Is Copy Part of Web Design

I came across this as a discussion point from the boagworld podcast, and thought that it was somethning I could comment on. The reason I think I might be able to add to this debate is that unlike most of the people speaking on it, I work in a marketing department that happens to be geeky enough to design, code and write our own sites. We are therefore creating the complete site including copy.

Okay have said that, as usual there seems to cases for and against arguing that the copy is part of the design. As I see it these are as follows: –

Cases for copy being part of web design

  • The style of the copy should match that of the design. It is no use having a very corporate looking site, and then using informal language in your copy. Equally an eclectic looking site should not be written in a formal style.
  • This is the most important one for me…SEO. Your content needs to be written in such a way that it is both attractive and easy to scan and read, as well as being search engine friendly. Meta descriptions, headings  etc also need to match the content. This is not an easy job, and is certainly not something that you can just re-use content from your brochure, or sales letters and plonk it in. It is also something that in my experience, requires a bit of experience, and enough time to research how to make the most of your heading, what you can and cannot do etc.
  • The copy should also be brief and pointed. Something us marketers sometimes have trouble doing. It should also be largely ‘sales talk’ free. One way to quickly lose a web user is to pitch to them!
  • Keyword research allows the correct search terms to be targeted rather than terms that are used by the company.

Cases against copy being part of web design

  • A big problem is often that the web design company will have no experience in the particular product or service on the website. The only way to get them up to speed on it would be some level of product training, or providing notes or other promotional material that they can base their copy on. However in our experience copywriters only rarely do a good job, and writing in a web style may mean that it looks worse than it actually is. In general us marketing types like to word things certain ways to match our customers requirements, and there is often good reason for that.
  • Use of material. This is also a big one. To be honest I hope this objection is dying out, but many old school marketers don’t want their information re-used or re-purposed in ways that they are not totally aware of.
  • Terminology. This can be an issue if particular language is often used at a company. I run across this frequently at the company I work for. My favourite terms I have managed to cut out in the last few years are ‘double return flat face gutter’ and ‘full length butt hinge’. I’m sure these are important to our designers, but to most of our customer, this means nothing. However in many cases certain terminology might conflict with key word research.

Conclusion

So what would be my conclusion from this? In my opinion the advantages of having copy as part of the web design process far outweigh the disadvantages. A good copy writer should be able to take content given to them and repurpose it so that it hits the correct keywords, is more scannable, and still meets the marketing requirements (if those are made clear to them).

The third point I made up in the againsts, is really a for if you turn it around. Company specific terminology should not be used on a website, more generic terms make things easier to understand and opens up the site to a far wider audience of clients which may not have dealt with you before.

Do I think this will happen quickly? Probably not! Traditional marketing may not quite get the web yet, but try selling your services to companies that do, or alternatively companies that don’t have a large enough marketing team to do it themselves. Once you have a few under your belt, you will probably find that you can get others by reference.

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