You hired a web design firm to create a new site or app for your company. Everything is ready – site structure, design, layout, functionality. The firm just needs one thing from you before the site can launch…

They need you to write the copy.

They’ve all but finished the site, now you just need to write it. Okay?

Sure, why not?
This might make total sense to you. Someone on your marketing team will write the site or app as they would a newsletter or report or anything else – create the copy and plug it into the design template. Alternatively, you might decide to hire a freelancer to do the same thing or hey, you write things all the time, you might do it yourself.

Whoa there.
Things work a lot differently on the web than in long form traditional writing. Online, words should feed your visitors’ tasks and actions alongside design and functionality. Copy must be beyond effortless to skim and still get the gist. Content can end up at cross purposes with the rest of the site if it doesn’t follow a consistent strategy. Good sites and apps incorporate content as part of the overall process. Not all writers, great as they might be, are necessarily trained for this kind of project.

Good sites and apps incorporate content as part of the overall process.

This is not a DIY job.

The truth is, you or your team should not, under any circumstances, write your own web or app content. Even if you’re a good writer. Even if you’re a great writer. Even if you’re the next William Shakespeare. And what’s more, the company building your site or app should never ask you to.

No, but really.
The only way your team should write their own web content is if you have a trained specialist onboard.

Finding a Specialist

When you go to the doctor, you pick the right one for the right job. You pick the doctor with the training, the track record, and who has specialized in their area for a long time. A general practitioner may take care of common appointments and treatments like sore throats, immunizations, and yearly physicals, but when the problem gets more specific, so does the doctor. When you need a knee replacement, you go to an orthopedic surgeon, not your general practitioner.

You shouldn’t go to just any writer, great as they might be, and expect them to know how to write site or app copy.

Hiring Content Specialists
Just like you wouldn’t go to any old doctor for a specialized problem, you shouldn’t go to just any writer, great as they might be, and expect them to know how to write site or app copy. Even William Shakespeare, would not be good for web writing. That’s because he’s not a content specialist, he’s a sonnet and playwriting specialist.

Look for a writer who specializes in online content. Of course, you’ll look at their past projects and training. But you’ll really know them by the way they talk your ear off about microcopy, scanning for keywords, and user tasks. Finding and hiring an external firm that cares about content and employs solid online writers would work the same way.

Building Internal Expertise
Members of your team can learn to understand and write web content, particularly if they’re already strong writers. You should stock up on reading material about content strategy, how users read online, and action-oriented copy.* Try your content out on real users and see how they respond. Study sites that are doing it right and dissect them to see how the words work with design and functionality. It will take time and a willingness to throw off traditional writing rules, and you may not be able to muster that before your site or app launches. But if you can, it will strengthen it hundredfold.

A firm that waits to think about content until the end is only going to deliver you a pretty shell to wedge words into.

Prepare for an Uphill Battle

When a firm asks you to write your own web copy, they’re showing you that they care so little about words, they don’t even include them as part of their process. This spells doom for your project from the very beginning.

A firm that waits to think about content until the end is only going to deliver you a pretty shell to wedge words into. The trouble is, your site or app is only as good as its whole. It will only succeed if each part – including the words – works as part of a unified experience.

A good content specialist will challenge your firm to move in this direction. But late in the project, that’s going to be difficult. Any progress you make with your content specialist’s input will make your site or app better, but even small wins won’t be easy going.

The Secret to Really Great Content

If you employ a specialist to write your web content, like you would for any other professional service, it will improve your site or app leaps and bounds over trying to take a stab at it yourself. You’re doing the right thing to give the words serious consideration by someone who knows what they’re doing, even if it’s late in the game.

But the real secret to creating content that serves visitors’ needs impeccably, helps create a great user experience, and leads to a wildly successful site or app? Go back in time and start thinking about the words from day one. If content is part of defining your project all along, you’ll avoid last-minute hiring scrambles, or subpar copy leading to a subpar site or app.

Anyone working on your website or app should know that words are a big deal. Anyone doing the writing should know how to integrate content into an overall strategy from the beginning, and make copy work in unison with design and functionality. If you make your content an integral part of your project from the start and demand that anyone working with you does too, your site or app will have a much greater chance for success.

* Good starter articles:

  1. Usable content:
    Writing in chunks:
  2. Hiring a content strategist:
  3. Bonus! A video about how people read online:
  4. Want a full book? Try The Elements of Content Strategy by Kristina Halvorson, from A Book Apart.


About truematter

Our team has been doing the real work of user experience since the earliest days of the commercial web. We’re out to make your digital products a whole lot better.

You can bet that if you ask us about content strategy, microcopy, scanning for keywords, or anything about reading and writing online, we’ll talk your ear off about it.

Author: @baileysendsword
Illustration: Rannah Derrick
Author: @ExperienceDean