You can’t have a successful website without great design and excellent copy. Web design and copywriting used to be separate professions. Today they’ve been blended together and it’s not always for the best.
Many professional designers are now expected to write copy for clients, but is there a good reason for this expectation? Or did the jack-of-all-trades movement create a false expectation? The answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Designers are not copywriters
First and foremost, designers are not copywriters. Copywriting is a skill that takes decades to master. It’s difficult to find someone who can do both equally well. Unless someone dedicates their life to writing, they won’t achieve mastership.
Despite this, clients routinely request copywriting services from designers because they see writing copy as part of the design process. These requests often catch designers off guard. Designers want to make their clients happy, so they give it their best shot. However, despite their best efforts and intentions, designers can’t become good copywriters overnight.
That doesn’t mean designers can’t write decent copy. Some designers can. The problem is when clients expect designers to whip up high converting landing pages and hold the designer responsible for the results.
The small upside to a designer writing copy
To a designer, writing copy means more work, more pay, and more experience. There are also several client benefits:
- After the designer builds each page to encourage the user to take a specific action, writing the copy to support that action is easy and would be congruent with the design.
- A designer will know when to edit the copy as they make design tweaks. For instance, say the copy instructs users to click a link in the top right corner of the page. If the designer changes the layout and that link is moved, the copy needs to change as well. If the designer wrote the copy, they’ll know to adjust it to reflect the new link position. If the designer didn’t write the copy and is instructed not to touch the copy, the error may not get corrected.
- Designers and copywriters often disagree with each other and it’s not easy to facilitate collaboration between the two.
- It’s easier to work with one person rather than several.
The downside? Inferior copy
In copywriting terms, inferior copy doesn’t just refer to poor grammar and a mediocre writing style. Inferior copy is copy that doesn’t convert.
If you look at the top copywriters in the world, you’ll notice they don’t use perfect grammar or punctuation even in their most successful pieces of copy. They use conversational language and speak directly to readers as if they were in their living room.
Plenty of studies have been done that show effective copywriting isn’t about grammar or eloquence. In fact, effective copy is written at a 6th-grade reading level. Effective copy is short, concise, and to the point. For this reason, creative writers often make terrible copywriters.
Copywriters are trained in marketing and can sway clients for their own good
Copywriting requires marketing knowledge. A designer won’t necessarily know any better and will lean in the direction of the client’s instructions even at the client’s peril. A professional copywriter isn’t afraid to go head-to-head with a client when the client doesn’t understand how to sell their own product.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a great copywriter – if you don’t have a formal background in copywriting, you don’t stand a chance at convincing a client to change their approach to copy.
Say you taken on a client who asks you to write up blurbs about their rental units, and you notice the name of their apartment building sounds cheap. You think of a better name for your client’s rental property. You show them examples of landlords in Houston going to great lengths to rebrand their apartment buildings with the right name to project the right image. You know you could write exciting copy if only they would rebrand their property.
Not your client. No, your client is perfectly happy keeping a name that makes people think of a run-down, dilapidated building. And you don’t have the credentials to argue your case. Now you’re stuck writing boring copy.
Are you being asked to write copy for a client?
It sounds harsh to reject a client’s request, but it’s in their best interest to hire a specialized copywriter for the job.
Smashing Magazine nailed it by saying, “design is a process that should happen with content, not just for it, and the practice of creating a page full of lore Epsom and getting the copywriter to fill in the blanks just doesn’t cut it anymore.”
At the end of the day, designers should work with a copywriter to refine the copy through a process rather than trying to do both jobs.