September 3, 2019

Use Your Words

Written content without strategy is just a compilation of words.

Content should be a part of the website strategy from the beginning. It is crucial that content is strategically placed and worded to flawlessly guide your visitor through their experience with your company. Too often, we find that content for a page is written to fit the design but it should be the other way around. The design should influence how the content is being perceived.

The Talk

Content shouldn’t be an afterthought

Kristina Halvorson, author of Content Strategy for the Web, depicts a scenario that may resonate with you. So often, research, design and development all take place, and then at the last minute they realize “…oh, this website needs words now.” There is then a scramble to fill the copywriter in on the project so they can plug in words where the “Lorem Ipsum” (dummy text) was.

This is why content strategy started to take shape in the field in relation to content design. It was becoming recognized that words are largely what shape people’s actions and perceptions of the company.

“Content strategy guides the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content and content design uses data and evidence to give the audience what they need, at the time they need it, and in a way they expect.”
When creating content, it’s important to pay attention to the 5 following concepts:

1. Inclusivity: Who needs your content?

When using personas to write content, avoid making inappropriate assumptions about your users.
Although you have an ideal client, you want everyone to be able to use and relate to your content. Work with intentional inclusion. Non-inclusive writing makes people feel: less important than others, inappropriately stereotyped, unvalued, abnormal, excluded, and biased against.

4 areas to pay attention to are: gender, race, sexual orientation and identity, and accessibility.

  • Use non-specific pronouns (“they” vs “she” or “he”)
  • Address the user directly (“you” and “your”)
  • Use acceptable labels for race and ethnicity (get guidance from members of the groups you are describing)
  • Avoid exclusive labels and language

Do: Take a right at the corner of 5th and Broadway.
Don’t: Walk to the corner of 5th and Broadway then take a right. (Assumes they can walk there.)
Don’t: Walk, wheel, or drive to the corner of 5th and Broadway and then take a right. (Unnecessary and inauthentic pandering.)

Not only does employing this ensure you aren’t being accidentally offensive, it also aids the user in putting themselves in the shoes of the “you” the website is talking to.

2. Intent: What are they trying to do?

Outline what your users’ top tasks are: the small set of tasks that matter most to your customers.

Example for USPS:

  • Track a Package
  • Find USPS Locations
  • Buy Stamps
  • Schedule a Package

Through research and analytics, it has been determined that these are the main reasons why people come to the website, these are the top tasks.

When you are writing copy to help people get these tasks done – start with a verb. It clearly shows that you are going to help them complete the task.

Bad example


Good example

Do you notice how the copy with verbs feels more helpful and actionable?

3. Meaning: What are you trying to say?

Ensure for each page that you identify the objective of the page, and shape the content around that objective. Hone in on substance. If you can say the same thing in fewer words, do it.

For the most part, a lot of the content your company may want to include on the homepage, your user or potential doesn’t care about.

There is a serious problem if your website homepage talks about: who we are, our purpose, our mission, our values, all about us, but not about how you are going to help your client and help solve their problem. They care about what’s in it for them more than they care about why you founded your company.

4. Context: Where is the user in their journey?

Context matters. Imagine the mindset of the user when they are receiving each piece of information.

Example: MailChimp’s success message for sending an email campaign

“Fine piece of work! You deserve a raise.”

Pat the user on the back for getting a campaign out the door. They’re probably feeling happy and relieved, casual and witty language is okay if that relates to your brand personality.

Example: MailChimp’s failure message for sending an email campaign

“We’re experiencing a problem at one of our data centers. Our engineers are on the case, and will have things back to normal shortly.”

Offer a solution or next step, be straightforward. They’re likely frustrated, don’t joke around. Be calm and don’t use exclamation points or alarming words like “alert” or “immediately”. Take ownership of the failure, don’t blame the user.

5. Constraints: What can’t you change?

Simply be aware of the constraints your content has to work within. These include: legal requirements, brand requirements, system requirements, accessibility requirements, and human grammar.

Our Thoughts

Content is the foundation of all the websites we build. We believe it’s crucial that your homepage clearly depicts:

1. What your business does
2. How you can solve the client’s problem
3. Next steps required to get started

We include development and writing at the wireframe level so their work can happen simultaneously. You want to consciously ensure that the copy is primarily about the client and speaks directly to how the company will solve their problem.

Think you might need a content strategy? Websites are what we do.