The Number One Tip for Designing a Great Website – Write It First!

by Heather Melcer

We all know the saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ but when it comes to your website, you need to actually write them. While a flashy, slick website might create the WOW factor that dazzles you, the key to a successful business is not just about good looks. You need clear, organized, user-friendly copy to turn visitors into customers.

It’s exciting to think about creating your first online presence. However, what most independent business owners tend to spend time doing is searching for a web designer, when what they really should be doing first is writing their copy. Most web design packages (or template building systems) include a long list of items for a great price, but the one key factor missing is advice on content.

A web designer or programming expert surely might suggest the basic pages that should be part of any website, but most designers (especially cost-effective ones) don’t take their time to get to know you and your business intricately enough to guide you properly. They may or may not have a business or marketing background, they aren’t going to tell you if your copy is good and accomplishes your business goals, or help you write it. Their goal is to simply drop in copy into their award-winning designs. But great design without solid content does not a good website make.

The bottom line is the success of your website and business hinges on the development of clearly organized content and great copy – so unless you are hiring a full-service agency to handle the task, it’s all up to you. Here are 3 simple suggestions to ensure an easy journey for creating your content:

    1. Create one separate word processing page file for each page of your website.
    Using this simple little trick of one word processing file per website page forces you to work through your website. It will help you decide what and how many pages your website really needs to communicate your business effectively, how to organize your content and what information should be contained on each page, what pages need to be linked to what pages, etc., etc.Start by creating your files and jotting down notes on each page to get the logistics of your site concrete. Then go back and add a bit of marketing pizzazz to create original, sparkling copy in a tone that reflects your business. It’s crucial to spend the time planning the whole site through, page by page, word by word, so the information is clear, organized, and easily accessed by visitors. This is not a quick process, but priceless time well spent in the big picture that will impact your entire business. Not to mention it can help you work out back end operational logistics for your business.

    Literally that’s it, one file for each page of your site. Good web design comes from understanding the totality of a project. A designer can do an even better job creating something that works for ALL of your content where each page of your site compliments the other. Additionally, it can be a challenge if a designer has to try and redo things when the website concept is already built and a client turns over new content and ideas that impact structural design elements.

    2. Write your copy in black and put any technical notes or instructions for a designer in red.
    It’s important to think about how you want your site to function so include clear instructions such as: page labels, full url addresses for links you want included, indicate what sections will need to be updated regularly, show where specific photos should go, note if one page needs to be a sub page of another page, etc., etc. And don’t worry about any fancy editing or tracking modes, just keeping it simple with notes in a different color works just fine.

    3. List all your pages/navigation buttons at the top of the first “home page” document.
    Decide the order of your pages and what each button will be called (which may be different than your headline copy on the physical page, as buttons usually work best with shorter words/phrases). This helps give you a sense of the overall flow and pacing of your site and allows you to better structure the path you want visitors to take.

Once you have finished writing your website, then and only then go hire a designer or begin the design process yourself. This number one tip promises a much smoother experience with the entire website design process. (I’ve helped people in the midst of design crisis not getting what they wanted on the creative and structural aspect, simply because they did not take the time to write and organize their site first.) In the long run the time and/or money you invest to write it first will yield a more successful and powerful site, not to mention your web designer will love you!

There are plenty of articles about how to write high-quality copy, but don’t fret if you aren’t Hemingway. There are plenty of writers for hire to help you through the process. However, you should still take the time to write your site in your own words or notes. Being able to turn over a complete rough draft of raw, yet organized content to a copywriter to polish up for you is a big plus that will save you time and money.

Be sure to use this tip for all other marketing materials as well. Whether it’s a website, brochure, media kit, or a simple workshop flyer, writing content first is always a crucial step that results in a stronger finished creative piece.


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