A web designer's guide to writing better website copy

by
Stephanie Corrigan
A web designer's guide to writing better website copy
Is terrible website copy bringing down your beautiful website designs? Let's face it--it's hard to design a high-performing website if the copy isn't up to par (and vice versa). In this post, we'll teach you how to write strategic copy that'll wow your web design clients and increase the value of your services.

Website copy and design go hand-in-hand. Both of these elements are equally important and work together to form a functional and strategic website. A beautiful website with terrible copy is nice to look at but won't convert; and an ugly website with amazing copy could turn people off before they even start reading.

For web designers, it can be tempting to overlook the importance of good website copy. After all, the copy isn't the designer's responsibility. In an ideal world, all of our web design clients would work with a professional copywriter before they come to us. But what if clients don't have the budget for website copy, or worse, don't see the value in it?

As designers, we have three options. Firstly, we could take a hands-off approach and let the client produce their own copy, for better or for worse. Secondly, we could encourage the client to find a copywriter to work with before starting our project, thus putting it on hold indefinitely. And finally, our third option is to incorporate website copy into our design process and write it for them.

In this guide, we're going to explore the third approach. If you're a designer, you don't have to take on the role of a copywriter if you don't want to; but if you do, you can pave the way for a more comprehensive and streamlined web design process that's highly valuable for clients. 

Before we dive in, check out Ran Segall’s video below to find out why he believes all designers should learn how to write:

6 steps to writing better website copy

1. Outline the website goals and objectives

The first step to take before writing a single word is to clarify the goals and objectives of the website. This is best accomplished through a thorough discussion with the client. Sometimes, it takes a bit of digging to uncover what their true goals are; surface-level goals beget surface-level solutions.

For most business websites, the primary goal is to increase sales. However, the objectives for a website could vary depending on the business model. For instance, is the primary objective to book a certain number of sales calls each month? Or is it to sell a certain number of products? A combination of the two?

Defining clear goals and objectives upfront will help guide your strategies for both copywriting and design. This is also why it makes sense to include copywriting in your design process. You'll first figure out what you need to say to achieve your client's goals, and then create designs that make the copy flow seamlessly from page to page.

Tip: write down specific words and phrases your clients use and repurpose them in your website copy.

For more on this topic, check out our in-depth guide to writing design briefs.

2. Define the purpose of each page

After you've outlined the overall goals and objectives for the site, the next step is to define the purpose of each page. As part of your web design process, you're likely already familiar with creating sitemaps. In this step, you're essentially building out a sitemap and assigning objectives to each page along the way.

For instance, the purpose of the About page is to introduce the brand to the users and let them know that they're in the right place. The About page is a great opportunity to build trust and share a brand story that resonates with the target audience. Check out Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller to learn more about the importance of storytelling in creating strong brands.

A Services or Products page has the purpose of convincing the user that the services or products are the optimal solutions to their problem. A Blog page could have the purpose of educating users about their offers and how they can benefit them. Continue this exercise for every page on the site, and you'll start to form an idea of how all the website copy flows together strategically.

3. Research keywords for SEO

The third step in writing great website copy is optional but highly recommended. As a web designer, you're likely familiar with the term SEO, which stands for search engine optimization. However, many designers and copywriters alike shy away from incorporating SEO into their process. Thus, SEO presents a great opportunity to increase the value of your work while adding a competitive advantage.

Keywords are words or phrases that people type into search engines like Google. If a webpage is optimized for a specific keyword, it's more likely to rank higher in the search results. And as we all know, most people only click on the first few results whenever they search for a topic on Google. Therefore, a website that's optimized for SEO is going to get a lot more organic traffic from search engines compared to a competitor website that wasn't created with SEO in mind.

Incorporating SEO into your copywriting process isn't as difficult as it might seem. In fact, there are two basic parts to it. The first is researching relevant keywords that your target audience is already searching for. And the second part is incorporating those keywords into the website copy you write.

For most websites, the best strategy is to find keywords that have a relatively high search volume and relatively low competition. To find these keywords, you can use tools like Google's Keyword Planner, Neil Patel's Ubersuggest, Ahrefs, or others. Any SEO tool that you enjoy using would do. If you're able to create a website that attracts traffic organically through SEO and then converts through copy and design, your clients are going to love you.

Click here to read more about how web design and SEO intersect.

4. Create an outline for each page

After you've defined the purpose of each page and researched high-quality keywords to work with, you're ready to create your copy outlines. This step can be combined with the wireframing process. In fact, outlines are kind of like wireframes because they establish how the content is laid out on the page.

An easy way to organize your website copy and outlines is to create a content folder in Google Drive. Then, create a separate Google Doc for each page. You can also link between Docs to mimic how users would click through the actual website.

A visual example of how I organized the content for one of my website projects in Google Drive.

As you create your copy outlines, keep in mind the objectives you outlined for each page. Use this info to define a logical content hierarchy. What's the first piece of information someone needs to see when they land on the page? What other content is essential to include on the page and in what order? In addition, this is a good opportunity to write the primary call-to-action for your pages.

Ideally, each page on a website, apart from the homepage, should have just one clear call-to-action (CTA). This way, there's no confusion for the user on what to do next. Typically, this CTA aligns with the primary objective of the website, such as booking a consultation, making a purchase, or signing up for a free trial. That said, not every page needs to have the same CTA. Some pages should guide the user to another page where they can find more information to support their buying decision.

5. Write headlines first, then fill in body copy

Now that your outlines are complete, it's finally time to start writing. If you took the time to create outlines in step four, you should already have a pretty good idea of what to write on each page. This should make the writing process much smoother compared to starting with a blank page.

The truth is, most people can't be bothered to read all the copy on a webpage, no matter how beautifully written. Instead, many people are just skimming to gather the main points without taking up too much time. So what are people reading when they skim a website? Primarily headlines.

We recommend writing all the headlines for a page before you tackle the body text. This does a couple of things for you: 1) It ensures that the copy can be skimmed, and 2) It helps you visualize how the content flows. You'll be able to tell if a piece of content is out of place, or completely unnecessary. Or if more content is needed for the copy to meet its objectives.

With the headlines in place, you can then get to work fleshing out each section with body copy. A tip for writing body copy is to write more than you need at first, and then pare it down later. This is easier to do than writing too little and then struggling to come up with more words to fill out the page.

Another tip for writing good website copy is to use conversational language. Avoid lengthy sentences and technical terminology, except where necessary. The easier to read, the more pleasant the user experience. And don't forget to incorporate your keywords for SEO as naturally as possible in both your headlines and body copy.

6. Revise and proofread

With all your website copy complete, go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief! The hardest part is over. But you're not done yet--the final step is to revise and proofread.

Revisions are an important part of any creative process, designing and copywriting included. Before you hand off your hard work to the client for feedback, make sure you take the time to do your own proofreading and editing first. You do not want to deal with the embarrassment of having your client point out your typos. Embarrassment aside, it's just plain unprofessional.

Fortunately, there are some great tools out there to do the heavy lifting for you when it comes to proofreading. A great online tool that's free to use is Grammarly. Even if you're an excellent speller and grammar pro, it never hurts to get more feedback, especially when it's automatic and free.

A screenshot of Grammarly’s demo. The app also offers a free Chrome extension.

Other things to check for in your copy aside from typos and grammar are consistency and clarity. Are you using a consistent tone of voice across the entire site? Is your wording clear, or could certain sections benefit from some rephrasing? Does the content flow from page to page? Once you've double-checked every word, you're ready to collect feedback from your client and enter the revision process. And then, you'll finally be ready to dive into designing.

How to learn more about writing website copy

This six-step guide is a great starting point for any web designer interested in adding copywriting to their toolkit. If you want to take your copy skills even further, there are a number of great resources out there to guide you along.

Here are some wonderful resources for aspiring copywriters:

For a 10-minute lesson on writing copy for the web, check out the following video from the Flux YouTube channel:

Combine strategy, copy, and design to create high-value websites

Ready to put your new copywriting process to the test? The best way to improve is through repetition, and the best time to start is now. The next time you meet with a potential client who doesn't have their website copy under control, offer to take care of it for them, using this guide as your, well, guide. The worst that can happen is the client says no.

Although you should absolutely charge more to include website copywriting in your design process, you can start small until you're more comfortable with it. Or, you can enroll in our course, Web Design Pro, to get in-depth guidance through all stages of the web design process, and then put that knowledge to work through practice projects. You'll even get expert feedback from our web design coaches along the way. Click here to learn more about what's included.

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