Photo by Western Historical Manuscript Collection, University of Missouri
It’s an all-too-common omission. You’ve tackled your new web design with the best of intentions. You’ve got a smart strategy. An amazing design. Navigation so user-friendly even your grandmother gets it. And then, uh oh, you remember that last pesky detail—who’s going to write the content that will populate your beautiful new site?
The process of re-writing or re-evaluating web copy is often hurriedly tacked on to the end of the web development process. But, as usability expert Jakob Nielsen recently found, the lack of clear and compelling web content is the number one complaint that potential donors cited about nonprofit websites.
As Big Duck tackled our own site redesign—which you’ll see in just a few weeks (woot!)—here’s what we found most helpful in the process of writing, updating, and editing content from the old site to the new:
Assign one content director, but share the load among several writers.
Website users will jump from page to page on your site, so all of those pages should work together as a unified whole. For this reason, we started our web content process with one person. Our content director—using the site redesign strategy outlined in our project brief as a guide—was tasked to write the direction for all pages, make sure content followed the logic of our navigation, and assign a writer, an editor and a proofer for each page.
Take the time to give detailed instructions. It’s worth it.
So what kind of direction did the content director end up giving our writers? Very detailed. We circulated a content spreadsheet with specific writing directions for each page, including exactly what needed to be communicated, any calls to action, links to include, reference material that could be used to write the copy, and word count. Each page also had a designated writer, reviewer, and proofer.
Urge writers, editors, and proofers to block off time early.
To make sure that writers blocked off enough time to actually use our content spreadsheet, we then sent this heads up to writers, editors, and proofers:
You, lucky Duck, have been chosen as one of the writers of web copy for the new Big Duck website. Aren’t you excited? You are assigned to:
- Write six pages between 10/19 and 11/9
- Edit nine pages between 11/10 and 11/16
- Incorporate edits to the pages you wrote between 11/16 and 11/23
- Proof six pages between 11/24 and 12/3
Give your team a clear strategic background.
Our instructions didn’t end at scheduling. We wanted writers to know the strategy guiding the content direction, so we included a brief overview of the goals of the redesign. We also attached Big Duck’s brandraising guide (i.e. our style guide) as a reference for recommended tone and style, and sent comps of the new site design for visual context.
Provide clear instructions and structure.
The intrepid Jenna Silverman was managing the content development process, and we tried to minimize the amount of work she had to do to keep everything in a standard format. For this reason we gave all writers, editors, and proofers standard naming convention for drafts (Ex: BigDuck_PAGETITLE_v1). Then we set up folders on our server, named according to the site map (Ex: COPY > About Big Duck > v1 > BigDuck_OurTeam_v1.doc) so writers could simply save their drafts there instead of overwhelming Jenna’s inbox with attachments.
Once the content is incorporated, have one reader review the site in context.
Our detailed instructions aside, we knew that some aspects of the copy would inevitably read differently once in context. So after the copy was loaded into our new design, we had one staff member block off time to do a final review of the site copy before launch. Just in case!
Have you come up some other good ways to manage the copywriting process for your website?
Please share it in the comments section!