Website copywriting — always

If you’re asking which should come first, my answer is always website copywriting.

In some cases, the web designer and the copywriter will work together, but the design should always be led by the copy and not the other way round.

You’re probably wondering why that is — and I’m going to explain — but first let me tell you a little about me and why I’m qualified to have this opinion.

I’m an experienced website copywriter

I’ve been writing SEO-optimised websites since 2011 — and I’ve written a lot of them.

I’ve written website copy completely from scratch, when all I had to work with was a blank screen. I’ve also written copy for websites that had already been designed, with Lorem ipsum placeholder copy filling the spaces where my words were going to go.

And I can tell you that writing SEO-optimised copy to fill in a ready-made design template can be an absolute nightmare. So much so that some website copywriters I know refuse to do it.

And now I’ll tell you why.

When the website design comes first…

Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

The copy is often an afterthought

I can’t tell you how many times prospects have come to me at the last minute.

Their website was almost ready… the web designer had asked them for their copy… and they suddenly felt a panic in the pit of their stomach, because they realised they didn’t have any.

Some hadn’t given it a second thought. Like, they thought it would miraculously appear on their site from nowhere!

Some, mistakenly, thought the copy was included in the cost of the design, so they hadn’t budgeted for it. And when I gave them my quote, it came as quite a shock.

Most wanted the copy on an impossibly short deadline, which was completely unrealistic for the amount of time and work involved.

It goes without saying that this is not the way to get good website copy.

The effectiveness of the copy is compromised

There are two important jobs your website copy should be doing: bringing visitors to your site, and generating sales or enquiries — whichever your business needs.

To bring visitors to your website, the copy needs to be Search-Engine-Optimised. This gives it the best chance of showing up on Google where your ideal customers will find it.

To generate sales or enquiries, the copy needs to deliver a clear, informative and persuasive message that inspires those ideal customers to take action.

The problem with writing to fit a design template is that your copywriter will inevitably have to make compromises. SEO headings may have to be changed or shortened, important sections may have to be cut. And this could mean your copy is less effective than it should be in getting visitors and selling to them.

Web designers don’t always understand web copy

Some web designers I’ve worked with have produced fabulous looking designs, but didn’t have a clue about web copy or Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

One designed on a tight matrix, with tiny inflexible sections that hardly gave me room to write anything — let alone anything optimised, meaningful or persuasive.

A couple of designers misused the heading hierarchy. They thought it looked better and hadn’t even considered that it might affect performance.

Some designers used typefaces, font sizes and layouts that didn’t suit the way the copy was written and made it look excessive and overblown.

Several designers didn’t allow enough space for the copy. They didn’t seem to know that SEO copy needs around 300–500 words per page. One designer even told me they didn’t like adding the copy because it ‘always ruined their design’.

And a couple of designers even rewrote my copy (badly) to fit their design. I don’t have words I can publish to say how I felt about that — so let’s move on!

Of course, there are web designers who do understand how copy works. They either won’t start work until they have the copy approved and ready to go or they’ll design more flexibly, so the copy can be accommodated in whatever form it comes.

Clients get attached to the website design

When you see a beautiful design, it’s easy to be wowed. And when you’re wowed, the last thing you’ll want is some copywriter coming in with words that mess up your layout and look.

I’ve been called on to write SEO copy for websites where the clients had already approved and fallen in love with their design.

When it came to the writing, there was no wiggle room because everything had already been decided.

Every piece of copy I wrote had to maintain the look the placeholder text had created. The sections had been assigned and the images had been chosen. Every heading and section had a word or character limit. Every section was a solid block of text, with no line breaks allowed.

It’s impossible to write effective website copy that will do its job when you’re working with these kinds of constraints.

There’s no strategy

An effective website needs goals: things you want it to achieve for your business. For example, your goals might be to generate sales or enquiries — or to position your business a go-to for whatever you provide.

When you’ve decided on your goals, you need a strategy to help you achieve them.

On a website, this should be a combination of strategic copy and strategic design, working together. But when the design comes first, the strategy will be disjointed or missing all together.

This is because the copy is always integral to the strategy — and without it, there is no strategy.

Why your website copy should come first

Scrabble letters spelling WORDS
Image by Skitterphoto at Pexels

Words before design is more practical

A website can be successfully designed around the copy, but it doesn’t work so well the other way round.

You can’t always write what needs to be written and squeeze it into a design without losing words — and that could mean compromising your message and SEO potential.

Words are as important as design

Your web copy is functional and that makes it equally as important as the design.

A beautiful design will impress your visitors, but it’s the copy that will be talking to them and convincing them to part with their money.

Web copywriters consider design in their process

I, and many other web copywriters, do what’s called wireframing. We format our copy in the way we want it to appear on-screen with appropriately sized titles and headings, information in tables, bullet points and buttons.

This helps you and your web designer to envision how the copy will look when it’s on your site.

The message can guide the design

Web copywriters excel when it comes to defining your website’s message — asking lots of questions and getting to the root of what you want to say. Having the copy in advance means your web designer can design in a way that supports and complements your message, making it easy for your visitors to understand.

Your website will be more user-focused

Web copywriters will always put your audience first. We carry out extensive research into your ideal customers, looking at what they know, what they value and what they need. We then use this to write copy that helps them by answering their questions and giving them exactly what they’re looking for.

Starting with the copy will make your website more user-focused from the outset, with design that guides your visitors seamlessly through your site and gives them the best possible user experience.

Looking for a website copywriter?

I’m a website copywriter with web design experience

I’m Jenny Lucas, a freelance website copywriter, content writer and SEO specialist based in Leicester, UK.

In the past, I’ve also designed, written and optimised several high-performing websites for my previous employers and my own business.

Photo by Matt Glover Photography

I take a visual approach to website copywriting, using wireframes and other formatting techniques to lay out my copy so it’s easy to read and easy for web designers to work with and follow.

If you’re rewriting your website, or investing in a new one, and you’d like to work with a copywriter who understands the design side, maybe I can help you.

You can find out more about me and my services — and see samples of my work — over on my main website.