How to create good copy for your website: part 1 – plan it
There comes a time in the life of any website project when you have to write the actual copy for your web pages. Many find this a daunting task while others think it’s relatively quick and easy, only to discover that they’ve badly underestimated the time, thought and skill required to get the job done.
In this post, I take a look at the critical first step to creating good website copy – planning the text that will go on each individual page.
The best time to do this is after you have completed your ‘whole site’ planning – when you have a clear structure and a good idea of the design and layout of the pages and the different media elements (text, graphics, images, audio, video) that will be included on the page.
Your web developer should have asked you lots of probing questions to help you clarify all the important aspects at site level – including the primary and other audiences for your website as a whole and its overall purpose.
Key tip #1
Avoid starting to write actual page copy if you’ve skipped any of this site level planning or are still unclear about anything at this ‘top’ level.
Why? Because you’ll struggle as you drill down into the detail of the site and start to work on individual pages. The more complex your site, the more difficult it will be.
And a couple of things might happen – neither of which are especially desirable.
- You’ll very quickly get into a muddle about what content to put where
- You’ll end up with a new site that reads a lot like your old one – so why bother?
Creating copy for individual web pages
Once you are sure you are clear about overall structure and direction, you can start thinking about individual pages and what to put on them.
But before you start to write anything, there’s more planning to be done.
Key tip #2
Resist the pressure to start writing before you’ve completed the following planning process for EACH page.
Why? Because page planning will give you a framework that will help you
- Stay focused
- Avoid getting ‘blocked’
- Create clarity and impact for your audience
- Be concise and avoid repetition
- Organise multiple thoughts logically
- Write better copy more quickly
The page planning process
Take each of your identified pages in turn and jot down brief notes under the following 5 headings: audience, purpose, keyword phrases, content and structure.
I’ve given you some pointers and questions in each case.
You may be a list person or a mind mapper, just use whatever method suits you best.
Your aim is to create a framework within which to actually write the copy for your page.
Whether your approach to writing is to pour words onto the page and hope for the best, or you find it difficult to get started … this will help.
You know who your audiences are for your site as a whole, so now you need to note down your primary audience for this specific page.
- Go for clarity – imagine one specific person, ideally someone you know, and visualise them in your mind’s eye
- What are their needs, problems, pains?
- What are their likely emotional triggers?
- How well do they know you? This has implications for tone of voice and language.
- What is their relationship with the topic of the page – expert or novice? This has implications for content depth, detail and appropriate use of jargon.
Each page must have a clear purpose.
- What is the reason for including this page in your website?
- What is the key message you want to convey to someone reading this page?
- What do you want the reader to understand, experience and feel (head and heart) as a result of reading it?
- What do you want them to do?
3. Keyword phrases
On the web all text is searchable. You may have done some work on keywords already with your web developer. At the very least, you should have a clear idea of how important SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is for your site. Even if you are in a very competitive sector when it comes to keywords, your web developer or SEO specialist may have identified some niche opportunities for you or recommended a certain search strategy.
Whatever your SEO position, you will still have lots of readers landing on your pages (however they get there), so we need to make them feel like they’re in the right place.
So, go back to your audience for this page and ask
- Who are they?
- What are they going to be interested in?
- What might they be searching or looking for?
- What words are they using to find what they’re searching for?
- And if they are thinking and talking about it, what words are they using to describe it?
- Therefore, what keywords or keyword phrases should you include in your page copy?
Key tip #3
Avoid words that you use to describe what you do – unless you are certain they are the same words your audience would use. This is all about them and the way they think – and they are usually trying to find a solution to a problem.
4. Content – the ‘what’ or key facts
Bearing 1 – 3 in mind, now note down WHAT you ideally want to include – the key facts and key points … and here’s the main thing … the key facts and key points that will appeal to your audience and help you achieve your purpose.
- Keep it simple and keep it focused
- Avoid padding and unnecessary informational narrative
- If you find yourself noting down a lot of detail chances are you need to put that detail elsewhere – maybe in a downloadable document (unless you are consciously creating a detailed page for a highly interested or already ‘engaged’ reader)
- Write bullet points – resist morphing into copywriting mode … remember, this is just a framework to capture the key factual elements of the content for this page – you’ll do the copywriting later
- Include things like whether you want to include a quote or a hyperlink and, most importantly, what your ‘call to action’ (CTA) is for this page – what you want people to do as a result of reading it
Now you know precisely what you want to include on this particular page, it’s time to think about structure.
Every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end and your web page is no different.
At this point in the planning process, all you need to do is look back over your content or ‘what’ notes and identify a logical progression for those facts.
Indeed, think of it as a story and pretend you are ‘explaining’ the topic of this page to the person you imagined in the ‘audience’ section above.
We’ll get into this in more detail when we get to part 3 in this series (see below).
Wrapping it up
In this post ‘How to create good copy for your website: part 1 – plan it’, I’ve covered:
- Why you must do your site level planning before starting work on individual pages
- Why you need to plan each page before you start writing it
- The 5 main page planning elements of audience, purpose, keyword phrases, content and structure
- How these form a framework within which to actually write your page copy
- And the benefits of page planning – as opposed to just jumping in there and slapping a torrent of words onto the page
This may sound like a lot of time to invest before you actually start writing … but it’s actually more about giving conscious thought to these questions than the amount of time it takes.
And you will get to finished copy faster – with less frustration and less time wasted in ‘endless’ edits. Honestly. Trust me.
As Abraham Lincoln once said
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Coming up in this series of ‘How to create good web page copy’
- Part 2 – find your voice
- Part 3 – write it