Website copy tips and best practice

Writing website copy is one of the most common causes of delay in web launches. With that in mind I have put together some advice on how to approach the task so that you end up with great copy and on time.

I'm not going to cover considerations as to what you should write about; that's a whole subject of it's own and depends on your audience, marketing goals, and so on.

1. The site map

It's best to start with a “mile high” birds-eye view of the copy and refine that with more and more detail. So step 1 is a site-map.

A site map is basically a list of pages on the site, often arranged into a hierarchical “tree” type display, showing landing pages and sub-pages.

For example -

  • Home
  • About us
    • Who we are
    • What we do
  • Services
    • Consultancy
    • Widgets
  • Shop
  • etc

These will often end up being the labels used on your website's navigation (be it the primary navigation bar, footer navigation, and/or more). Since the primary navigation bar is often the first place people will look to gauge what's on your site, make sure that the key pages are in there and they're labelled in terms that are readily understood.

2. The website copy audit (if you're refreshing a site)

Go through each page of your existing website and categorise them as “Delete”, “Keep” or “Amend” - Pages that will be removed entirely, pages that can be kept with very little change, and those that are still relevant but need to be substantially rewritten.

Having done this you'll be able to look at your site map and see that you have some pages that have content from the old site that can be reused, some that are partially ready, and some that need entirely new content written from scratch.

3. Writing the new page content

Now comes the hard part of actually writing content for those new pages.

Don't be a perfectionist about it - “Perfect is the enemy of good”.

It's best to just plunge in there in the knowledge and acceptance of the fact that the first version will likely be a long way from production-ready. That's okay. It'll come together as you review and amend what's been written.

If you find yourself overcome with writers' block, you can try some different approaches to getting the ball rolling.

  • Break it down - Just start off with a list of bullet points or headings that mark out the vague structure of the page, then pad it out with detail.
  • The “brain dump” - just write down everything that's in your head without analysing it too much or worrying about typos and grammar. Read it back and cut, paste, delete it into a coherent structure, fix your typos etc..
  • If you find it difficult to get the ball rolling when sat at keyboard – there's nothing wrong with good old pen and paper to get started.
  • Sometimes the words come easiest when on the move. Go for a walk while dictating your copy into your phone's voice memo software, then listen back in the office and write it out as a first draft.

The first draft is always the hardest, so whatever works to get over that hurdle.

Revisit, review, rewrite until it comes into shape.

Once it's starting to feel coherent and like you've covered the important stuff – stop!

4. Don't write the final content until the web designs are complete

It's important to bear in mind that this content needs to fit into your website designs. What looks great on a Word document might not work on a web page. The problem with polishing all your copy prior to designs being signed off, is that you may find the finished words simply don't “fit” with the designs.

For example, perhaps you've spent valuable time crafting a great opening title for your copy – only to discover that at 60 characters long it runs over three lines on the web page and looks ridiculous.

Likewise, a 200 hundred word paragraph may read well in a Word document. On a web page with larger type and shorter line lengths, it'll look like an intimidating “wall of text”.

So rather than trying to finalise your copy in a word doc, prior to web designs being competed. It's best to stop once you've got a decent draft of copy. When the designs are finished and you know how the copy will "sit" within them - that's when you go back to your copy and you polish it and tailor it the web page.

5. Struggling? Hire a professional!

If you still find the process difficult, or you're up against a really tight deadline, you should consider hiring a copywriter. We're happy to recommend copywriters with expertise in web copy if that's your situation – let us know.

Take-aways:

  • Start with the site map
  • Do a content audit
  • Don't be a perfectionist when drafting
  • Try pen and paper or dictating on the move to get those first drafts written if the words aren't coming easily.
  • Don't do the final drafts until you've seen the web designs the content needs to work in.

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