requirements, supply your branding guidelines.
IMPORTANT NOTE: In the briefing stage, it’s not critical that you talk about fonts, colour schemes etc, as the price of designing templates shouldn’t alter based on these choices. It is important that you outline all of your particular functional specs (integrations etc), as these are the items that will influence your budget more heavily.
4. Project Management
Communicate what the expectations are of the Agency/Consultant as it relates to how they manage the project.
Timelines + Communication
Ask for a timetable of milestones for each stage of development, which will help you keep track of the progress of the project. To ensure your website is developed on time, budget and as specified, ask agencies how they will communicate the status throughout the development phase too.
Site Migration Requirements (old > new Website)
Consider how you are going to populate the new website. It’s best not to copy and paste the current copy on your existing website to the new website, as chances are you will need to restructure your website navigation, edit out irrelevant content and rewrite (and write) new content. Before you write your brief, think about what content you want included on the website (pre-written articles / pages etc) as the Agency will no doubt charge a per page rate to insert and populate these pages. Content can also be images, video and logos, so ensure that you can specify what content you need uploaded in the initial development of the new website, with the ability to add/change content in the future.
The ongoing maintenance of a website is an often-overlooked aspect of a website project. Maintenance may include keeping plugins and performance improvements up to date with content management systems, backups, and general health checkups. Ask the agency to quote on a retainer website maintenance package to take the headache out of managing a secure, efficient site. You may also like to ask them for a quote to train you or someone in your organisation to do this inhouse if outsourcing is cost prohibitive.
Case Studies and Referees
Like anything, proof is generally in the pudding, so it’s always good to have a look at an agency’s portfolio.
TIP: First look at the functionality of their work (what functional inclusions they have built into sites) and design second, because in a lot of cases the design elements are highly influenced by the website owner (colours, elements, font choices etc) and a generally not reflective of what a website designer can ‘actually’ do.
Insurance and Risk
Request up to date relevant insurance policies, and ask your tenderers to outline their risk management process.
There are two schools of thought for outlining a budget in your brief.
If you talk to an Agency, they would prefer to work toward a budget, as it indicates what you are prepared to spend, and some Agencies only work on big budget websites (from a cost vs benefit perspective).
If you want to compare Agencies, then leave out budget and ensure your brief is detailed and self-explanatory. That way, you can match apples with apples when comparing quotes from Agencies.
6. Quote Submission
State key milestones for the project and expected timeframes for each milestone. This helps the Agency understand your expectations, and they can address these expectations in their proposal if they are not suitable from their end.
Finish the brief with quote submission details including email and postal submission details, the application notification process and next steps. Also, include primary contact details if the Agency would like to contact the project manager to discuss the brief in further detail.