Welcome to The Digital Brew, a podcast about making your business more awesome online.
Your hosts are Angela (a copywriter) and Stew (a web designer). Pour yourself a cuppa and let’s get started with today’s episode…
In this episode, we talk about writing your website copy – whether it’s for yourself or you work with a professional website copywriter. Or whether you are a professional copywriter looking for some tips to help you work with clients and improve your writing process.
Being that this is sorta more Angela’s wheelhouse as a website copywriter, this episode will be mostly her talking. Stew might just pop in occasionally with a question or something that he’s learned about website copy from the web designer’s perspective.
First up, a definition. It’s best not to assume people know what copy is!
Actually, I didn’t know what a copywriter was until about 7 years ago when I started to work in marketing. So, if you’re not on the inside, chances are, you won’t really know what copywriting is, either.
Copy is words that are written for marketing purposes
They’re usually written by a copywriter. And this is not to be confused with copyright – which is all about legal stuff.
So anyway, website copywriting includes pretty much all the words that go on your website. Words that talk about who you are, who you help, and what you do. They help you connect with and educate your audience. They help you get your audience to take the next step, whether it’s click through to another page, follow you online, sign up for a freebie, enquire, or buy.
So, when do you do your website copywriting? Before design? After design? During?
This is actually a pretty controversial question in some circles. Stew and I have talked about this a lot in the past!
In a nutshell? Copy comes before design. But you need to get your copywriter and designer involved in the planning process before anything else happens.
The designer needs your copy first so they can create a design around it. If they don’t have the copy, they’ll just be making you a template that sort of guesses what you’ll need for the copy. If they get the copy after the design is done, they may end up with too much copy for some areas, and not enough for others. The focus won’t be on the user experience, flow, information architecture, and conversion. Instead, your copywriter will be trying to make the words fit. Or your web designer might have to redo some bits of the design (which will cost you more money).
Just a side note here: as a copywriter, I’m used to being asked to write copy that fits an existing design. It’s pretty common. People organise their design before they realise they’ll need a professional copywriter to create the content. But this can be really constraining as a copywriter, because I often need to write a lot more than the space that’s been allowed. And it might limit my ideas for what the audience needs to experience at what part of the journey.
Ideally, talk to your web designer and copywriter together, then let your copywriter handle the content planning and writing. Once the copy is done, they’ll hand it over to your designer. You’ll get a much better end result and a smoother process. (And happier designer AND copywriter!)
So, how do you do website copywriting?
I’m going to walk you through my process that I use for most projects. Every copywriter has a different process – and if you write your own copy, you’ll probably do things a bit differently again. But this is how I do things at the moment…
First up, the bulk of the work (or time spent) is on preparation. I don’t write a single line of actual website copy until after I’ve spent weeks (usually) digging deep into the brand, audience, competitors, and subject matter. All of this starts with a detailed brief. I go through and ask my client a LOT of questions. I ask them about:
- What makes them unique
- Brand personality
- Examples they like
- Examples they don’t like
- SEO keywords (if they know)
- Ideas for the content on each page of their website
- Call to action
- Plus anything else they can think of
Once I have all that information, I sift through it all and pull out key bits. Depending on the client, I may write up insights about the audience and offer. I do keyword research to confirm what keywords offer my client the best ranking opportunities and relevance. I write up guidelines for formatting and brand guidelines. I suggest a USP and generate a list of potential taglines.
In some cases, I also do voice of customer research, a process I’ve recently started to incorporate (thanks to Kirsty Fanton’s encouragement and tuition). This can involve online surveys, recorded interviews, and even just trawling through existing comments and feedback from customers/clients. This is to understand what matters most to your audience, and the type of language I need to use to connect with them.
All of this forms the foundation of my copy.
When I put pen to paper (not literally because I can’t handwrite), I already have a lot of clear ideas about what direction I need to take the copy.
I write in Google docs. I set up my pages ahead of time so I don’t start with a totally blank page.
I mark up each page name (e.g. home, about, services, contact). I put in sections for page titles, meta descriptions, and target keyword(s).
I also often add in things like heading goes here, subheading goes here, copy goes here. Just so that my page starts to take shape a little.
I use built-in formatting styles (header 1, header 2, header 3, paragraph) to help my copy reflect the end product (and structure it better for SEO, too).
Sometimes I don’t write in a Google doc, though. I have a wireframing tool called Draftium (there’s a free version!) and I like to write in there. Especially if I’m writing a website that’s got a lot of copy and I want to suggest some ways to structure it so that it’s scannable.
What is wireframing?
It’s like creating a visual mockup of your website without properly designing it. Usually black and white.
You can actually wireframe on paper by drawing boxes and stuff. But there are a lot of wireframing tools out there, too.
What about the designer? Isn’t wireframing their job?
There’s a bit of a cross-over here. I think it’s great if the copywriter does it, personally. Wireframes are the perfect place to write and structure the copy without actually designing anything. After that, I can hand that over to the web designer for them to translate into a proper design. The wireframe shows them where the copy should sit in relation to the page, where buttons go, and things like that, so your web designer doesn’t have to guess.
That said, wireframing IS often done by your web designer and it might even be a collaborative process if your copywriter and designer are on the same team.
So anyway, I write the copy in either a Google doc or wireframing tool. If it’s in Google docs, I’ll use tables and other formatting things to give it a bit more structure.
I usually start with the home page. A lot of writers prefer to do this last, but I like to do the hardest bits first. Plus, I feel like because the home page is where users usually visit first, I can write it better from the audience’s perspective if I start there.
When writing each page, I keep in mind the goals of the page. In general:
Give people just enough info to capture the interest of your ideal audience and get them to click through. Touch on who you serve, who you are, what you do (USP), and what makes you different.
Share more details about the people and story behind the brand to connect with the reader on a personal level.
Share enough information about the product or service to help your audience decide if it’s for them, or not, and if it is, get them to enquire. The length of your services page(s) will depend on the complexity of the service. They may touch on problems/pain points it solves, features, benefits, process/how it works (although this is often a separate page), FAQs, and calls to action.
Show that you’re accessible and reachable. Share all the different ways people can connect with you – social media, phone, email, form, and physical location.
Of course, every site is different. You might have a few more pages than this. But these are the basic types of pages and the goals/content I keep in mind when writing them.
Another thing I usually do before I write is plan out the content for each page. Some people call this a skeleton draft. Basically, you list dot points for what’s going to go on the page. That way, you know what’s coming up, can spot holes (before you start writing), and never start with a blank page.
Then I move into first draft, which is where I actually write the thing! My goal with a first draft is to just get it out of my head as quickly as possible (now that I’ve got lots of ideas floating around). I try to fill up the page without thinking too much or editing as I go.
Then I tend to go back and edit, cut back length, move bits of content around within the page or between pages. I also try to spot spelling and grammar mistakes.
And of course, when I work with clients, I get their feedback at each stage and draft. So after draft 1, they’ll usually have some comments or change requests, so I go back and make those when I review it all and product draft 2.
If the website copy needs further tweaking, I make the changes in the final version.
Something I have to go back and talk about as well is SEO. I keep target keywords for each page in mind when I’m writing. Obviously, I write for humans first. I’m not going to sacrifice the UX just so I can squeeze in a few more keywords! But if possible, I pop the target keyword into the copy, headings, meta title, and meta description. But again, I make sure it sounds good and natural, plus include synonyms and variations.
Speaking of which, somewhere between draft 1 & 2 is when I usually write the meta titles and descriptions. These are bits of information you add into the back end of your website. Usually, Google pulls your meta title and description to display in the search results (title is clickable, meta description is underneath). Although, Google kinda just does what it wants these days, so no guarantees!
The hardest part I find about the meta bits is keeping them short. I think around 50-60 characters for your title, and around 150-160 characters for your meta description. Again, Google just does what it wants here… some SEOs I’ve worked with actually prefer much longer meta descriptions as Google does sometimes pull longer ones. So I do occasionally go longer here, but if I do that, I’m careful to front-load the most important information and keywords in case the last bit gets cut off.
Sorry if that got a bit technical!
Anyway, I think that’s it for my copywriting process, so let’s wrap things up with some key takeaways.
Hopefully you learned something interesting, whether you’re planning to work with a copywriter, do it yourself, or you are a copywriter yourself!
The biggest tip I can offer is not to jump straight into writing the copy. Spend plenty of time planning it all out, getting to know your brand and audience, and doing all the prep work so you know what you need to write.
Keep in mind the goals for your website and each individual page. This will also help you know what you need to write on every page, so you never have a blank slate.
And don’t be afraid to get started once it’s time to write – smash out a draft and then refine it from there. It’s always easier to edit something once it’s written, rather than trying to write the perfect sentence as it comes out.
What happens next?
After the copy is all written and approved by the client, it’s over to Stew (or your designer) to create designs around the copy! Which ties in perfectly with our next episode, which is about designing your brand and website. So we’ll catch ya there!
Thanks for tuning in to The Digital Brew with Ange and Stew. Make sure you head over to thedigitalbrew.com for more episodes, detailed show notes, resources, and our newsletter. And if you feel like this episode has helped make your business more awesome, pop us a review. We’ll catch you next time!