Redesign: Who’s Your Copywriter?

Companies spend great sums of money designing their websites each year in hopes of increased revenue and brand influence.

Companies spend great sums of money designing their websites each year in hopes of increased revenue and brand influence.

Exclusive designers are contracted to create gorgeous interfaces. Vast numbers of engineers are hoarded to code scalable enterprise solutions.

Marketers are called upon to create promotion roadmaps. But who’s writing the copy? If content is King, why is it treated like a second-class citizen?

Content is King, Treat it That Way.

Copywriting should be a generous portion of any project. My opinion is that every project should have at least one full-time resource dedicated towards copywriting.

It’s fine to have several people from different department form drafts of copy for the website - everything should be run through one person that knows your brand.

The goal is to create a body of copy that is consistent, entertaining, and professional. When you have dozens of pages of content, it’s important to keep the writing top-notch.

If you want your visitors to read even a tenth of your content, you’ve got to give them a reason to read it. Make the copy addictive.

One of the greatest examples of addictive writing was the original 37 Signals manifesto.

Unfortunately, I can’t think of a single corporate website that meets these standards. I know exactly why, too. I’ve been on the production side of dozens of projects, and every one comes together exactly the same. The internet marketing manager puts out a request to various departments in the company to put together a set number of pages defined in the IA phase of a redesign.

Once each department receives this request they throw it at the person with the most available time - usually a junior employee with little to no writing experience.

The final result is a mishmash of overly technical writing that’s just flat out boring. The copy is ridden with grammatical mistakes and spelling errors. It’s not consistent, it’s boring, and it makes the reader lose interest before they’ve finished the first page. The copy sucks.

Copywriting is Interface Design.

Going beyond paragraphs of text on the page, copywriting is interface design. The boys over at 37 Signals have put it eloquently in one of their getting real articles published almost a year ago:

Do you label a button “Submit” or “Save” or “Update” or “New” or “Create” ?

That’s copywriting.

Do you write 3 sentences or 5? Do you explain with general examples or with details?

Do you label content “New” or “Updated” or “Recently Updated” or “Modified” ?

Is it “There are new messages: 5” or “There are 5 new messages” or is it “5” or “five” or “messages” or “posts “?

All of this matters.

They’re right.

Details matter, and choices that a CEO may deem inconsequential can make a big difference in the user experience.

Copywriting is Your Brand.

Beyond design, copywriting is your brand.

Every sentence, every word, every punctuation mark.

Does your brand speak in long sentences, short sentences, or bullet points?

Let’s take a look at some of the most consistent writing on the web - Apple.

Here’s an excerpt from their Macbook Pro page:

Powered by a dual-core Intel engine. Up to five times the speed of the PowerBook G4. Eight times the graphics bandwidth. With built-in iSight for instant video conferencing on the move. Front Row with Apple Remote to dazzle everyone in the room. Now available in 15- and 17-inch models starting at just $1999.

Notice the sentence structure and flow of the words. There is no mention of “the machine” or “the notebook.” Features are simply written.

The words are as simple as possible, and each proprietary term (such as iSight and Front Row) is immediately followed with a commonplace example usage to give readers a frame of reference.

In fact, the writing just feels clean.

Apple is clean. Apple’s writing is clean.