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The importance of good website copy

This is a fictional story based on an amalgamation of many true stories and illustrates the importance of good website copy.

Mr. Smith’s new website’s copy is the most important part of his company’s online message. It lets his customers know what his firm does. It can drive sales. It can excite, encourage, engage, amuse, engender trust and, ultimately, generate business for him. Other things are important too: design, imagery, search engine position, but the content is the thing that can make a difference between converting a customer and losing a sale.

As a designer and developer, I know that, without any shadow of a doubt, the most difficult thing to obtain from clients is the written content. Copywriting is time consuming and not something that should be thrown together in a couple of hours after work – a website is a presentation to customers that haven’t been converted yet. No company’s marketing manager would casually throw together a sales pitch presentation in PowerPoint to be delivered to a board of directors without careful consideration, time investment, planning, rehearsal and proof-reading. Why? Because it would be sloppy, ill-conceived, vague, poor-quality and they wouldn’t close the deal. Sale lost. Poor website copy has the same result. It needs time, care, love and attention if it is going to work as a business generation tool.

So, back to Mr. Smith’s new website. He loves the design. It’s mobile responsive, slick, contemporary, graceful, beautiful and successfully conveys his desired company image. It’s cost him few grand but it’s going to be worth the investment because it’ll see a return on what he’s spent. Actually, no, it won’t because he’s decided that he doesn’t need a copywriter. He’ll cobble something together for us and send it over that night.

We don’t receive anything.

We chase for the copy by email.

We call up the next week. He’s on annual leave.

We wait until he’s back and call again. It’s nearly finished and he’ll send it over later.

He doesn’t.

We email again.

No response.

The project stalls.

Mr. Smith definitely needs some help but either thinks he doesn’t need it or doesn’t value decent copy enough to pay for it even though poor, or “cobbled together”, content will possibly make his site ineffective. We know that when Mr. Smith does eventually send some copy through it won’t attract the audience or drive the sales that he is expecting from his website. When it doesn’t perform or give him his ROI he’ll want to know why. It’s at this point we’ll point out again that copywriting is a professional occupation and massively underestimated as a skill and refer him to our discussion about copy in the initial website meeting and the things that were offered to help him with it. At Cyberfrog we have copywriters but many clients still want to produce their own copy. This is fine but many don’t realise that it’s time-consuming, quite a difficult thing to do, enormously important and can make the difference between a website’s success and its failure.

No one wants to end up in a situation like Mr. Smith or work for Mr. Smith so as a guide here are some things that you, as a web design client, could consider right at the beginning of any project to save pain and heartache later on:

 

Is copywriting provided?

Was it discussed at the initial meeting? Is it in the proposal as an included service or an extra service? Don’t assume that it’s something that the company will do for you for free. If it is provided, is it done in-house or does the web design company have an external partner? If the additional cost is going to put the project over budget ask for guidance on how you should produce and submit copy yourself. If you do go down this route at least it’s established to all parties that you are responsible for the final copy. ‘Final copy’ means it’s written, proof read and ready to go on the finished website.

Expectations

If a web agency doesn’t have a copywriter in-house, or doesn’t offer copywriting as a part of their web design services, make sure that this is established and understood at the beginning. During your initial conversations, ascertain who is responsible for creating the copy and how it needs to be supplied. If the onus is on you to produce it, decide on content deadlines early on so that you know when they will need the final copy from you in order to launch your website on time.

Ask for guidance

Don’t be shy. This is why you’ve hired the web design company in the first place. Ask for details of what content needs to be provided for each page. Right at the beginning, a sitemap should have been produced so pages should already have been decided upon. Ask for an outline of where headlines, subheadings, sidebars, calls to action and other components of each page will be needed. Sometimes, the design of the site will be needed before this can be ascertained but it doesn’t hurt to think of these things in advance.

Submission

Ask how the copy should be submitted as different companies have different ways of working. Tidy, separate MS Word documents for each page are an easy-to-follow way of not only supplying content but good for systematic thinking and writing as well. Several scraps of scribbled paper, random leaflets and oddments of marketing items will not give the web designers a clear idea of your core message or provide clear objectives for the copy.

Hire a copywriter

If for any reason the web agency doesn’t provide copywriting or you would rather go elsewhere you could search for one locally or on LinkedIn. Look for a range of specialities, skills and fees. Arrange phone calls and meetings if possible, ask to see samples of work and choose one that will make the effort to understand your business and core message. Any money you spend on copywriting should be an investment and not a cost. You should expect your website copy to drive sales and generate business.

Copyediting

If full copywriting services are beyond your budget ask the web design company for copyediting services. This means that you provide the raw copy and then they polish it up for you and make it web-ready. While the burden of producing copy is still on you this is a good compromise: it’s cheaper for you and you can still obtain professional copy if you feel your writing skills are not quite up to it.

Be willing to be educated

Great design is a wonderful thing but great content is essential to creating a website that gets you found by the search engines and successfully converts website visitors into paying customers. Appreciate the importance of well-written copy to the success of your website and, in fact, how much the copy can influence the initial design. Truly understanding how vital the copy is will make you much happier in the long run because your website will work better for your business and will avoid misunderstandings with your developers and ensure a good and continued working relationship with them.

So, back to Mr. Smith. He conceded that he needed some help and we gave him our options of doing the copy for him (for maximum effect), copyediting his raw content and adding some spit and polish (for cost and time effectiveness) or focussing his own writing using the downloadable copywriting guide sheet below.

Please feel free to download it yourself. It’s free and hopefully will give you some insight into how you’d like to proceed with the copy for your website.

And, there are other benefits to Mr. Smith’s well written copy:

  • His search engine position improves because Google likes well-written content.
  • It’s error free which adds credibility to his brand.
  • His content is shareable and engaging to visitors.
  • It’s keyword rich – a sound foundation for SEO.
  • Its key objectives perfectly match the objectives for the website as a whole.
  • He’s obtaining articles of interest on his news page which creates a varied and dynamic website – well-used by visitors and well-loved by search engines.
  • He’s getting backlinks from other websites to his quality content.
  • He’s making a connection to customers, his conversions have increased and his ROI is realised.

Well worth taking time or paying a professional for, wouldn’t you say?

Posted in Project Management, SEO, User Experience, Website Copywriting

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