Which comes first, website copy or design?

Getting a new website is exciting, but there are also things you need to do to make it as successful as possible. It’s not a case of simply hiring a website designer for a stylish-looking theme… There’s much more that goes into a great website (spoiler alert: including great website copy!). 

Which comes first in the website process, copy or design?

 

Best steps for a successful website launch

So, what are the ideal steps to make the new project smooth sailing, instead of stressful and over budget? This blog post is all about the relationship between design and copy, plus tips on structuring your copy so the designer can bring it to life. 

 

Should you start your website project with copywriting?

Have you ever tried to fit your feet into shoes that are too small? What about trousers that only come up 3/4 of your legs?

To me, that’s what writing copy for a pre-designed website is like. Awkwardly trying to make it fit, when you’d be better off buying a new size…

Yet to get the best results, your copy and design should really be done together. Or, if you have to pick one to do first, go with the copy. 

Why? It’s far easier to get a perfect pair of trousers tailored to fit your specific body type, style, and height than it is to buy off the shelf. Not only will you feel good about yourself when they fit just right, but the trousers will look awesome, too. 

When you get great copy working with design, you’re letting both parts shine ✨

Ok, let’s be real. I’m a website copywriter, so of course I consider the copy an essential part of the overall website. Now, before any designers come at me, I’m not in any way talking down the design process. But what I do want to highlight is in a world where more people are aware of good design, they often approach this first. 

This is why I’m here to explain why starting with the website copywriting is good for everyone involved in your new site. You want the best outcome for your new website, and so do I.

Common problems caused by writing website copy after the design

The number of times I hear website developers’ progress is being held back by not having the website copy from clients is astounding. 

That’s because when you think of a new website, it’s likely you’re thinking about the pretty colours, cool images, and slick design. So you hire a website designer first… and forget about the copy. 

When website designers get started before the copywriter, it usually causes these issues: 

  • The website looks great but can’t go live without the copy, which holds the project up for everyone 
  • When the website copy is added AFTER the design, it alters the look and feel 
  • Some key messaging can get lost or squished in a pre-determined layout 
  • The messaging informs how much information the website actually needs, so the number of pages and their flow are usually out of sync 
  • Without knowing how much copy there is, the designer can’t balance the design and layout fully 
  • The website copywriting process helps you to understand what’s important to not only you but your customers, which can alter the way your design works 

On the other hand, when you work on your website copy first, it means: 

  • You and your designer have a clear understanding of who you’re targeting, your tone, and the ‘vibe’ to give off 
  • The information can be displayed to make the copy sing, rather than it getting lost 
  • The page layout and flow are already decided (yes, a good website copywriter should be helping you with this) 
  • You’re not wasting time waiting for a website design to go live – hit publish much faster 

So, how do you write your copy before you plan the design?

Looking for inspiration to write better copy?

Download the FREE guide here – 5 easy ways to add personality to your website.

Information architecture is your new best friend

You may or may not be aware of something called information architecture (IA). If you’re not, think of it as organising the information needed into clear, accessible, and helpful sections. 

Just like an architect designs a house, you need to design and organise your message (before the pretty stuff happens).

The diagram below shows how IA overlaps the needs of the user, content, and context. (Image source)

Information architecture diagram

Why is information architecture so helpful to writing copy before the design? 

Giving yourself a structure to write your copy also helps your designer to plan a sitemap. Here are my tips to apply this principle to your next project:

1. Start with the key information you want to tell people – customer pain points, how you solve their problems, and your results. This is getting your messaging on the page in the right order in a way that’s clear and easy to navigate. Keep each page with one core message.

2. Create an information hierarchy – most important and persuasive info at the top, FAQs and less impactful information at the bottom.

3. Get this into clear headers and sub-headers – using consistent styling throughout. This helps to break the page up for both users and SEO.

4. Put call to actions into the structure – encouraging users to take the next step at regular intervals. These should relate to the page’s one focus message, but may also direct readers to other relevant pages to find out more information.

5. Use short, digestible chunks of copy – for added readability, don’t forget to break your copy down so it’s easily scannable. It’s unlikely someone will read everything, so bullet points and short paragraphs help people grasp the message and won’t overwhelm the reader.

Doing this means even if you change your copy slightly, you have an idea of the flow and structure first. Your designer can use this as a starting point to inform the design. This planning concept not only works on websites, but also on brochures, emails, and everything in between. 

How to integrate website copy with design 

When you present your copy to a web designer using these information architecture principles, your designer will not only thank you for making their life easier, but the words will have a bigger impact. So, although your designer can create a website before seeing any copy, they may have to re-do parts of it afterwards. 

Ok, how do you actually get your copy and design done for a new website? In an ideal world, you would work with both parts running side by side: 

  1. Start your initial research and planning 
  2. Build your expert team (design and copy)
  3. Get going with development and writing
  4. Bring it together and iron out any tweaks
  5. Hit publish on your awesome new website!

Even better if you introduce your website copywriter with your website designer, so they can chat! Collaboration between experts not only provides you with a better outcome, but you also don’t have to act as the go-between.

But if you don’t live in an ideal world where you work with copywriters and designers simultaneously, understanding the process will still help you to get great results. And remember – use the information architecture principles to organise your copy (before getting distracted with fun designs). 

Let’s go into those points in a bit more detail…

Step one: Initial design and planning of your website

First, you need to work out what your goals are for a new website. What are you trying to achieve? How will this new website support your business goals?

The likelihood is if you’re looking at redesigning your website or setting up a new one, you will want to review your brand as a whole. It’s the best time to do this… and there are a number of different approaches to take. There are expert brand strategists out there, alongside brand identity designers. It depends on the type of support you need…

One of the key questions to ask yourself is, do you have a clearly defined brand identity (the visuals: logo, colour scheme, typography etc.) that you’re happy with? If not, this should be your first step – and you’ll need a designer. 

Step two: Build your expert team (design and copy)

If your company already has a good idea about who your target audience is, what your unique offer is, why people should hire you, and your values, then it’s likely you can hire a designer to form a new brand identity that aligns with this information. 

However, if you do not know this information or you’re unsure, a brand strategist can be invaluable. They get to the bottom of your brand, building strong foundations for you to progress in the best way.

When it comes to brand messaging, this includes working out the key themes you need to communicate. It should complement your brand identity, together representing your overall brand. Don’t forget about your tone of voice here – not just what you say, but also how you say it. 

Some web design agencies include copywriting in their proposal, but if you’re using a freelance web designer it’s unlikely. And it’s useful to know that hiring expert freelancers can give you a more tailored service, as an in-house copywriter might not have the right skills for what you need. 

(psst… I can develop your brand voice for you – it’s a standard part of my done-for-you website copy package)

If you have not hired a brand designer who can deliver your website too, it’s time to find a great website designer/developer who can build the site. Ideally, you want to have an initial conversation so your website designer can start the general look and feel of the site.

Step three: Get going with development and writing

Now your team are on board and has a clear brief to fulfil your vision, you can leave them to get on with their thing. Whether that’s an agency or multiple freelancers, the process should be similar.

From my point of view as a website copywriter, this stage involves: 

  • Customer research – interviewing your customers, looking at voice of customer research online forums etc. 
  • Competitor research – looking at what others are doing (and what they’re not) 
  • SEO keyword research – to find out what people are searching for to optimise your copy 
  • Planning your website copy – using the information architecture principles above 
  • Writing the website copy – bringing your voice and personality to life while showcasing your value to potential customers 

Your website developer will have their own research and development process, depending on what you need and the style of website you’re looking for. 

Tom Garfield, the founder of conversion-focused web design agency brand new notebook, said: 

“My perfect situation would be:

  • Strategy + Goals
  • Messaging
  • User stories
  • Sitemap and Information Architecture
  • Visual ideas/moodboard
  • Copy V1
  • Wireframes V1
  • Copy V2
  • Wireframes V2
  • Design V1
  • Copy V3 (final ????)
  • Design V2
  • Design V3
  • Build V1
  • Copy review in context of UI + devices
  • Copy tweaks
  • Testing
  • Launch”

As you can see from this, the copy and design are integral to each other!  

 

Step four: Bring it together and iron out any tweaks

If you can speak with your designer and copywriter at the same time, it will help the final stages to run seamlessly. You may have tweaks to both the copy and the design – and that’s expected. 

With my website copywriting packages, I always include two rounds of amendments. The first round irons out any of the larger issues and the second round is there as a final chance to get everything ready to launch. 

It’s often useful to see the copy in situ on a new website design before the second amendments are confirmed, as it starts to be brought to life. 

Step five: Hit publish on your awesome new website!

Hooray – you can publish your new website! Now you have a well-rounded platform that not only looks great but also represents your brand voice. 

When the relationship between copy and design is considered from the beginning of the process, you’re much more likely to get a website that fully represents your brand and delivers all the information your potential customers need (with good user experience principles). 

It’s likely you will adapt your website as time goes on – remember to re-evaluate your copy any time your business changes. That could be a new service, changing customer profiles, or even streamlining what you offer. 

Plus, don’t forget to update your website with regular content and case studies, which are especially useful for project-based businesses to demonstrate your expertise. 

The relationship between website copy and design 

Now you understand how copy and design work together, you can get the best results for your business and remove the headache from the process.

If you need help developing your brand voice and bringing it to life through website copy, I can help. I work with businesses to structure a clear, persuasive, and personality-packed message that’s tailored to your audience.

Find out more about my signature done-for-you website copywriting package here or get in touch to arrange a discovery call.

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