Five reasons copy should come before design

“Copy or design, which comes first when creating a website?”

When I asked my audience this question a few months ago, I was pretty confident in my answer. However, having a scientific background means I love to research everything to the tenth degree! So, off I went to LinkedIn to collect some data.

The results were interesting - almost all web designers agreed with me, copy first. There were a few copywriters who felt the need for a magical dance backward and forward between the web designer and the copywriter.

And some said neither copy or design should come first but instead the message - a point I agree with. However, surely the copywriter is responsible for clarifying that message?

Anyway, over the last few months, I’ve been thinking about this more and more, and now I’m in a position where I can categorically say, copy first.

Here are my five reasons why.

The copywriter will clarify the message

For a website to deliver genuine results, we must first define a clear, focused message. Mixed messages will leave Google and any potential visitors confused - resulting in poor SEO and low conversion rates.

A good copywriter will ask questions that dig very deep to understand the client’s business model, target audience, unique selling proposition, and overall message.

Yes, a good designer will also ask questions that help position the brand - however, a copywriter needs to dig even further if they are to write on behalf of someone else. Therefore it would make sense for the copywriter to work with the client first.

Good copy will help the designer design

I have a handful of core web designers who regularly refer work to me. Recently, one of those designers said that my copy was helping him create better designs. And this isn’t an isolated case; I frequently get similar feedback because, well, it makes sense, doesn’t it?

It can be tricky to pull out the right information from a client, especially when there are so many other aspects involved in creating a website. Having someone on your team, working on your behalf to dig deep into the client’s business, target audience, and USP takes the pressure off you - helping you create a better design.

Web designers can edit the text to fit the design

Web designers are 100% capable of chopping up/switching around copy to fit their design. Yes, you heard me right, I’m absolutely fine with designers using my copy however they wish.

My job is to define the client’s message, dig deep to understand the problems, solutions, and outcomes, and pull it all together into a believable story that will sell their services.

If the designer feels some of my copy would be better positioned somewhere else on the page, great. I’m happy for the designer to do what it takes to deliver the best website possible. I’m not precious over my copy, and I think it’s the designer’s call to make.

Going backward and forward tweaking the copy isn’t a realistic approach

Ok, so in some utopian fantasy where we all have a million hours in a day, and there’s no pressure from the client, maybe going backward and forward tweaking the copy might work. But, let’s get real.

  • Deadlines need to be met.
  • We have multiple projects on the go at once.
  • Time is money.

So why not have all of the copy in one document at the start of the project?

You won’t get the most from a good copywriter if the design is restricting them

Web designers do occasionally come to me looking for someone to fill space in their design. While I do take on work like this (some situations are better than others), it feels restricting. And after the hundreds of conversations with web designers, I’m yet to find one who says having the copy first has restricted their creativity.

Therefore, to sum up, I’m a firm believer that copy should come first - certainly for the small to medium size services-based businesses I deal with anyway.

It just makes sense logically, and from past experience designing websites, I know having the copy in one document at the start of the design process is the most productive way to go. Plus, working this way will deliver better results for you and your clients. It’s a win-win.

Drop me a message now if you want to schedule a call and find out more about my copywriting process and how I can help you deliver your next website efficiently and without any hassle.

Hannah Gibson, PhD

Creative Copywriter