Category: Digital

How to work with a writer on your new website

May 12, 2016

Website jobs can be tricky. Understandably, clients have questions like: what’s the optimal word count? How many SEO terms are acceptable these days? And writers get obsessed with juggling keywords, desperate not to sound like an over-briefed Mili-borg.

But step back from the detail. Because a good writer can help not just with the words on each page, but with the messaging across your whole site. It just takes some cracking project management.

There are so many people involved in creating a website – some planning the content, others building wireframes, others writing draft web pages – and so there are lots of places where things can fall through the cracks. For example: a writer writes a web page, and then passes it onto the designer. Then the well-meaning designer trims a few words to tweak the word count – and all of a sudden, the copy loses its clarity and character. Lots of hard work, unintentionally undone at a keystroke.

Here’s how I think everyone can work together more successfully:

  1. NEVER skimp on the planning

Which comes first? Design or content? Ah, that old chestnut. The writer often wants to see some designs first, to understand how many words to play with and how to organise them. But the designer  wants to see some words first, so they can think about how to fit everything on the page. It’s tempting to ask your writer to start scribbling, just to get the ball rolling – but if a writer starts writing before the page design or site structure is fixed, you’ll end up with a lot more drafts. And a bigger invoice.

So, start by planning the content across your whole site. Do you want just one homepage, or different homepages for different audiences? Do you need separate pages about your products and services, or just one to cover everything? And crucially: ask your writer to help you map everything out. A writer can think about how your story will flow from one page to the next, and how that might affect things like the menu headings. They can help you decide what messages appear on each page, and where these should point to.

Then, if you can, get an information architect to check that your plan makes for a sensible user journey. They’ll spot the subtle things, like whether you should reduce clicks here or add a page there.

This should give you a proper site plan, showing which messages you need on each page. You’ll be able to see whether a particular page is going to be text-heavy and complex or simple and clean. Only then can you start to explore how many different types of page, or templates, you need your designer to build – and the designer can also start to see whether you’ll need specific design elements: buttons, icons and so on.

Bear in mind: the writer hasn’t drafted a word yet. But they’ve given invaluable input into the planning stage, looking at the overall structure and the story you’re telling your reader.

  1. Review along the way…

When your designer knows how many types of page they need to design, they can create some rough templates. Once you’re happy with the rough designs, the designer can move onto the wireframes. And when these are done, your writer can really start drafting the copy.

Best of all, your writer will already have your content plan as a starting point – they’ll know exactly which messages to put on the page, and they’ll know where to signpost other content.

Once your writer has got some first drafts, your designer might like to review some of the design elements. For instance, now that the first draft copy is in place, they’ll be able to see: do we really need so many different icons? Do we need to create a new design element, perhaps to highlight certain things like bulleted lists or quotes?

I’d suggest that, at this point, you finalise the design elements, and afterwards give feedback to the writer. The writer can then use the updated designs AND your feedback to create second drafts. Of course, after this point you can do as many drafts as you like – but, by following this process, you can avoid any huge design change throwing the design out of whack, or vice versa.

  1. …And review again at the end

Once your site is up, do give your writer a bit of time to check everything and see that it flows properly. It’s one thing writing a site page by page, but it’s very different seeing it all working together – and having your writer walk around the site, making sure everything feels right as you click from one page to the next. This is a time for last tweaks and little touches that will make the user journey more comfortable.

And then you’re done. You can now launch your shiny new website, to much applause and acclaim.

I suppose I should add one final point: be realistic. The points I’ve outlined show how a project can work in an ideal world. But we all know how extra pressures like time and budget can get in the way. The main thing is that each person on the project needs to see the bigger picture – to look up from their designs and drafts, see how they fit into the wider process, and work collaboratively. It saves time, it saves money. And it makes the job a hell of a lot easier.

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CopyCon rambles #3: Web project woes

January 6, 2016

OK, these really are my final thoughts from last year’s Copywriting Conference

UX marks the spot

One of the most practical talks I heard all day was by Tim Fidgeon, Digital Marketing Trainer and Consultant. It was all about user experience – or UX, as those in the business like to call it – and what it means for great digital copywriting. It’s a big issue now that more of us work online. We writers need to think: how do we write in a way that takes readers on a simple and successful digital journey?

Anyway, the talk was full of fantastic insights, all based on proper research and data. For instance, did you know that it’s harder to read text that is centred, rather than aligned left? (I obviously only learned this after I’d finished my own homepage. Ahem.) And as well as words, Tim also taught us lots about the way design affects UX.

Creativity… at the expensive of usability

So, Tim wasn’t exactly shy about sharing his frustrations when it comes to web design. He worries that designers are too often in thrall to that paragon of brand identity: Apple. And so they do lots of Apple-y design things, like grey text on white background – and while these things look lovely, they actually make it harder for people to take in information.

I think it raises some interesting questions about how writers and designers balance their creativity with the practicalities of working for web. And it’s something I’ve come up against in my own projects…

A cautionary tale: web project woe

I recently helped create a website from scratch. I worked with a team of designers, who came up with some design layouts – which were absolutely fantastic. I wrote copy to fit the layouts. And then our web person started to build everything, according to the designs.

And that’s where the problem started to appear. Some elements of the designs looked amazing on paper, but really didn’t work well online – for instance, big image panels with text overlaid, that worked brilliantly on desktop and iPad but not so well on mobile. A blog layout that looked super clean and tidy, but that actually made it quite tricky to scroll through the content.

My advice: get your heads together

In my experience, people running these projects often divide the work up into chunks: they want the design bit first, then the copywriting, and then the web build. One after the other. But it’s crucial to get all the different parties together, so that they can each spot potential problems that others might not notice.

Build time into the process for people to collaborate: let designers and writers talk about site architecture and messaging together, so that the right messages can sit in the right space. And let them collaborate with the web builders, so that they don’t spend ages creating something beautiful that just isn’t practical.

And, best of all: get some clever UX people involved, right at the start. And tell Tim I sent you.


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