Copywriting: The Unsung Hero of Web Design

I have been making websites for ten plus years and one of the most common mistakes clients make when coming to me to design a website is telling me:

“Design the site now and we’ll figure out the written content later.”

The number one reason that clients do this is because they don’t have any content to speak of to put on their website, but they still want to go ahead and get themselves a website, for whatever reason. This is problematic to ensuring good workflow (see info box below) for a number of reasons:

  1. If you don’t know what is going into your website when it comes to something as basic as the text, it usually means that you haven’t really put a lot of thought into the website as a whole, which includes visual elements like photos, logos, and includes more abstract thinking such as “Who is the target audience for this website?” and “what sort of website do I want, how do I want it to look and what do I want it to do for me?” and so forth.  This lack of reflection usually comes up when I sit down with a client and ask them what they want in their website, they often give me ambiguous, unhelpful answers such as “Oh I don’t know, just make it look good.”
     
  2. In designing a website, like designing most things, form follows function.  If I don’t know all the elements that need to be part of the website, it is difficult for me to plan the overall look and size of the website.  I can always adjust after the fact, but that means time spent revising what should have been sorted out before I started designing in the first place, which means a higher final cost to the client.
     
  3. In my experience with clients who say they will find/write content later on, 90% of the time they do not follow through and the site goes live looking good but saying next to nothing other than providing contact information and a very bare bones list of services or products.  Sometimes, a minimalist site can be useful, if you are really just looking for a site that functions like a fancy digital business card, but it’s a shame to waste an opportunity to give your target audience so much more.

Now when it comes to photos, if a client does not have their own photos, it is easy enough to substitute their lack with stock photography, as it is easier and cheaper than ever these days to buy a few gorgeous high resolution photos, but when it comes to written content, the best way to help anyone who is having trouble writing about their company is to hire a copywriter.

A copywriter is a professional writer who specializes in marketing or advertising writing and, like most creative fields, their skill level is usually reflected in their pricing. It can be tempting to take a cheap option, as their are companies who offer outsourced copywriting at bargain basement prices, but their copywriting tends to come across as more of a “word salad” – paragraphs that look good at a glance, but upon closer inspection contain a lot of buzzwords and nice sounding but empty phrases.

A decent copywriter takes the time to learn about your business and helps provide the best phrasing for your promotional efforts. Some of the best copywriters I have known are people who make an effort to establish a good relationship with their clients and are in turn respected by their clients. A company with a good copywriter on staff or on freelance contract often find that a copywriter can be incredibly useful for a variety of new marketing projects and other areas of the business that could benefit from some verbal polishing, resulting in a company with stronger branding and a more professional look and sound.

Workflow is the structured process of bringing a project from start to finish, basically from an idea to a final result. For my own purposes here I am referring to creative projects, but it can be used in any type of group setting with a specific goal. Good workflow is when the overall project has been broken down into chronological steps, in the literal sense of the word “going in a timely and logical order” so as to encourage a smooth transition between steps, reduce redundancies or wasted time/effort, and ensure a complete finished product.

~Sunhawk

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