Congratulations! You’ve launched a new technology startup and you’re ready to create a new website. Or, you’re ready to take your growing business to the next level with a website redesign.
But before you begin, allow me to share a few website planning tips based on my 15 years of web copywriting experience. First of all, most businesses treat copywriting as an afterthought which leads to several problems.
A 2015 joint research study by Huff Industrial Marketing, KoMarketing and BuyerZoneResearch on website visitors found that 46% will leave in frustration due to unclear messaging.A big problem spot for many websites is their homepage. If your visitors can’t understand what you do and why that’s important in 2-3 seconds, you’ll lose them.
"88% of online shoppers say they wouldn’t return to a website after having a bad user experience."
Research suggests that startups need help with more than just their website homepage. This is partly because homepage copy is a summary of all your other web pages. And those aren’t typically written all that well, either.
So, why don’t most businesses get maximum performance from their site? Let’s start by looking at how most businesses go about creating a website.
Creating the Results Driven Website
It makes sense to hire a Web Developer and Designer to build your website. After all, they’re the ones who make it virtually real. But hiring someone to build your site before it has been properly planned and written is putting the cart before the horse, in my opinion. Here’s why…
It’s a mistake to assume that planning or writing a website is easy. It’s not. In fact, it can easily be the most challenging step. And since the purpose of the design is to support the copy, it defies logic to try and fit the copy into the design.
"Regardless of how great a website design looks, a goal-driven buyer will look right past it to the copy."
The challenge of writing copy reminds me of a part-time job I had in college making pizzas. How hard could it be, I thought when applying for the job?
Then I met the chef. He took his work quite seriously. I learned the only reason we consistently had the longest line of customers in the food court was his secret dough recipe and the local produce he carefully sourced. So, there was a lot more to making and selling pizzas than I thought.
Likewise, a website is made up of pages that are read like a book. Most of the work in creating a website is writing copy. And the copy is based on authentic and meaningful stories told about the business and their customers. The website development is more like the binding of a book that comes afterwards.
Regardless of how great the design looks, a goal-driven buyer will look right past it to the copy. Design serves as a backdrop as the words guide them to reaching their goals. That’s not to say the design isn’t influential. Of course, it is.
The words, the design, and the development must all serve a common purpose – to achieve your website mission. Imagine how an architect goes about planning a custom-built home…
They start by asking questions about how the people living there or visiting will use the house. This leads to more clarity on how it should look and function to best serve its purpose. Here are some of the questions they might ask…
What is the overall purpose of the home?
Who’ll be visiting?
What are their goals?
What type of rooms should the home have?
What will be the contents of each?
How will the traffic flow through the house?
Where should the windows be placed for the best views?
"When they removed all the website design and images from the site leaving only the words, their sales dropped by only 15%."
It would be a huge mistake to wait until the cement truck is pouring the concrete into the foundation before asking these questions. By then it’s too late. It’s no different with your website.
So, how should you go about planning your website?
Plan Your Web Copy Architecture
Prior to becoming a copywriter, I had started a website development company. To expand my skills at the time, I took a training course from a company who conducted an experiment to test whether design or copy had a greater impact on customers. The results were shocking.
When they removed all the website design and images leaving only the words, their sales dropped by only 15%. But when then they removed the words leaving only the design, their sales dropped 100%. That’s the moment I learned about the importance of the writing.
"Many websites are missing an immediate and powerful value proposition. You've only got a few seconds to capture a visitor's interest. Otherwise, you'll lose them.
If you want an effective website, you must begin by asking questions like an architect and a writer would. The specialist who can help you with this is the Web Copy Architect.
A Web Copy Architect combines the skills of a digital copywriter, content marketer, and interpretive visual artist. They help you focus your website on its mission without being distracted by cool, but often pointless special effects.
They can also act as a sounding board to bounce your ideas off. And they’ll help you examine what’s good about other websites that can be uniquely integrated into yours.
A Web Copy Architect can also assume the role of your most likely customer during strategy sessions. This can help you understand your target audience’s experience of your website to make the right impact.
So, what are the parts of a website architecture? And what needs to be planned?
The 5-Step Process for Creating Effective Web Copy
Many websites are missing an immediate and powerful value proposition. You’ve only got a few seconds to capture a visitor’s interest. Otherwise, you’ll lose them.
"The final effect of a website user experience should be to help visitors reach their goal in the fewest clicks."
Early in my career I spent a few years selling imported luxury European cars from a prestigious downtown dealership in Toronto, Canada. What I learned there as a brick and mortar salesperson taught me a lesson in how to plan an effective website.
From the moment a prospect walked into our showroom, a turn-key selling system began. Everything that happened added to their experience. The dealership entrance was like a website homepage.
Prospects immediately walked into the showroom. The colors of the cars, how they were positioned and the vehicle packages were all strategically chosen. The questions the salespeople asked were also strategic. The features and benefits of the vehicle were presented in a specific way, too. Like the product page on a website.
Even the route the customer was taken on for their test drive had a role to play. This was like an offer or an opt-in page on a website. It was like following a Hollywood movie script. I followed it closely and became one of their best salespeople. And I’d never owned a car before!
"The five key parts of a website must all work together synergistically to help your visitors reach their goals."
It should work the same on your website. The final effect of a website user experience should be to help the visitor reach their goal in the fewest clicks. Your site should also preferentially position your business in the mind of your most likely customer so they are drawn to your offer.
It should be easy for them to understand everything about your products and find what they need without being overwhelmed by too much information.
The five key steps in developing your web copy are Page Selection, Navigation, Site Flow, Page Content/layout, and Messaging. These must all work synergistically together to help your visitors reach their goals.
Page selection – standard web pages (home, products, about, contact info) and special purpose web pages (E.g. FAQ, blog, landing pages, split-testing pages, industries page, case study page, investors, and others).
Navigation structure – 1st, 2nd, and 3rd level page organization and links
Visitor page flow – So your visitor doesn’t have to think to reach a goal.
Page content – Must answer key questions unique to each page
Messaging – “What” needs to be communicated (positioning and differentiation), and “how” it will be communicated (E.g. copy, images, facts, statistics, features, benefits, arguments, and more).
Envisioning Your Website Blueprint
I had my first experience of planning and writing a website while working as a Marketing Manager for a technology startup. It was a baptism by fire.
"The website and content helped close the largest sale in the company’s history."
After months of struggling to make sales, I finally convinced upper management we needed better marketing. I’d been planning the website in my head for months. And I’d done plenty of customer research from calling on prospects, so I knew what frustrated and motivated them.
It took me less than a week to create the website site and content. Three days after launching the new site, I was contacted by the third-largest public mass transit system in North America.
I soon closed the largest sale in the company’s history. It was obvious that planning played a key role in my success.
My website plan was like a blueprint created by an architect. Only I was architecting for the web copy and my blueprint was what’s known as a wire frame. This document served as a guide for me to follow. A basic wire frame can be a simple Microsoft Word sketch using text boxes. It’s the ideas that count.
"With every detail of your site planned in advance, there'll be fewer changes or redesign costs."
These may include, navigation labels, headline and copy options, image suggestions, ideas for media integration, and a wide range of other factors unique to your site.
Planning takes the strategic mindset of an architect, rather than the engineering mindset of a Web Developer or Project Manager. Too much pressure from time constraints can make it difficult to imagine what’s possible.
The risk of putting layout ahead of copy, is scope creep. The client keeps making changes in the layout because the copy was not planned right to begin with. Planning the copy first means fewer changes or redesigns which saves you time and money.
Taking Your Website to the Next Level
Modifying your current website is less expensive than building a new one. Your first website may contain only 3 or 4 standard web pages, like home, products, about, and contact us.
As your business grows, you’ll likely want to add a landing page for capturing leads. Or, a resources page for sharing your content. You may add pages with new copy for split-testing a Google Ads campaign.
"You'll attract better customers and get more predictable results, because your website is set up for success."
Trends in web design and development are constantly changing like tech and design are in the auto industry. Leveraging new web tools and a modern look can influence potential customers. Though, in my opinion, you don’t want these outshine the copy.
Eventually, it makes sense to start from scratch again and do a complete redesign. Today, the average company redesigns their website at least every two years.
Done right, your website will showcase your products and engage your chosen audience. You’ll attract better customers and get more predictable results. Your website is set up for success.
Free Website Effectiveness Checklist
Start planning your website architecture with this free Website Effectiveness Checklist. It gives you some essential tips for planning and writing the three most important pages on your website – your Homepage, Product page, and About Us page.
About the Author
Derek Little is a digital copywriter who helps you craft the authentic stories behind your product, team and brand so you can engage your most profitable customers. His 15 years of experience writing copy and content for the tech industry has honed his approach to helping startups achieve growth. If you’re looking for marketing solutions that build awareness, capture leads, create value and establish authority—he’s the guy to call.
Get Interviewed as a Podcast Guest
Derek Little is also Podcaster who interviews B2B tech startups for his show – The Technology Trailblazers Club.