Writing the content for your new website can be a daunting task.
In this post you’ll find out how to get content together in a way that suits both you and your web designer and makes the process that little bit easier.
We’re going to assume you’ve already decided what pages and features to include on your website, and will concentrate here on what content you need to create and how to organise it.
We’ll start with the first - and possibly most important - thing you need to consider…
Get your timing right
There are many different opinions about when in the project you should create your content.
Some say you should write all the content before the design’s started, but we know a lot of our clients find it hard to know what to write when they don’t know what the page layout looks like.
Whichever way you look at it, one thing I think everyone can agree on is not to leave it to the last minute.
The golden rule with creating content is to start early.
We recommend doing it in two stages;
Stage one: Before design
The first stage needs to be done before the design starts.
When you go through the planning process with your web designer, figure out which pages are going to be mocked-up for the design presentation. These are usually the key pages of the site, and give you a good idea of the look-and-feel of the design. At this point you need to know roughly what’s going to go on these pages.
Let’s say you’re going to see designs for the Home page, an About page, a Services page and a Project page. You need to write all the content for those pages, and those pages only at this stage.
Getting this to the designer before they start means the design they’ll produce will be much more “real” and authentic than if they have to use dummy latin text and placeholder images.
Talk to your designer and get their input/feedback on what you’ve written.
Is it too much for what they had in mind? Too little? You don’t have to worry about it being absolutely 100% word perfect at this point, cos there’ll be opportunities to make tweaks later, but try and get it 95% as you want it.
Stage two: Before development
The rest of the content needs to be completed before the site’s developed, so that what you get back from the developer is a fully-populated website that looks like the finished article, ready for checking.
As soon as the design’s been agreed, get cracking; you’ll know at this point what the layout of the pages will look like, which will help you when you’re working on the rest of your copy and images.
There’s two things you should do to help you get organised;
Make a list of all the pages you need to write content for, and put it somewhere everyone can share it. The list doesn’t need to be that detailed; you’re just going to use it as a way of tracking what’s been done and what’s left to do.
We recommend using a spreadsheet in Google Docs, so everyone can access it and edit it if they need to.
Spend time up front producing simple content templates, to help you keep focused on what you need to put on each page. Again, it doesn’t need to be anything fancy; a Word document or similar for each page will be fine.
On each document, set out sections that correspond to what you need on the web page. Add notes about what sort of content’s required, to help keep you on track, and fill in the docs - almost like a form - as you work your way through the site.
Choosing the right format for providing your copy
There’s plenty of ways you could provide your copy. The best way is probably going to be the one you feel most comfortable with.
The task’s daunting enough - don’t throw in an unfamiliar bit of software as another obstacle if you don’t need to. Talk to your designer to help choose something that works for you both.
Keep it simple and use something you’re familiar with
Word documents work quite well because you can indicate any styling you’ve got in mind; things like your headings, bullet lists, and where you want to emphasis individual words with bold or italic text.
Keep all your documents organised when you deliver them to the designer by using something like Dropbox, where you can use a folder structure to keep your docs in line with the site hierarchy. We use Dropbox for most of our projects; it’s not overly complicated and clients have often used it before.
How to write your content
Good copywriting is a whole different topic on its own. We’ve written two blog posts for you to refer to about how to write better copy for your website;
How much is the right amount?
There’s a few things to remember here;
First off, most people who know about these things reckon Google likes at least 350 words of copy on a web page. Less than that and it hasn’t got enough detail to get its teeth into.
Secondly (and sorry if this sounds obvious), some pages are going to need more copy than others.
For example, if you’re writing a page that’s intended to get your customer to take a particular action - like getting in contact with you - don’t bore them with too much writing.
On the other hand, if you’re writing a detailed technical piece, a set of instructions, or maybe an FAQ page, you might need to go more in-depth.
Aim for 350-500 words for your shorter pages, and up to 1,500 for your longer pages.
Finally, with over 50% of users now using the web on a mobile or tablet, think about how you read copy on these devices. Have you ever noticed how long a 5 sentence paragraph looks on a phone?
How to provide your images
Don’t put your images into your Word document. The designer/developer won’t thank you for it.
They need your images at as high a resolution as possible - so the bigger the better.
When you send your first batch of content for the design stage, check with your designer that they’re happy with the quality and size of your images. If they’re no good, you can get some pointers on where you’re going wrong so you can get it right for the rest of your content.
You should also agree on who’s making the final decision on what images appear on the site. Will you provide a shortlist and leave it to the designer to decide which one to use, or put in a bit more time and choose them yourself?
Think about file names. “DSC01356.jpg” means nothing to anyone.
It’s vital you give your images useful filenames. A file called “About Us Team Photo.jpg” is much easier to match up than “DSC01356.jpg”, and you must clearly show the filename on your Word documents where you want images to appear on the page.
Separate out your images from your copy, and use something like Dropbox again to send them over. Putting images in the same folder as the relevant Word document is always helpful to the person who’s going to be putting everything together.
Hints and tips
How can you make your content more interesting, engaging and effective?
Make it about the reader and put them at the centre of your writing. Use “you” and “your” more than “we” and “our”. They want to know how you can help them.
Use storytelling to show examples your reader can relate to. Everyone loves a good story. It’s a great way to talk about your goods or services without coming off all salesy.
Visually break up your copy using a variety of formatting. Use headings to draw the reader’s eye to important topics within the page, use bullet lists to describe multiple options, and think about how images can add value to the words.
Content for ecommerce sites
If you’re preparing content for products on an ecommerce site, you need to adopt a slightly different approach.
Make a spreadsheet listing all your products, and put in columns all the data that’s going on the individual product page (Product Name, Price, Short description, Colour, Product Code, etc.).
Ask your web developer for the column headings they want you to use, or even better, see if they can provide a template spreadsheet for you to fill in.
Save your images separately as before and upload them to Dropbox, remembering to name your files carefully so they can be matched with the right product.
Finally, don’t underestimate how important it is for everyone to keep up-to-date with progress.
Update your designer regularly as to where you’re up, how you’re getting on, and whether you’re struggling with any of it.
Don’t forget to let them know about any changes you’ve made to documents or images you might have already given them, and agree on a timetable to avoid misunderstandings about which version of your documents are the right ones to use.
Agree on a deadline for when content’s actually going to be added to the site, and when you can make edits on-site via your Content Management System (CMS).
Try to deliver the remainder of your content either in one go, or by sections, rather than bit-by-bit - it’s much harder for the designer to keep track of things otherwise.
Quality is everything
All too often, content’s the thing that’s left til last, and thrown together by someone who’s got 20 other more important things on their to-do list.
But your content’s as important as anything else, and can make the difference between your site being a success or failure.
Give it the attention it deserves.