Archive for the 'Web Writing' Category

What to expect from your web designer

Over the years I’ve heard so many “shake your head” and pure horror stories regarding web development projects that I often stop listening part way through. I’ve heard it all before.

But today I heard something that made me stop and think. A prospective client was expressing frustration over something that his web designer told him. She said that it was “his job” to give her the content in the order she wanted it and when she wanted it. “She’s telling me that I have to do 40% of the project,” he said. “It seems to me that I should have known this at the start,” he concluded.

It’s important to note that he wasn’t angry with his designer. He was merely expressing frustration to a stranger whom he had called for help with writing content. What got my attention was the common refrain surrounding expectations.

What, then, should a client expect from a web designer?

Setting and managing expectations are key ingredients to any business relationship. Now I don’t know what the designer originally told her client. I’ve set forth “to do lists” for clients hundreds of times and quite often the difficulty of certain tasks don’t hit home until the job is at hand. But in my case, clients rarely get to the point of frustration because I CAN write content if they need me to – of course, change of scope change of price.

When you’re talking to most web designers, however, you’re not talking to writers who know CSS and HTML. You’re talking to graphics people, who, for the most part, don’t write. Larger firms may have staff writers or they have a relationship with a content developer like me. But smaller, local web design firms usually just shrug their shoulder and point to that to do list, the one that states that content is YOUR problem.

So when you’re search for a web design firm – I prefer web development because it’s more inclusive – make sure to spend a good bit of time talking about content. After all, I would argue that content is more like 70-80% of most web projects, not 40%.

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Writing for the Web

I’ve been writing professionally for 35 years – everything from ad copy to video scripts to novels (3 with 1 published). More to the point, I’ve been writing content for websites since 1997. So what makes writing for the web unique?

Let’s start with the similarities:

  • All effective writing, regardless of the medium, is storytelling.
  • A clear, concise style with an emphasis on short sentences is most effective.
  • Headlines matter.

Website Requirements:

  • Write straight forward headlines- unlike advertising copywriting, which relies on clever to “breakthrough” the clutter, there is no time for clever headlines on a website. Visitors will not take the time to figure out what point you’re making. Instead, your main headline should clearly state what the website is all about and sub-heads should introduce new thoughts or sections.
  • Layer your content – Most everyone first skims a web page. So if you all you’re presenting is a long narrative, people won’t be able to make up their minds quickly enough. And when that happens online, they go elsewhere. So use headlines, sub-heads and bullet points liberally. Bold key messages and also be generous with your use of links.
  • Plan your keywords and phrases – sounds ominous but it’s really just common sense. In school we were taught to outline our thoughts before starting our narrative. Formulating keywords is no different. Each page of your website should have a focus (preferably just one). Before you begin to write for that page, jot down the words that best describe what you’re about to write, then make sure to use those words in your narrative.
  • Tell a whole story on each page
  • – this is the toughest thing to learn about developing web content. Unlike a book or a movie or even a 60-second ad, the web is a non-linear medium. In other words, the visitor controls the visit and can visit pages in whatever sequence he or she prefers. This means each page needs it’s own beginning, middle and end.

Of course there are other differences, but if you can master these, your website will have a better chance of meeting your objectives.