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A Website Copywriting Workflow

Great content is at the heart of any successful website and so an important part of our job as designers is to help our clients craft effective written copy.

Copywriting for the web can be a bit of a balancing act between considerations of accessibility, personality and SEO. We need to think carefully about everything from tone and terminology to structure and formatting to arrive at content that consistently reflects the voice and values of the company and clearly communicates the information our users when they visit a website.

To help achieve this on new website projects we have a very simple content workflow that we try to follow…

Website copywriting workflow

Content Planning

From drafting to publishing it can take anything up to 10 hours to produce a single page’s content.

With this in mind one of the most important aspects of an effective approach to content development is to set aside enough time (and start early enough) to have everything ready in good time for launch.

At a project’s outset we should be established a good understanding of the aims & objectives of the website and also identified its target audience. Now we can start thinking about the content that will support those goals and serve those different user groups.

We like to bring these ideas together into a Content Plan, a simple document that provides an outline of the types of content that will be needed in each section of the site and the purpose it serves. This will usually be accompanied by suggestions about structure, word-counts and tone to provide a basic framework to start writing within.

This also a good time to think about who will be responsible for drafting and reviewing the various content pieces and, with our post-launch hats on, who will be responsible for maintaining these content ideas at the end of the project – can they be practically sustained?

Drafting

Initial drafting of new content should normally start with the subject expert. Often this is going to be the client, but a well-briefed professional copywriter could also fill this role. As a general guide writing the first draft of a new page might take somewhere between 1-3 hours so some quick maths based on the size of your site should give a good indication of roughly how much time needs to be allocated here.

If a site is heavily data-driven then a representative sample of that data will be hugely valuable. The key thing at this stage is to have draft copy for each distinct content type, be it product information, news items, testimonials, case studies. etc.

Where possible identifying content edge-cases, such as extremely long names, will help avoid any surprises later on in development.

In addition to entirely new content you may also be planning to adapt or directly migrate existing material, either from a previous version of your website or from offline sources such as brochures or product guides. Where possible it is definitely worth taking the time to properly evaluate old content before deciding whether to reuse it. Discarding redundant information and ensuring consistency across what remains will help keep your content focused and reduce your future maintenance burden. When considering whether a piece of content should be included ask yourself whether it directly supports a user need and / or business goal.

We like to collate the outputs from all the various content sources into a Copy Deck that becomes the central reference throughout a project. The sooner you can bring things together in one place, the more quickly inconsistencies in style or gaps in information can be identified.

Editing

Using genuine content rather than lorem ipsum at the wireframing and design stages really helps create page layouts that hold up well in their final implementation. As this process starts to bring a visual structure to our content it allows us to evaluate and edit our copy in the context of the page. On a very basic level we can adjust word-counts and line lengths, but diving deeper we can also consider how the tone and personality of the copy sit with the overall style of the design.

With design and content development moving forward together each has the opportunity to inform the other.

During design is usually the point at which additional requirements for bits of micro-copy are likely to surface such as button labels, form fields and other short pieces of text that support the UI. Often these snippets of micro-copy are repeated across multiple pages so placing them into our copy deck to help ensure consistency is a good idea.

As the final shape of the copy emerges we can also turn our attention to editing with other considerations in mind such as search engine optimisation (SEO) and take the opportunity to begin testing it with real users to check that it conveys to the audience what we think it does.

Publishing

At the publishing stage the launch-ready content is transferred out of our copy deck and into the website’s content management system (CMS). By avoiding publishing any lorem ipsum or test content at this stage you can be sure none of this placeholder text accidentally makes it into the live site. If you can’t avoid it then making a careful note of where it has been used and/or using a format that will be easy to search for after publishing is a good idea.

Formatting is often the main concern during publishing. Design details can change between design and production so although we may have seen our content in the context of a design mockup or prototype before, adjustments may still be needed to things like line lengths, particularly as we see how our content displays across different device types. Interactivity also comes into play with linked text and other formatting options that might change the state of content when users click, hover or otherwise interact with it.

Block quotes like this are just one of the formatting options you’ll have to work with when publishing in a CMS like WordPress.

Review

No matter how thoroughly you might have checked content at the previous stages of production errors can easily slip past. So re-proofing your website’s content in its final form prior to launch can be invaluable. Depending on the size of your site you may need to use a combination of manual and automated methods to perform this final review. Automated testing can usually identity things like spelling errors, broken links, missing images and duplicate content, while manual proofing can ensure consistency in tone, terminology and that linked content between pages flows naturally. Involving your subject expert again as part of this review can help avoid any inaccuracies in key information that might crept in during editing.

This review process is something that is worth repeating again in the future to ensure that information remains up to date and accurate. For example each time we publish a new Knowledge Base article a past article is put through review and we encourage all our clients to make evaluation of existing content a part of their regular maintenance schedule.

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Nick Barron

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Nick Barron

In his role as UX Director Nick ensures that everything we do reflects a clear understanding of our clients’ aims as well the expectations of their audiences.