Posted June 23, 2022

Imagine that you’ve spent thousands of dollars on a new website for your business, non-profit, or start-up. The design is done, the developer just finished building it out, and the website has been handed over to you. All that’s left is adding your copy.

Except the copy isn’t done. Sure, the home page is looking good, and you’ve got an About page mostly wrapped up (kind of), but there are still lots of details to put in throughout the site. You’re waiting on the lawyer for that Privacy Policy page. You haven’t written any blog posts yet.

You may laugh (or cringe knowingly), but this often happens to clients. The project is complete, but nobody ever finished writing the content of the website. And then the website never launches.

This is preventable, though. I’ve got one trick that might help make sure your website project survives well after its launch date: you should write your copy before you put the designer to work. Writing the copy first resolves a lot of potential problems before they have a chance to sneak up and bit you in the butt:

  1. Your designer will see trends throughout your copy, and be able to create a design that makes your copy easy to read and use.
  2. Rather than trying to shoehorn your words into designed templates that may or may not fit your vision, the design will fit your words.
  3. Writing the copy first helps you finesse the goals of your website, and it means you have a better chance of writing a website that works. 
  4. You’ll be able to get early feedback on the vision for your website, and make big improvements early on. For example: imagine that you sell five products on your website. The copy for four of them is similar in tone of voice and length, but the copy for the fifth is radically different. It’s longer, more detailed, and filled with more images. You’ll inevitably get back a myriad of questions from your web team: is that fifth product unique? Does it get a unique page? Should the copy be more like the other four products, or should the other four products be more like the fifth? Which style of product page will create the most conversion opportunities for your business? These are good questions, and you’ll want to take the time to consider them. It’s much easier for everybody to get these questions answered up front.
  5. With the copy done, your website will be ready to launch as soon as the developer is done building it. You’ll never be the bottleneck in the project.

Your copy doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to be finished. Your website isn’t like a printed business card or magazine. You can make edits any time — even after launch. 

When I tell my clients they need to start with copy, they typically tell me they’re very visual and don’t know what they’d write without some sort of visual guide to follow.

If that’s the case, then you should consider starting your project with some wireframes, which might give you an idea of what will go where. Wireframes are low-fidelity digital sketches of what a page could look like, filled with Lorem Ipsum or your previous website’s copy. Think of it like the stick figures” drawing before a painting.

A person draws wireframes by hand
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

In places where the words you write don’t necessarily suggest a design, you could always add notes about what you think makes visual sense there. The designer can interpret your notes, as well as presenting their own ideas.

There are other reasons it’s a good idea to start with the copy. If you’re having trouble figuring out what to say, that might mean your business idea isn’t fleshed out. It might mean you’re unsure of your target market, or your unique selling propositions.

Writing copy first is a great opportunity to get clear on all that. Copywriting, as an exercise, can reveal the elements of your brand identity that aren’t clear, and help you crystallize them.

But if you don’t start the project with copywriting, and you write copy later, you might never finish your copywriting. The copywriting project will expand to take all the time it’s given.

If writing isn’t your strong suit, it might be worth your while to hire a writer. Don’t assume your designer can help you get it done — and certainly don’t assume they can do it for you at the same level of quality a professional writer would. Those skillsets are not typically transferrable.

If you’re struggling to get your website project off the ground, and you need help figuring out the next steps, let me know. I’d love to get you started down the right path. Before starting Wildfire Studios, I was an award-winning playwright and writer, and I’d love to get you started down the right path.