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When to write your web content

2010 December 6
by Helen Keevy

About to develop a website and wondering where to start? Avoid making a common but costly mistake.

A not-so-potential client recently gave me a sob story about investing a year and £50,000 in developing a new web-based system. He’d now run out of money, but needed instructions, FAQs and some content to convince people to sign up and use his services. Without this content he couldn’t launch the site. All he wanted was a few tens of thousands of words for a couple of hundred quid. He didn’t have the money to pay any more.

Sorry, but bad planning does not win my sympathy. Or my writing services. Even at current interest rates, he may as well have put his 50 grand in a savings account, because if we’re honest, a website without content is about as useful as condom vending machine in the Vatican.

A website is about communication. And although images can go a long way in communicating, chances are you’re also going to need written words, and quite a few of them. Yet every day thousands of people kick-start the design of a new website, willing to throw thousands of pounds at it, believing that written content is something to ‘fill the gaps’ at the end of the process.

It sounds a bit too farcical to be fact, but for businesses with small to medium-sized websites, that’s usually the way it goes. And it’s a helluva inefficient way of working for everyone: you, your web developer and your web designer. That’s why it’s crucial to either plan and write your own web content before you’ve even built a web page, or get a web copywriter involved at the beginning of the project.

Of course I’m biased, but I’d suggest you call a web copywriter before you even call the web developers.

What’s wrong with leaving the writing to the end?

It delays website launches.

A lot of website launches are delayed significantly, not because of web developers not working to schedule, but because the clients don’t provide the web content in time.

I know this from frustrating experiences as a web development project manager: a complex website built under stressful conditions to meet a tight deadline, and it can’t be launched because the pages are blank. Everybody loses – the web developer because they can’t get final payment until the site launches and you because your new investment is languishing under dust covers.

It creates unnecessary work all round.

If you don’t know exactly what content you want on your website then you’re going to have to guess. Why guess when you don’t need to? Why run the risk of creating a more complex website with more pages than you need? Or not enough pages.

A good web copywriter understands the principles of information architecture, website usability, content strategy and search engine optimisation. They can work with you or your web development team to map out what writing and graphics your site will need. If you’re revamping an existing website, some web copywriters also offer content auditing, to evaluate the web content you already have and help you plan your content for the new site.

Ideally you want your web copywriter to at least work with your web development team from the very beginning. This will save everybody time and make sure you’re all working towards the same goals for your website. It’s efficient too.

It results in mediocre content.

Leaving writing to the last minute forces web copywriters to compromise. When we’re called in to replace ‘lorum ipsum’ dummy text with something meaningful in a final website design, we often have no choice but to write content to fit design, rather than writing content to fit website visitors and marketing goals.

On an information website, design is a vehicle for information. It makes information better. How can you expect optimally functional web design if your designer doesn’t know what information they’re designing for? Designing without web content also has the potential to cause a clash between design style and writing style, resulting in wishy-washy branding.

So get your content written before the website designs are finalised, at least for the key web pages.

It diminishes the value of your investment.

Businesses spend money on website development. Usually quite a lot of money. When they’re considering quotes from web companies, clients often don’t register that those quotes rarely include content. And caught up in the excitement of a new website, any contingency in terms of time or money for paying someone to write your content or writing it yourself is forgotten. After all, how hard or expensive can filling blank spaces be?

Good website development does not come cheap, and it shouldn’t. But even though your business will benefit from having a beautifully designed and well-built site, all your website visitors are going to care about is if they find what they came looking for quickly and easily. They’ll see the pictures and they’ll scan the words. They’re going to be looking at those ‘blank spaces’.

If you budget for copywriting up front you won’t be caught short and left with a fantastically well-built website that is unable to serve a purpose.

So to sum up, and put a positive copywriterly spin on it…

Call your web copywriter early because:

  1. You’ll improve your chances of launching your website on schedule
  2. You’ll save everybody work
  3. You’ll get better web content
  4. You’ll get better value-for-money from your website.

Oh yes, and it’ll be less stressful for everyone.

Need help with your web content? Want to know why a web content audit could save you time and money in the long run? Get in touch.

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