10 things we look at to price your web copywriting project. (And five that don’t matter at all.)

The number of pages (and the number of words) will help us settle on a cost. But alone, they don't tell us very much. We've written this guide to help you understand what really matters when we put on the green visor and start clacking away at the adding machine.

What’s the most common question we get asked by new web copywriting clients? Right after “Can you do it this week?”, we’re asked to explain how we price our work. Is it by word count? By page number? By complexity?

Short of access to the Huge Virtual Spreadsheet at the Centre of Alan’s Brain, here’s what we need to know. Followed by five things that make absolutely no difference whatsoever.

1. Information architecture (IA)

We'll want an idea of how many pages you need written, what they’re called in the navigation and how they relate to each other.

It doesn’t matter if you have a fancy Omnigraffle representation of all the pages in your site – or a pretty basic list in a Google Docs spreadsheet. Either will do.

If you haven’t quite got to that stage, you can always ask us to quote based on the IA of an existing website. At the very least, tell us which sections you’d like us to base our cost on – we’ll give you a reasoned estimate, but without a precise IA we can’t be completely accurate.

Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that some sites don’t have a static IA. A good example is an online shop – here the emphasis is going to be on validation, buttons, labels and link text.

2. Wireframes or initial designs

We'll take both, if you’ve got them; either will help us pull your quote together. We’re looking for an idea of how much copy each page will be able to wear, and which elements we need to write.

Of course, it’s easy for us to just nod and follow what the wires tell us. But great websites don’t get built that way.

Expect us to challenge you. Padding out copy to fit the design destroys user experience like almost nothing else. It’s also worth asking if we really can do justice to your story in five paragraphs. Good web copywriting rests on understanding how much information the user needs at each stage – it’s also about giving users the opportunity to skim or deep dive.

We also use wires and designs to understand the complexity of the build. Some sites are extremely modular and database-driven – creating each page from a shifting set of components, not a slab of static code. These jobs tend to need more organisation and effort on our part; they’re not necessarily harder to write, but they do need a different approach.

3. How much research and briefing we’ll have to do

From the Matthew Algie website to the Stop Destitution website, our best work relies on clients giving us a fair bit of their time – exploring the issues together and tapping into their expertise.

We’ll always ask where the information will come from – and who’s going to be in charge of arranging the briefing sessions.

Occasionally, we’re asked to re-work brochure material, previous websites or copy written by the client’s team. You know what? This approach can work quite well – but only if the client has taken the time to emphasise the important points and weed out the pointless stuff.

4. Word count and page count

Time after time, prospective clients ask us to quote for a 5000 word site or a 20 page job. From their perspective, it’s a perfectly rational way to get prices from a few web copywriters. But does it make sense?

A few examples might help:

  • Six words – we recently wrote a short, six word positioning statement for Scottish Canals, along with about 150 words of supporting copy. We built two very focussed one hour workshops, delivered them and wrote the copy. It took about two days to get there.
  • Complex, creative copy – based on page count and word count, this single page Tamdhu website should have only taken an hour or so. It actually took us a couple of days. Why? We did a tonne of research to get our facts right – and the tone of voice needed a lot of cosseting.
  • Simple editing – we’re working on a huge intranet project. After a load of initial interviews to understand the client’s processes, we’re now editing copy to pare back repetition, update tone of voice and generally tighten things up. We’re happy to deliver each 1000 edit in around two hours – getting on for 4,000 words a day.

So when you ask us “How much?”, don’t be surprised when we reply, “It depends” – and promptly ask you for a lot more information.

5. Deadlines

We don’t charge more just because you need your copy quickly; if we’ve got capacity, we’ll slot your work into our schedule.

But the cost will creep up if we have to work through the night or cancel the weekend.

6. The number of revisions you’ll need

We usually build three sets of amends into our costs – as long as the project remains within the initial scope. Almost all our projects are put to bed with one or two rounds of amends.

If you need more, we simply charge for our time.

A word of warning: our financial sector clients tend to need a few more rounds of amends. That’s because of the regulatory framework they work in – coupled with unusually large review groups. In many cases, we’ve been known to take documents up to version 12 and beyond – accommodating tweaked product details and legal advice along the way.

A steady nerve and mastery of Word’s tracked changes come in very handy indeed.

7. Your payment terms

Almost all our clients – even the big, scary ones – work to 30 day payment terms, or thereabouts. But some don’t.

Guess who pays the higher rate?

If you really want to keep the costs down, ask us to quote based on an up-front booking fee (typically 25% of the project cost). You pay when we start your work, followed by the remainder within 30 days of us finishing the copy. You might be surprised how much you can save.

8. Search – who’s doing what?

We'll supply page titles and meta descriptions as part of our standard fee. However, we need the hard keyword data in the first place – usually from your optimisation team or your search agency. If you need us to carry out the research, just let us know. (For complex search projects, we’ll bring in a partner agency.)

9. Validation, buttons, labels and link text

Sometimes, all we write is the grease that keeps a website moving – confirmation messages, link titles, button copy and the like. More usually, it’s part of a bigger web copywriting project.

To do justice to this vital copy, we usually like to see a functional prototype – with all the logic in place – as well as the usual spreedsheets. Yes, we can work from decent wires and a detailed description of each element. It just takes us a bit longer to finish the job.

10. Error messages

We’ve written sites where there’s been more content in error messages than the static pages. Even if you’ve just got a handful of error messages, always get your copywriting agency to help. We’ve seen too many sites where wonky error messages make the user experience fall apart.

Normally, we ask our clients to supply error messages in a spreadsheet. This makes life easier on the development team – even if we hate the way Excel handles words.

...and five things that don’t affect our price in the slightest

1. Promises of more work to come

Maybe there’s a huge amount of work to send our way after the first project is finished. Maybe there isn’t. All we can do is price the job based on what we can see.

If you happen to send a lot of work our way, we’ll look at tiered discounts based on your actual spend.

2. You’re a start-up

Sure, if you’ve got equity on offer – and we believe in what you’re doing – we can make it interesting for both sides. But a discount just because you’re new on the block? Sorry, but it just doesn’t make sense.

3. You’re a charity or philanthropic foundation

We work with two charities at the moment. Their aims are close to our hearts, and we’re happy to work for (almost) nothing on their behalf. But in order to do that, we need lots of other clients to pay the going rate.

4. It’s for a pitch

Actually, we’ve been known to offer a discount for pitch work: if you don’t win, we’ll invoice our work at a third of the normal rate. But if you do, you’ll pay triple. It’s a wonderful incentive for us, and a marvellous way of separating the commercially-minded clients from the bully boys.

And remember, we can only control our copywriting work – not the team you choose to run the pitch, the strategy you adopt or the price you decide to charge. Since we can’t control these elements, it’s nuts to ask us to give our work away at a discount. Or at least, it’s nuts to do it without balancing the equation.

5. It’ll raise our profile

This is in the same category as ‘promises of more work to come’. It’s impossible for us to know if we really will get access to glamorous clients with lots of money to spend. But we might look at paying you a finder’s fee for any work you send our way – it’s a cleaner and fairer way of doing business.

Want to know a bit more?

Call Alan on 0203 603 7740, or email copywriters@blackad.co.uk