Commission content for your financial services website without going insane

Follow these rules to give your digital content an excellent chance of success.

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Got a big chunk of financial services content to get done? Follow these rules to keep the project — and your stress levels — under control. And they work for almost all projects, too — not just financial services. 

Slice and dice – cut big projects into chunks

We’ve worked on many full-site review and rewrite projects for banks and other financial services companies. The key lesson: a staggered approach to content works better for everyone.

In practice, that means attacking the site section-by-section, much like a series of agile sprints. Choose one product or product area and revise the micro-level IA, journey and content for that section before moving on to the next – it puts less pressure on everyone, and cuts the risk of internal teams getting swamped. It also means that the lessons learned from one section get applied to the ones that follow.

It’s good to talk – so schedule a weekly call

The purpose of this call isn’t to replace structured project management. No — it’s simply to make sure you keep in touch with the project team, and that they understand what’s coming up and what you expect from them.

The call might take an hour or just five minutes — and let’s face it, everyone will love you if the calls are short and stick rigorously to the agenda. You did agree an agenda, right?

Good copy needs time – not a convenient window in the project plan

Financial services websites are all about the content, and that content is predominantly copy. So give the site copy the respect it deserves and don’t just try to slot it into the available time between designs being finalised and final sign-off.

By ‘planning’, we don’t just mean freshening the copy up. Check its currency, usefulness, accuracy and brand-readiness. We’ve got a guide about that too.

Incorporate generic SEO – and do it before the writing starts

We’re not naming names, but we often have to start writing copy before we have the agreed keywords. Crazy, isn’t it?

Admittedly, if you’re selling an instant access savings account, your key search terms more or less fall into CMS. But still, it’s useful to define them before writing starts. We generally try to use them as headings and sub-heads to get optimum purchase, and while the headings might be quite obvious, the sub-heads may be less intuitive. So it’s worth doing just a little research to find out some of the key terms, around that product name, that people are using to find the product type. For example, instant access savings account might be ‘penalty free withdrawals’. But that’s for your SEO guys to work out.

Balance the different internal needs

Compliance, marketing, brand, product, commercial. There are generally a few folk with an interest in your website copy.

Do you ask them what their expectations are, or do you create the content brief for the site and seek their agreement? Whatever route, it’s a good idea to involve all of these teams at the early stages — let them know what’s going on, and what you expect from them.

And remember, it’s OK to challenge the legal eagles. Don’t ask them ‘what’ we can’t say, they’ll just give you a list. Instead, ask them ’why’ we can’t say it – then try to address the underlying issues. Is there another, clearer, way of getting that message across? And if you think your approach means you’re uncompetitive or not serving  customers’ needs, then say so — and provide the proof.

Don’t ever forget your customers

Have you answered their questions? Try to be an advocate for good supporting (or related) content. 0% balance transfer credit cards are a good example. Less financially astute customers might not realise how the balance transfer fee works, and they might be surprised that they have to make the minimum payment every month. After all, it’s a 0% card, isn’t it?

A page called, ‘How balance transfers work’ sounds like it would provide answers to any lingering doubts people might have. Go out there and test – find out the product areas that could do with a little support spelling out the finer points.

Keep an up-to-date (and accessible) version of the copy

Mostly, we use Microsoft Word for all the copy we write — from big financial services sites to the labels for whisky bottles. Everyone can open a Word document; tracked changes and comments make commenting easy.

The problem is making sure everyone’s looking at the latest version. We prefer file share services like Basecamp where everyone involved in the project can pick up the latest version — no more searching through emails, or you being chastised for failing to send them the latest copy.

And another thing – once the site goes into prototyping of build, make sure the Word document reflects the changes. Or, make sure the entire team has access to the built version. Otherwise, it’s almost impossible to make consistent changes to the copy as the project evolves.

Keep a running style and tone guide

If your current guidelines aren’t quite up to the job, capture style and tone points on a private wiki that the entire team can access. For example, you might want to set out some rules for how to represent a product name, or set out some rules for punctuating bullet points. Your entire team should be able to access the guide and add to it. When the project’s finished, the notes can easily be rolled into an updated guide.

Know when amends have gone too far

On non- financial sites we rarely see the copy needing more than two rounds of amends. However, financial services copy is subject to a constant stream of amends from all sides — compliance, brand, product — each little tweak changes the overall shape and tone. We’ve seen many large sites with copy versions well into the teens.

There comes a time when you simply have to call a halt. You might still be struggling over technical aspects of a new product that haven’t been nailed down yet. That’s fine, but it’s time to narrow your circulation and deal only with the department that will agree those tweaks with you.
Take a look at your sign off process and make sure it’s actually doing what it’s supposed to do — get the copy right with minimal rounds of amends. Luckily we’ve got a guide about this too. []

Book in a day for your copywriter to review the copy on the ‘live’ site

It’ll help you avoid typos, bad line or para breaks, or other little errors that crept in during CMS upload. Maybe some of your headings or sub-heads are just a bit too long and need crunching down to improve the look of the page. Have your images got alt tags, were extra pages added that could do with some meta data? Your copywriter should be able to help.

Now read our guide to reviewing your website.

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