How to Write a Website

Man at computer viewing a pyramid

This piece is not about how to write, but about how to organize an often confusing process. We’ve seen it done in many ways, often inefficiently. I’ll cover some possible approaches and guidelines that follow RolloutSF’s general advice to get it right the first time.

Before you start

  1. Know your goals. You probably have multiple goals, but you can’t promote everything equally, all at once. What are the highest priorities?
  2. Understand your audience. Who are they, exactly? What do they already know, and what don’t they know? What terminology do they use? What problems do they need to solve? What keeps them awake at night? You know your own organization better than your audience does, but that can be a pitfall. Your audience may not be persuaded by, or even understand, your point of view and your choices of words.
  3. Understand your competitors. Who are they, and what terminology do they use? How are you different, and better?
  4. Keep SEO in mind. We’ve written about how SEO should not be an afterthought but is best built into a website from the start, and that applies to the writing as well. Keyword research will help your writing connect you with your audience and with your competition.
  5. Create a style sheet. Your organization will have terms that need to be consistent: product names, technical terms, etc. Make a list of them.

Information hierarchy and first impressions

A stumble at this step is surprisingly common, especially for business-to-business sites. How often have you gone to a site and had to work to figure out exactly who their audience is? If it takes a reader even 10 seconds to figure out whether they are part of your intended audience, you’re doing it wrong.

Your home page should be a concise statement that tells readers who you are, what you do, and who this website is for. (That statement is also created by design, images, and more, but our topic is words.) Your elevator pitch will help guide the writing and might appear as a tagline, slogan, or as part of the page text. The home page should have enough details to intrigue, but not so many that it overwhelms or distracts. The goal is to grab the attention and interest of the readers you want, and then lead them to other pages in a logical and user-friendly way.

Okay, but who does the writing?

Your engineers? We’ve seen it happen many times with Silicon Valley tech firms: engineers great with technical content, but not with words or the emotional content needed to present and explain their work. Some engineers are fine writers, but don’t count on it.

Your non-marketing staff? We’ve seen a similar issue with non-profits. Employees often know their organization well, but struggle to write good website copy. Staff will often have conscious or unconscious biases, tending to think that their groups and projects are most important.

Your marketers? Maybe, but writing for the web has its own requirements: SEO, design considerations, mobile responsiveness, landing pages, and more. Even good marketers can have blind spots about how their organization is perceived by outsiders. That’s one reason why hiring an outside marketing management agency may work better. (*cough*)

RolloutSF? We would be happy to do much of your writing for you, but frankly, we can’t do 100% of it. We’ll still need your guidance, your specialized knowledge, and a lot of “raw material.”

We think the best answer is a collaborative approach.

All of the above

  1. Take pressure off employees by having them do “brain dumps.” The website needs their input, but they may not have the time, inclination, or skills to write good website copy. Their language may be awkward and stilted, and they may not know how and when to present details. So tell them not to worry about “final copy” or even “first draft”! Just have them write down whatever they think needs to be said, in any form, without worrying about grammar or organization: fragments, notes, and outlines are all fine. Whatever works!
  2. Let the web developers use everything as raw material. The copy will need editing and proofreading. Headlines and copy may need to be rewritten to fit a design, or for better SEO. Copy may need to be reorganized: what you think of as a page may work better as a page section, or vice versa. Information may work best in a sidebar or pull quote.
  3. Let go of your ego. We’re all working towards the same goal: to present your organization in the best way possible. This requires teamwork, and compromise. You hired website experts for their expertise, so trust them to do their jobs.
  4. Try to keep revision cycles to a minimum. They can suck up large amounts of time.

Keep this advice in mind and your website project should go more smoothly.

Have any feedback? Need a free consultation? RolloutSF would love to hear from you.

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Jay Cornell

Jay Cornell handles content strategy, content creation, and works with James and Alex on web development, design, and marketing tasks. He enjoys the process of learning everything he can about a client, then using his writing, editing, design, and UI/UX experience to condense and arrange everything into a form that’s friendly and persuasive to users (and search engines). bio

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