Does Website Copy Come First, Or Website Design?

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Ah, the age-old copy vs. design debate. With a twist.

And the twist is: I’m not just talking about copywriting and brand / website design. I’m talking about what I tend to (so professionally) refer to ass the whole ass thing. 

Recently, I’ve been having a lot of conversations with brand and web designers about the order in which it makes sense to work on everything—both related to client projects we’ve been collaborating on, and throughout website copy projects I’ve been working on for my clients who are brand designers themselves.

And we’ve all agreed on an order that seems to deliver surefire success every time, so I wanted to share it with you!

#1 — Strategy, positioning, and messaging

Strategy, positioning, and messaging

This is the best starting point, because throughout this process, you’ll develop all of the most important elements of your marketing strategy – your ideal client avatar, your brand voice, what differentiates you from your competition, your core offerings… the list goes on and on. 

#2 — Brand Design

In my book, this comes second, because all of the above informs your designer’s decisions about your visual identity.

Designing your brand’s aesthetic is near impossible if you don’t know who the brand is serving (and what they’ll resonate with), and with the severe lack of attention span in most of us lately, it’s essential that your brand’s visual presence immediately catches your ideal audience’s eye.  

#3 — Website Copywriting

You can’t sell to your ideal audience if you don’t know where you fit into your industry from a strategy standpoint, and you can’t speak to your ideal clients’ pain points if you don’t know who you’re talking to, why they need you, or what your brand voice is—which is why strategy comes before copy.

While the designer is working on the branding, copywriters (like me!) can be working on all things website. 

Side note: here’s what I recommend if you’re looking for help with your website copy. 👇

#4 — Website Design

Your website designer can’t design your website if they don’t know what to put on it.

It’s not their job to write your copy — their job is to make the copy stand out & easy to read, and design you a website that matches your goals and resonates with your ideal client or customer.

They have enough on their plate, they don’t want to have to add “convince my client why they need more copy” to their to-do list. Do your designers a solid, and have it all sorted for them before you start your project.

Now, I do have to include the disclaimer that these 4 line items are, of course, not the only investments you need to consider making in your business, but simply a starting point for business owners hoping to elevate their visual and digital presence. 

So, wait, why does website copy come first, and not website design?

Because, as I mentioned above, it’s not your website designer’s job to write your copy.

That’s not the only reason why website copy comes first, though.

Copy INFORMS your design.

This means that what you write — and how you choose to display that information visually and spacially — is what your designer will use to inspire them to create a website design that will enhance that copy, and provide for a positive user experience for your reader.

Let’s say I had a designer create my website first, and she left space for a one-line headline.

…but I wanted my headline to be 3 lines long.

What’s a girl to do?

Sacrifice the copy for the sake of design? I don’t think so.

Not to be a hater to the designers in the room — I am actually THE biggest website designer champion, considering they make my work look SEXY on the regular — but copy is more important.

It doesn’t matter how gorgeous your design is, if your copy sucks.

Good design IS vital to having a successful website, because it initially attracts people and keeps them scrolling.

But it’s not the thing that will make people take ACTION. That’s your copy’s job.

And that is why copy comes first.

So your designer has something to go off of, and so your design can make your copy WORK.

& speaking of website designers —

I sent out a survey to all of the website designers in my community, and asked them to tell me what they wished their clients knew about website copy.

Here’s what they said:

“That I need it to get started or I don’t know what the hell to even design.”

“How much copy impacts what design can do on a given webpage.”

“That please for the love of God WRITE MORE COPY or there will be nothing on the page but images and no one wants that.”

“That the people reading their websites need way more info than they’re currently writing. You can’t just have a whole website with ‘hi, my name is’ and nothing else.”

“Designing with copy already done is so much easier and makes for way less revisions, making my design services cheaper.”

Wondering which website design solution is right for you? Here’s what I recommend as a website copywriter.

Different strokes for different folks, as my boyfriend would say.

IF YOU HAVE NO MONEY — DIY your website design with a free template, on a platform that *you* feel is easy to customize / understand.

(I recommend Showit or Squarespace. Here’s how to choose between those two website builders.)

IF YOU HAVE A BIT OF MONEY TO SPEND — Customize your website with a more elevated template, like these Showit website templates from TONIC Site Shop.

(I have a discount code for ya, if you want. It’s “BTLCOPY” for 15% off of TONIC’s entire website.)

IF YOU HAVE A CHUNK OF CHANGE SAVED — Hire a designer to customize a website template for you, so you get the benefits of having a designer work on your site, without having to pay a full ass ~custom website design~ price tag.

(My favorite template customizer for Showit is Kleist Creative.)

IF YOU’RE READY TO INVEST FOR REAL, FOR REAL — Custom website design. It’s pricy, but SO worth it, *if* you know exactly who you are, what you do, what you’re offering, and who you serve. I don’t recommend investing in custom website design until you’re positive you won’t want to switch things up any time soon.

(Sarah Kleist custom designed my website, and I get compliments on it quite literally EVERY single day. Probably the best investment I’ve ever made in my business. Hire her.)

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Hi, I'm Sara—Website Copywriter & Marketing Mentor.

If you're an entrepreneur, business owner, or course creator with big dreams of success and growth—and a big, scary blank document standing in your way every time you sit down to write your own copy—nice to meet you, I'm your new solution. 

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