Taking the plunge with a copywriter? Here’s what you need to know before you get started…
Copywriters have the ability to turn dull as dishwater content that sits there like a festering pond, into dynamic, flowing content that transports your customers through your site. But if you’ve never worked with a copywriter before, it’s a leap of faith that can be daunting to take. It helps to be prepared. So, what can you expect from your copywriter, and what should you know before you start working with them?
What does a copywriter do?
Obvious question, you might think, but the answer is not as simple as ‘write copy’. As with anyone working in digital, the role is much more complex than it seems on the surface.
Copy has many functions on a website, from communicating the brand messaging, to terms and conditions. Whatever its function, copywriting isn’t about writing lots of words, it’s about writing just the right amount of words to communicate the message effectively and it works in combination with the other elements on a website – pictures, videos, graphics, animations – to do it.
The role of the copywriter will depend very much on the objective of the content. For example, the objective may be to increase organic (non-paid for) search engine traffic to the website. In which case the copywriter will be focused on improving the search engine optimisation (read our earlier blog to find out why this means more than just adding in keywords).
Another objective may be to build authority. In this case the copywriter’s role is about demonstrating expertise through compelling content and integrating evidence of success such as testimonials, professional qualifications or reviews.
Whatever the objective, copy should be effective, engaging and where appropriate, delightful.
When should you get a copywriter involved?
Copywriting can be required at any stage in a website’s life, but it’s most often at the launch of a new website or as part of a website overhaul. People often seek the support of the copywriter right at the end of the website development process, but I would encourage you to bring your copywriter on board earlier to work closely with the developers and graphic designers in a unified approach. Working together they can create a design that addresses your needs much more effectively and quickly and without the need for repetition on your part or costly changes to work already done.
What does the copywriting process look like?
Even before a copywriter types one word, there is much work to do. Here’s a breakdown of the core activities of a copywriter:
- Conducting and gathering research
A copywriter’s work begins with research. This can include primary research such as interviews with business personnel and key stakeholders, competition analysis, customer research, keyword analysis and digital insights; as well as secondary research, such as trawling through existing documentation to pull out key information.
The research will help to determine what the core messaging should be and how it should be organised. Research can be time consuming and the amount of research done will be a big factor in the overall fee. But the more exploration is done, particularly into customer sentiment and behaviour, the more effective the copy will be.
2. Providing advice on all areas of content
Copywriters are experts in not just language, but in the digital environment, content law (such as copyright) and their unique specialist subjects.
Most copywriters would consider themselves generalists who can turn their hand to any subject matter. They might have long and varied careers that have given them a broad understanding of writing across the spectrum. Often copywriters have specialist subjects, or they may be specialist in a certain type of copywriting, for example SEO copywriting or eCommerce copywriting.
They should be able to advise on these areas throughout the copywriting experience.
3. Designing wireframes
A wireframe is a basic outline of the content as it will appear on the page. This provides the structure and hierarchy with which to hang the copy on. It’s very difficult to write website copy without a wireframe, as without it you don’t know how the copy will work on the page, or what segments need copy. There may be text boxes that require titles, or call to action buttons that need to be written, or legal information that needs to be incorporated, for example.
Not all copywriters will provide the wireframe, with some relying on the web developer to provide the structure. It will depend on the experience of the copywriter whether they are confident in creating a structure that addresses the user experience and page objectives effectively.
The wireframe should consider the way the website will be used, as well as its structure. How the user interacts with the page will determine copy length, style and structure. They’ll think about if the content would work better in an accordion that reveals only when hovered over, or on a carousel, or in a pop-up, for example. Most important is to think about what the client wants the customer to do on every page in order to create an optimised journey.
Whether the wireframe is shared with the client or not at this stage will depend very much on the client/copywriter relationship. If a client is particularly cautious, this draft can be a good way to ensure they have something tangible to look at early doors and to bring them along in the process.
4. Creating the first draft
A first draft will be submitted based on the information provided by the client to the copywriter. I always submit my first draft as a Canva website design, so my clients can really get an idea of what the copy looks like on the page and how it flows together. Not all copywriters will do this, some opt instead for word documents.
Whichever option a copywriter takes, this is the first point that the client sees the copy in place and it can be a confronting experience. Sometimes the first draft won’t hit the mark. This can be for a number of reasons.
One reason is that copywriters can only work with the information that they are given. Sometimes this is limited and they have to do a lot of external research which may not align completely to the hopes of the client. Another reason is that sometimes, when seen in stark reality, the client realises that what they thought they wanted wasn’t right after all.
It can sting for both parties (after all, copywriters really care about making their clients happy), but whatever the reason, you should always feel secure in raising with your copywriter that you would like changes to the copy, and do so as early as possible to prevent the same issues occurring on future pages. Most copywriters will include at least one set of revisions in their price, though complete overhauls may be charged at an extra cost. The most important thing is that you’re happy with the copy that you receive and that it’s effective.
5. Editing after feedback
If required, a copywriter will make edits to the copy as requested. This is often a time where the advisory role comes into play. Sometimes a client will ask for an edit that the copywriter knows could cause an issue for the users of the website, or for the overall messaging on the website.
At this point the copywriter may have to suggest another way of doing things that doesn’t compromise on the effectiveness of the page. It’s worth being open to suggestions, as a copywriter will only raise an issue if they deem it necessary in their professional opinion.
What does a copywriter need to know before they start writing?
So now you know the process, what do you need to prepare? The information provided in the kick-off meeting with your copywriter is key to creating a smooth experience and ensuring your copy can be produced quickly. A copywriter should always start with an interview with the appropriate contact to determine some key information, which will include:
- What are the core objectives of the website? This could be something like ‘Selling products’, or ‘Providing information’ but it could be more nuanced, like ‘exciting and enticing our audience’ or ‘building a fanbase’
- What are you hoping to achieve with the new copy? This could be improving organic (non-paid for) traffic from search engines, or securing the sale once they’ve landed on the page
- What are the main traffic sources to the website and how would you like to change that balance?
- What is your customer branding? This will include tone, voice, writing rules, mission and vision if available.
- What are the main messages that you want to convey?
- What is the key information that needs to be shared?
- What do your customers want from your website?
So before you dive into working with your copywriter, do your prep. The more information you can provide, the more likely you are to receive a first draft that floats your boat, and your customers’ too.
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