Which comes first - content or design? Catherine Every, freelance B2B copywriterWhich comes first - content or design? Catherine Every, freelance B2B copywriter

Which comes first – content or design?

in Blog and website content copywriting

When you’re working on a new website, which bit should you work on first? The design or the content?

I’m talking about it now because I’ve been invited to quote on a couple of website projects recently where the design’s already been in place. Spaces have been allocated for content and there are word counts for each section.

As a copywriter this makes me put my head in my hands.

Shoehorns and waffle

Templates mean your copywriter is trying to shoehorn or pad content everywhere they look.

A product that sells for £1,000 will probably have more features and benefits than a product that sells for £100. And even if it doesn’t, a potential buyer will take more persuading to part with £1,000 than they will to part with £100.

But invariably there’s only one design for product pages.

You don’t want to crowbar all the information on the £1000 product into the 350 words the template allows. In the same way, you don’t want to have to waffle to fill 350 words on the £100 product.

Both versions do your products – and your prospective customers – a disservice.

Copy as an after-thought

Almost inevitably in projects like this, there’s a tight timescale involved. They’ve taken a long time getting the design right and now they want the website out in the world achieving ROI. They just need some words to replace the lorum ipsem – and quickly.

It’s understandable. It’s also a false economy.

I recently wrote a blog called Why is copywriting so expensive? In it, I made the argument that it’s the copy that does the heavy lifting in your marketing. It’s the copy that turns people from being potential buyers to being actual buyers. If you rush the copy and just want to get some words in there to meet an (often artificial) deadline, you’re undoing all the hard work you put into the design. Because the copy won’t be working as hard as it could do.

A better way forward

It’s probably clear by now that I don’t think the design should come first in the website project. But I don’t necessarily think the content should come first either. I’m proposing a much more collaborative approach.

Given the chance, copywriters and designers will actively seek to engage with each other – and the rest of the team – from the very earliest stages of a project.

Designers understand the importance of copy as well as design. Copywriters understand the importance of design as well as copy. When they work as part of a team to make sure their work is working in harmony to deliver on the website’s objectives, truly great things can happen.

When a project is passed from designer to copywriter as if it were on a conveyor belt, there’s an opportunity missed.

For me, the first thing to get right is the site structure and customer journey through the site. What pages do you need? How should they fit together? What information will customers need at what point?

This will make a big difference to the way the website comes together.

Let’s take a simplistic example. Let’s say your business sells ten products.

Of those, three are aimed at big business. They’re very expensive and very profitable but you sell relatively few and converting a prospect to a buyer is a long process that involves a lot of jumping through hoops.

Three products are aimed at medium-sized businesses. They’re mid-priced and moderately profitable and require a moderate level of input to convert prospect to sale.

Four are aimed at individuals. They’re very cheap and have very tight margins, but they sell in bucketloads so they make a solid contribution to the bottom line overall (which is why you’re still selling them).

You’ll want to approach the way you sell these products online very differently.

On the most expensive products you might want the call to action to be to book a call or a demo because you know there’ll be a lot of interaction before you actually make the sale. The sooner you get people on that path, the better.

On the moderately priced products you want to make the buying journey easy, enabling people to make a purchase but giving them the opportunity to speak to you if they want.

On the cheap products, you want to remove as much friction as possible. You want people to buy without interacting with you because interacting with you is disastrous for your profit margins. So you might want to include plenty of information, carefully structured so they can ‘self-serve’.

When you do this in-depth thinking, you’ll also start to think about what sort of copy and design will be needed on each page to maximise the selling opportunities. You can even start to wireframe page content so you know where calls to action might fit in or where links to related content might sit.

A collaborative process; a more rewarding result

When you involve your designer and your copywriter from the very earliest stages, they’ll be able to offer invaluable input and ideas. The whole process will be more complex and time-consuming, for sure. But you’ll end up with something that works much harder than something that was constructed in a process that was a bit like a factory assembly line. In other words, you’ll end up with something that delivers you a better ROI.

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