A content-first approach to web design

Guest post by Deidre Rienzo:

Recently I got a question from a web designer named Steve. He has been working at an agency for 15 years, and he’s used to content coming last. But for his freelance business, he likes the idea of copy coming first, before design. 

This is the way I work with Jill Anderson (my fellow Marketing Mix guest blogger) and all of my other web design partners. Steve asked me to clarify how this content-first approach works, and Ilise thought it might be of interest to other web designers, too.

Here’s why Jill, and many other web designers, prefer a content-first approach to design.

In her 2016 post — Are you doing these two things backwards? — Jill announced that copy will come first for all web design projects, and why:

You have to have something to say. Until you know what that is—and how long it is—design doesn’t need to come into play. The design and layout should be determined by your message, and by your business’ personality—both of which will be defined by its content. I used to be looser on this matter. But it’s always been where projects stall. I’ve had far too many sites stall for months and years because the content didn’t get finished. No more!

At Jill Lynn Design, there will be no more clients (or designers!) made miserable by preventable reasons. Here’s to doing it the right way (the forwards way!) the first time.

Moving forward: I’m not going to begin a website design project until you give me the content. Content before design honestly creates better websites. When you know what you want to say, we can use the design to make the message extra-awesome. 

Of course, as a copywriter, I couldn’t agree more! 

So, how does a copy-first approach to web design work on my end?

Designers send clients my way first

Some of my web design partners say, “Talk to my copywriting partner, Deidre. She can help you get your content written before we work together.” In this case, I have a free consultation with the client and if there’s a fit, send the client an estimate and go from there. In this case, I don’t just write copy … I also suggest the site map. 

Other web design partners include my fee directly in their proposals (and some mark up my rates). This happens by getting a price range from me during their proposal-writing process. They’ll say, “I have a project for an interior designer who needs a basic website, probably 6 pages,” and I’ll say, “Great! I’d charge $2000 for copy.” In this kind of arrangement, the web designer might share any discovery documents with me.

Once I’m on board:

  • I have a strategy call with the client (where I get to know everything about their business, their ideal clients, and what makes them special). 
  • I send the client a first draft (usually within 2-3 weeks).

  • The client and I work together to finalize the copy (usually 1 week).

  • I send final (client-approved) copy to the web designer — usually 3-4 weeks after my strategy call with the client.

Once the web designer starts to work their magic, I’m here as-needed. Sometimes this means a final review of the content before it goes live. Other times I’m more involved during the process, serving as a second set of eyes or tweaking headlines here and there. Occasionally, I even use my trying-but-still-confused skills to collaborate in Asana or ClickUp for designers who manage their projects that way. 

Why do I love this approach? 

I love working with web designers and seeing the words come alive through great design! I also love how this makes a client feel like they are being ushered through the process from start to finish. 

Why do web designers love this approach? 

My web designer partners always tell me how much EASIER the process is for them (when content is carefully created and delivered to them before they start the design), and how much better the result comes out. They say the content gives them so much flavor and inspiration for the design. 

Need a copywriting partner to make your life easier? I’d love to talk!

Hi, I’m Deidre. In my posts, I talk about my voyage down the road of self-employment as a copywriting partner to web designers , my achievements and roadblocks along the way, and what I’m learning as I go (with Marketing Mentor as my guide). To keep in touch, sign up for my un-newsletter here and get my freebie download, 12 Sparks to Write Sizzling, Audience-Attracting Website Words.

Want to receive these blog posts via email? Sign up here.