Copy can either enhance or destroy all of the hard work that a developer puts into a website. It is the final layer, the veneer, that along with the visual design communicates to the user everything they’re going to take away from a site. This is why we have content strategy: To make sure that the polished veneer is tied directly to core philosophies of the site, and by extension the brand — achieving business goals while creating a beneficial user experience for target personas. We hope that we’ve achieved that with our new site — and I believe that we have.
Content strategy, when properly organized, sets a copywriter up for success. On this project I had the unique experience of not being the content strategist, since the planning for this site predates my tenure as resident ‘content guy.’ Luckily, there was an expert at the helm, and my boss Mike King set up a content strategy with a clear, defined message: we are a smart, robust agency with full-service digital capabilities and search at our core.
While content strategy is much (much, much) more than brand messaging — having a concise brand promise that sits at the center of all created content is absolutely essential. It gives your content a sense of cohesion, even as you tread across a number of pages with unique objectives.
I Learned Some Lessons
On a project this big, hard lessons are always learned. They make you better as a person and as a professional. Especially coming from an agency background, these sort of projects give me a glimpse into the day-to-day for the in-house marketing teams of our clients. Key takeaway: Marketing your own brand is hard.
If You Do It For Clients, Do It For Yourself
I once spoke with a developer I was freelancing with who told me it was a badge of honor for a digital company to have a bad website. When I raised my eyebrow he told me: “It means you have so many clients that you don’t have time to work on your own site.” I still think that’s a load of garbage. To get our site done we just put in the extra hours. Our strategy team also does marketing for the iAcquire brand, and there was no time out for client work. Deadlines had to be met, and our work had to continue to be exceptional. No exceptions.
So we had late nights. And we lost a few of our weekends. Our developer, Creative Director Robb Dorr, didn’t sleep for about 3 months. But we finished the site, and now it actually reflects our full capabilities. When we talk about our offerings, all we need to do is point to our own site. It’s a good feeling.
It’s Not Just Site Copy
If you’ve never written an entire website, you’d probably be seriously surprised at the sheer amount of copy that has to be created. These projects are always much, much larger than they appear. One reason is that it’s not just the obvious forward facing page copy you have to worry about. There’s also metadata. And social metadata. And headers. And internal linking structures. For every page. It never ends. (Or at least it doesn’t seem to.)
This is where organization comes into play. It’s incredibly important to understand and keep track of all the content that needs to be created. And content strategy doesn’t end when the strategy brief is laid out. It is a revolving door of issues, and problems that need to be solved with the developer, designer, and key stakeholders. Problems come up. Content strategy has to keep astride of all of them, even if it isn’t directly responsible for solving all of them (unfortunately that’s usually Robb’s job). Failing to recognize and communicate problems results in more last-minute work being created for everyone on the team. It’s an exciting, fun, and stressful job to be in.
Don’t Start From Scratch
When you’re writing site copy, it helps to have something to work with from the beginning. In some cases, your new site might reuse a lot of the same copy from your old site (if that copy is any good). In this case, our rebrand and development into a full-service digital agency constituted rewriting all of our copy from scratch. We’ve come a long way in the last year, and our old copy didn’t reflect that shift. Everything had to go.
To get started, I got contributions of copy from all around the company. People who knew their subjects best sent me drafts that constituted a blind best effort for site pages. At this point, we were mostly working off of mockups and annotated wireframes, so it was kind of a toss-up as to whether the initial copy even came close to hitting the mark. Even though I got rid of most of the copy, the early drafts helped me understand the needs of the rest of the company. Everybody had particular elements that they felt should have a strong presence on the site. These drafts were a reminder to showcase our company with equanimity, since our offerings range far beyond the things that I deal with on a day-to-day basis.
Secondly, a lot of the materials that we deal with are incredibly technical. My knowledge in that space is limited, so I relied on those early drafts (and numerous revisions guided by my more technical colleagues) to get the copy done. In particular, the Technology page kept the same structure as the original draft from our Co-CEO Joe Griffin, with only the voice and tone altered to match the rest of the site copy.
Always Keep a Copy Deck
Dev sites are like construction zones. And writing copy directly into the CMS of a dev site is like moving your furniture into a house before it’s done being built. There’s no guarantee your stuff won’t be destroyed, chopped in half, or covered in dust (or buggy code, as the case may be). Writing directly into the CMS is a good way to get a sense of how your copy is going to look on the page, and if you’re anything like me, the visual element of the copy is incredibly important. Just make sure you always keep a copy deck on the side, detailing all of your metadata, header tags, and body copy. Because something will inevitable destroy all of your hard work.
A few days before site launch a bug started eating all of our dynamic calls to action, and even wiped out a few regular site pages. Luckily I had all of that copy preserved in a deck. Except for the copy on our Company page, which I wrote in a stroke of creativity at midnight on a Saturday. It was the best copy I had written for the site, and needless to say I felt a little despondent when I realized that it had all gone away for good, and I was going to have to put it together again from memory. I still wonder if the original copy was better.
Be Proud (When You Should Be)
Even if all of your work isn’t done, it’s important to look back at what you have accomplished and try to feel good about it. Once I had added the copy to Robb’s awesome Parallax design on our Philosophy page, I felt really proud. I was able to look at that copy as one successful project that I had completed, and I used it to push myself to get a lot of the less exciting copy done.
Looking back (and the work still isn’t entirely done), I’m incredibly proud of the work that I have done, and feel privileged to work on such a capable, creative, and innovative team. This site really represents a clear step into our new life as a full-service digital agency. I can’t wait to be a part of what comes next.