“Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them!”

The above quote reminds us of the challenges of presenting information verbally and even after doing the above only a percentage of what you say will get through.

When working out a cost for a website, clients should be specific about what they want.  Some clients call it a ‘brief’ or ‘scope. For the purposes of this article we’ll call it a ‘specification’, though please don’t confuse this with a high level specification that can often take months to compile and go through several revisions.

Some clients think it is our job to create a specification and it is all part of creating a quotation for them. This article explains why it makes a lot of sense for the client to do it.

How a specification can help you

  • The act of writing down and explaining your requirements forces you to think more clearly about what you need and why you need it. It develops your ideas and your business.
  • It helps you to start to understand  more about about websites and how they work.
  • It speeds up the costing process as you are making all the information immediately available which the design agency need.
  • Giving a document which explains what you want is much safer than just telling people as they will not retain everything you say – the human brain isn’t capable (even if notes are taken). The document can be referred to later if there is a misunderstanding about what should have been delivered.

What should be in a specification

Background Information

  • Some info about your company (do you have a LTD company and is it VAT registered?)
  • Some info about the idea behind the website
  • Do you already have a domain?
  • Do you have or need branding (logo etc.) developing?


What do you want the website to do for you? Here’s a few possibles:

  • Create new leads by being found on Google?
  • Showcase your expertise to people who already know about you? (brochure site)
  • Increase online sales?
  • Create a community/audience?
  • Provide information to clients?
  • Boost a mailing list?
  • Provide software services online?
  • Increase advertising revenue?
  • Increase donations?
  • Raise awareness/campaign?
  • Educate?
  • Entertain?

Target Audience

Qualify who you want to engage with:

  • Businesses or consumers
  • Specific businesses in a sector
  • Specific size of businesses or organisation (start-ups/SMEs/corporates)
  • Local/national/global
  • Demographics e.g.  age/gender/income band/ethnicity
  • Existing clients
  • All and sundry


A new site is your chance to get one over the competition so spend time looking at what they are doing well or badly and aim to do two things:

  • improve on the competition
  • set yourself apart

Website Management

Very often overlooked, the ongoing management of a website will take up a portion of your time. The following information can help an agency to set up a Content Management System (CMS) suited to your needs:

  • What experience of maintaining websites do you bring to the table?
  • How much time do you have for keeping the website up to date?
  • How many people will keep the website up to date?
  • Do you have any preferences for a Content Management System and if so why?
  • Will the CMS need to connect to anything else?
  • Do you have any platform requirements (Windows or Linux)


  • Will you be supplying the written content and is it ready?
  • Can you supply relevant high quality images or would you like us to source from stock photo websites?
  • What pages do you want on your website?
  • What is the site structure or site map? (what sections does it have and what pages are in these sections)


When we ask about website functionality, surprisingly, we can be greeted with blank faces. It may be useful for you to think about what happens when a user goes on your website in the form of user journeys e.g.

  • home page > clicks on ‘Contact Us’ > Fills in contact form
  • home page > rings phone number
  • home page > uses search box > lands on Search results page and clicks on one result
  • home page > clicks on ‘Get a quote’ > fills in form
  • home page > clicks on ‘Shop’ > clicks on ‘Shoes’ > Clicks on ‘Mens’ > clicks on shoe > selects size > adds to basket > checkout > enters card details (or clicks on ‘Pay using PayPal’)
  • section page > user click on ‘home’ link > user clicks on ‘Contact Us’ > user fills in contact form

Ecommerce software can vary in what it allows vendors to do so you really need to be clear about the buying and ordering process.

Device and Browser Support

Following on from your analysis of your target audience, it would be useful to know what they use and in what percentage. Some clients bring in stats from their current site showing us the percentage of users on mobile devices, tablets and desktops or the percentage using Internet Explorer 8 for example. Tell us what devices, operating systems and browsers you want supporting. This can have a significant impact on how we code the site, how long it will take and what is delivered. Here is a list to consider:

  • Safari on iOs 6,7,8
  • Chrome on iOs 6,7,8
  • Firefox
  • Chrome
  • Safari
  • Dolphin on JellyBean, KitKat, Lollipop (Android)
  • Chrome on JellyBean, KitKat, Lollipop
  • Internet Explorer 8+ (IE8 is an awkward bugger and will need extra work)
  • Internet Explorer 9+

You may even want to specify devices such as iPad 3, Samsung Galaxy Tab 3.

Likes and Dislikes

Bear in mind that when we design a site we are not attempting first and foremost to create a site which YOU like but a site which your TARGET AUDIENCE likes. However, knowing what sites you like and dislike and more importantly WHY can start a conversation.


When do you want the project to start and when do you want the new website to go live?

Time-scales are dictated by three things,

  • the amount of work which needs to be done
  • the number and availability of people to do it
  • the efficiency of the people doing it

Check with the agency that whatever date you have in your mind fits with their capacity.

Ongoing Marketing

  • Depending on your website objectives you may want the website to generate new sales leads for you through search engines.
  • Will you require any ongoing optimisation for search engines in order to get high rankings in search engine results?
  • Will you need blog posts or new pages created for you?
  • Do you need a social media campaign integrated with website content?

Budget Range

Most clients are reluctant to divulge a budget range as they may simply have no idea OR they want to see what figure an agency comes up with. However you do need to think about budget and have a conversation about it. Otherwise you may be presented with solutions you can’t afford and which offer more than you need.

Here’s a tip to help you – think of two figures:

  • wow, if you could do it for £x that would be amazingly cheap
  • whoah if it’s £y then that’s starting to become unrealistic for me

Once you have this range (£x to £y) you can present it to agencies and they’ll present solutions within that budget. The solutions may not include everything you need. It’s a competitive market so you should get costs based on their:

  • experience (especially in your sector)
  • expertise
  • overheads

Decision timeline

The specification should say:

  • when a quotation is needed by (try to give agencies a reasonable time to provide a proposal).
  • when a decision will be made by you

You may also want to supply a weighting you will apply to quality vs cost.


A specification can often be just the beginning of a conversation and it doesn’t preclude ideas from an agency.

A well written specification helps you and helps the agency to help you. It is the foundation on which the project will be built. It’s always a good idea to make your foundations solid.