Planning your web copywriting project to attract gold stars, not angry stares

10 telltale signs your web copywriting project will go swimmingly well, actually

Lots of digital projects glide effortlessly along. In fact, some positively rattle their way towards the go live date.

Others have a more tortured birth.

And a handful, too hideous to be exposed to the full glare of the web, and are quietly euthanized. It’s for the best.

But rather than dwell on the pitfalls, we wanted to share our thought on best practice — that’s just the sort of company we are.

1. Your schedule acknowledged that copywriting was an integral part of the overall plan

Even if your project is uncommonly straightforward, it’s a bad idea to squeeze copywriting into that two-week slot just before go-live.

First of all, it puts pressure on your team to provide all the copy briefs, just as the rest of the project is hotting up. Secondly, it leaves you almost no time to reflect on the copywriter’s first draft and come back with considered amends. Trust us – you don’t want to make important decisions faced with the unforgiving scowl and crossed arms of an immovable deadline.

Then there’s the copywriter – reduced to the role of copy typist and yes-person. And they say content is king…

It’s easy to avoid this horror story. Talk to your copywriter early in the project, and work with them to scope out what needs done, and when. Once this is done, make sure everyone in the approval cycle knows when they need to provide their feedback. Or else.

2. You broke the writing process into self-contained components

It’s stressful to deliver all the copy briefs to your copywriter in one batch. And, frankly, it’s impossible for your development team to slot all that copy into the CMS in one go. It’s much better to break the task into discrete chunks, allowing lots of different workstreams to take place at the same time. You also have an excellent opportunity to show everyone just how smart you are with Excel.

3. You didn’t sign off a TIRED, bloated approval process

Big approval groups make for terrible projects. It’s been that way since the dawn of sentient thought. In our experience, great digital content needs sign-off from just four key groups, in this order:

  1. User experience
  2. Subject matter experts or product owners
  3. Brand or marketing
  4. Legal or compliance

There’s a logic to this. The UX people should own the entire user journey, and know exactly what matters to customers. The subject matter experts know the details of the proposition inside-out, but that’s layered on top of user experience.

Then comes the brand or marketing team. If we’ve done our job well with test copy, they’ll really just need to review the content to make sure it chimes well with the brand.

Finally, if your legal or compliance team have to sign it off, have a discussion with them at the beginning of the process. Let them know what you’re planning, and when. The same goes for third party partners. Will they be available at the points in the project where you need their sign-off? What happens if they’re not around – can the project owner make decisions on their behalf? Make sure you have contingencies.

4. You mapped out your content

If it’s not a brand new site, you probably have some content you can re-use. Audit it, rate it and decide if it should be ported, edited and improved, killed or combined. Then figure out what new content you’ll need and where it’s coming from. Maybe your digital copywriter needs to have a chat with your product experts, so factor in some time for that too.

Our guide to reviewing your site contains some handy pointers.

5. You created an IA, and kept it up to date

When you know what you need to say, you can plan how to deliver it. We won't lie - creating a solid information architecture (IA) for your site will take time, even if you're planning something fairly simple. If you're new to the subject, this Nielsen Norman Group article on common IA mistakes (opens in a new window) is a good place to start. It's getting old now, but it's still worryingly relevant.

So why does IA matter so much? It's the structure that allows the customer to steer themselves effortlessly to the information they want – or the task they need to complete. So it needs to be framed from the customer's persepctive, but at the same time mesh with the reality of your offer.

Get the IA right, and it's an enormously helpful resource for a web copywriter, designer, developer and just about everyone else involved in the project. It lets everyone undertstand the extent of the project, and it’s a big help when it comes to putting a price on the job.

6. You didn’t forget about the microcopy

Many sites have forms or other interactive elements that ask users to enter information. Help copy, error messages and other conditional messages are sometimes left to developers to fill in when the site’s being built. That’s never the best idea – ask any developer. We’ve written this sort of ‘microcopy’ for a number of large transactional sites like – it can make or break the user journey.

7. You researched your keywords properly. And you did it before the site was built.

There’s a lot of chat these days about keywords being redundant. Don’t believe the hype: it’s daft to ignore on-page optimisation. Read our our guide to optimising your site if you think you need a little more education in this area. But the big thing to remember is that a discussion about SEO is something you need to have at the start of a project, not in the days before a site is due to go live.

8. You nailed the tone of voice before THE COPYWRITER STARTED WRITING THE SITE...

If you already have some guidelines, great. Defining your digital tone of voice from scratch is going to be a little harder, but worth the effort. At the very least, think about the personality traits of your organisation, and how these could apply to the copy on your site. Are you warm and friendly, simple, practical, knowledgeable or what? The simple act of defining the characteristics of your business will help you to bring out its personality in words.

Blantant plug: we can create your digital tone of voice for you.

9. ...and provided some guidance on style too

A style guide sits beside your tone of voice guidelines and defines the way your organisation uses language. These are usually practical things like how you express numbers, dates and times, and the treatment of other text elements such as bullet points, capitalisation and abbreviations. At the very least, a style guide will help you create copy that’s fit for online use.

If you’re on a tight budget, you might get away with using the UK Government or Guardian Style Guide (UK) or Chicago/Websters (US). You could supplement it by adding some specific advice on common terms within your industry. Having a style guide is all about applying consistency to your writing. And that's a bit part in establishing a bond of trust with your readers.

There's a list of free style guides and other copywriting tools in our guide.

10. You understood the limit of your team’s resources

Now and then we’re asked to quote on projects where too much is being attempted too soon. The result is invariably a delayed launch or some other unwelcome compromise — every project manager’s nightmare. Understanding these risks at the start makes it easy to see the benefit of a phased approach. Ask yourself what’s really important for launch and what can be added later, then compare that to what your team is capable of delivering.

Phase two is always easier than phase one – there are significantly fewer design considerations and a successful phase one launch is a real confidence builder for stakeholders.

Want to know a bit more?

Call Alan on 0203 603 7740, or email