6 wonderful ways to win the heart of a web designer

August 26, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Design 

win a web designer's heartI stumbled on Sara Lancaster’s blog recently and, true to the theme of today’s post, I fell in love.

She gives solid advice for freelance writers in a deceptively simple style. After reading a few posts, I asked her to contribute a post to Pro Copy Tips.

So, say welcome to Sara.


If you’re a Web site copywriter, you typically have two people to make happy: the Web site owner (“the client”) and the designer of the Web site.

Because referral and repeat business is the name of the freelance copywriter’s game, winning the heart of the Web designer is an imperative.

Starbucks cards and links to hysterical YouTube videos will help with this mission, but you’ll also have to pull out all of these Web site copywriting stops.

Copy should come first, but it doesn’t always work that way
Web copy should determine Web site design, but, unfortunately, some Web designers prefer not to work that way. And many Web site owners can’t afford a truly original site design.

Because many Web sites are based on templates, copy usually comes second (read more about this concept in a previous post, Copywriter thumbnails and how to draw them).

Before you start writing Web copy, find out how far along the designer is in the design process. If she hasn’t yet started, then now is the time to share ideas. If she has begun the design or chosen the template, ask to see a wireframe or view the development site. This way you can write the copy to fit within the parameters of the site.

Create headlines that evoke an image
Let’s all agree that the World Wide Web has enough images of anonymous call center employees and satisfied looking professionals in power suits. Help your Web designer by giving him creative headlines that bring a picture to mind.

Give a little search engine love
Few busy Web designers would disregard your suggestions on how to incorporate search engine optimization tactics into the Web copy. Speak with the client and/or Web site designer to see what, if any, keyword research has been completed.

If none (and there is no room in the client’s budget for keyword research), spend 10 minutes plugging your ideas into the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Based on what comes up, make a list of 10-20 keyword phrases that could be useful.

Once you have a list of keywords on hand, assign two to three keyword phrases to each Web page and incorporate them into the text where appropriate. In addition to body copy, write the page titles and Meta descriptions using those keywords, too.

A word on keywords, page titles, and Meta descriptions …

Some Web designers appreciate your work in this area and others may feel like you have encroached on their turf. Tread lightly.

Oh, and one last thing. If they want your help in this area, ask what file type they prefer the data be saved in. Excel may be the easiest.

Graphical text adds to design
Bold and italicize important text to make the page easier to scan, add sub-headers where relevant, and indicate where a graphical text box or pull out quote could be useful. The Web designer won’t be as immersed in the copy as you are, so give ‘em a break and provide instruction on what you think could work graphically.

Don’t speak ill of the client
If at any time you and the Web designer need to communicate about the project, don’t criticize the client or vent excessively about the project. You may think you are harmlessly putting down the ideas of the “clueless” client, but you just might be talking about the ideas of the Web designer.

Hand it over in text (with HTML if you’re hoping for a holiday card)
Imagine a world where the Web designer simply copies your text (containing HTML code for paragraphs, headers, subheaders, lists, and links) from a Notepad document and pastes it into WordPress or Joomla or whatever Web development tool he chooses to use.

This means he’ll have to do very little formatting and next to no linking. This last step alone will make him love you (or at least put you on his holiday card mailing list).

Sara Lancaster is a Denver-based Web site content writer who helps small businesses with their Web marketing. She’s on Twitter as @SaraLancaster where she works day-in and day-out to win the hearts of Web designers everywhere.

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Smart Comments

13 Comments on 6 wonderful ways to win the heart of a web designer

  1. Sara on Aug 26th, 2010 9:47 am
  2. Thanks for having me as your guest, Dean.

    Since writing this I thought of another tip… Avoid punctuation in headlines and symbols in the body copy. These don’t always translate in HTML and that means the designer will have to go back and make more edits.

  3. Lucy Thorpe on Aug 26th, 2010 10:02 am
  4. What is the best way to learn the HTML that makes your designer love you?

  5. Dean Rieck on Aug 26th, 2010 11:25 am
  6. Lucy Thorpe on Aug 26th, 2010 11:30 am
  7. Thanks Dean,
    can youy hear the sound of nettles being grasped! (or is that a UK expression?)

  8. Paige Jeffrey on Aug 26th, 2010 11:50 am
  9. @Lucy

    Start playing with the basic html yourself. :) That’s the method I’ve been using. It doesn’t mean that you have to dig into anything, but if, for example, you’re using WordPress, then try switching it to the html tab every once in a while and see how it’s all coded.

    Learning how to do basic html formatting, like how to bold or italicize your text, how to code a link, or how to add in an image can be pretty handy even on your own.

    There are some extremely handy resources out there too, like the w3school site. Or even just google “html bold text” and see what pops up.

  10. Paige Jeffrey on Aug 26th, 2010 11:51 am
  11. Ooh, sneaky! Dean got in there before me. That’s what I get for letting the page sit for a minute while I think about what I want to say.

  12. Lucy Smith on Aug 26th, 2010 6:56 pm
  13. The last point is a great idea, but one to tread carefully on. A lot depends on what markup they want to use (e.g. are the headings or ?) and the last thing you want to do is assume too much and then find that they have to go through and change a bunch of things anyway.

    My partner is a web developer/designer (I must know a few ways of winning the heart of a web designer!) and he actually likes things to be sent in a Word doc so he can see at a glance how the formatting should look.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is first ask the designer what they prefer :-)

  14. Sara on Aug 26th, 2010 7:36 pm
  15. Lucy, I think you’re right. I usually send it in both text and Word.

  16. Lucy Smith on Aug 26th, 2010 8:17 pm
  17. Huh, it stripped out the little examples of html headings I put in. What I was trying to say is: A lot depends on what markup they want to use (e.g. are the headings h1, h2, or h3?)

    I should have left out the . Teach me for showing off ;-)

  18. Lucy Smith on Aug 26th, 2010 8:18 pm
  19. *sigh* I should have left out the pointy brackets.

  20. Aprill on Aug 27th, 2010 5:17 am
  21. That’s interesting about copy coming before the design. In my experience, it’s more often been the other way around, where Lorem Ipsum is then replaced with the copy. And, I’m a little bit of a visual person so having a wireframe, at least, helps to get the creative juices flowing. Having said that, I just did the copy for a new site for a car mechanic and the designer waited for the first draft of copy. Perhaps I’ve just had a lucky run of things, so far.

    Great tips, too, by the way.

  22. Dean Rieck on Aug 27th, 2010 10:27 am
  23. @Aprill: I think it depends on what industry you work in. In direct marketing, messages are copy-driven, so copy nearly always comes first. In branding, often the design comes first. Ad agencies often have writers and designers work as a team. If you’re doing online work, it makes sense for some things to start with design, such as a typical website, because the visual structure is so important.

  24. Aprill on Aug 30th, 2010 6:34 am
  25. Ahh, that is true.