Writing your website copy doesn’t seem daunting until you open the blank page in your content editor and then type five words, backspace, backspace, type another 10 words, delete—”Agh, what am I doing?!” If you want to get things done on time with the least amount of frustration, you need a content plan.
Website copy should never be left to inspiration because you’ll find all kinds of excuses not to get inspired. Three months past your wishy-washy deadline, you’ll cringe at your half-finished site that really isn’t what you’d hoped it would be.
What’s a content plan anyways?
A content plan helps you organize your website copy and set deadlines so that you get it finished on time.
When you’re going on vacation, it’s unlikely that you hope your passport will be current, your bags will be packed with all the right items, and your hotel will be booked. You probably create a list of things you need to remember to do before showing up at the airport. If you’re nuts like me, you put most of it in your day planner to make sure you have enough time to get your passport processed and go shopping for a new swimsuit without feeling stressed out the day before departure.
You should treat your website the same way. If the focus of your website is to draw and please an audience and get them to purchase products or services from you, then you can’t treat it like a blank canvas with infinite possibilities. You have to be strategic about it. And you have to have deadlines because other things will end up taking priority if you don’t.
But I can never follow a plan. Things change.
A good plan is not like a New Years resolution. A good plan is realistic and broken down into bite-sized pieces that you can check off your list one at a time. If you have trouble following plans, it’s probably because you haven’t thought through your plan. A list on a piece of paper won’t do for something like a website, which requires a lot of different pieces to work together.
Things may change. You may decide after a couple of months to change your services or go after a new market. In that case, your plan will adjust slightly, but you’ll mostly need to adjust the content. You don’t need to redo the whole thing.
How can I possibly think of everything?
If this is your first website, then you will probably miss a few things. If you do your research first, those things will be minor.
Your plan should include:
- Tech requirements like installing plugins and connecting your email marketing service.
- Research to back up your claims; sources for statistics.
- Completed service and product descriptions and pricing.
- Your finished customer personas/profiles.
- Images or other multimedia content.
- Page outlines.
- Website copy, section by section.
Get started with the DIY Communications Styleguide.
The five-step content plan
1. Start planning by listing all the things you’d like to have your website do. What functions would you like to have? Will you need an events calendar or an online appointment booking engine? Add research tasks to your plan with deadlines. You’ll waste a ton of time trying to figure this out as you go unless you have deadlines.
2. Create brand guidelines. It’s pretty easy to tell when a website isn’t created with clear brand guidelines. Pages look like they’ve been created by different people. Thankfully, website templates can help you reign this in a bit, but you’ll still want a consistent voice and look across your website. Brand guidelines do not need to be 50-page documents. Get started using something like the DIY Communications Styleguide, which will help you compile the essential elements of your brand.
Doing this work ahead of time will make everything following a lot easier.
3. Create page outlines. Before you start sourcing images and writing copy, it’s important to know what you need. Pages titled About and Services isn’t enough. For each page, you should have an outline which shows what goes where. This will help your content flow. Here’s a really simple example of a page outline:
Here’s a really simple example of a page outline:[Hero image] img: [Hero image CTA] [Introduction paragraph] [Testimonial] [3 column services breakdown/comparison] [CTA]
Use other websites you like as inspiration. Every page should start with the most important information at the top, followed by persuasive elements that provide more information to help someone make a decision.
4. Write your first draft. Fill out those handy outlines with content. Use a program like Microsoft Word or Google Documents to add comments to areas where you need to do more research. Include lists of possible headlines. First drafts are for getting everything out onto the page, so don’t worry if it’s messy as long as it remains organized within your content outlines.
5. Final edit. Always give yourself at least 24 hours between writing your first draft and doing your final edit. It helps to remove yourself and then come back to your content with fresh eyes. You’ll catch awkward sentences and sections that won’t be clear enough for readers. Force yourself to go through your comments one-by-one to ensure you’ve responded to any concerns you had while writing your first draft.
Revisit your brand guidelines to make sure you haven’t strayed from addressing the right audience. Consistency is key!
Setting reasonable deadlines
Ever look at your calendar at the start of the week and wonder how you’ll get it all done? It’s easy to take on too much when you’re planning things far in advance. If you have limited time to dedicate to your new website, be realistic about when it will be published. Forcing yourself to work until 4 a.m. because you want it up tomorrow will only make you resentful of it.
My tip for this is to set a deadline and then add a 3-day buffer on to it so you can adjust to changing priorities if something last-minute comes up. Nothing can be more self-defeating that constantly missing deadlines, so set ones you know you can make.
As someone who balances a copywriting job with client work while working on my own business and a new project that includes recording and editing a podcast, whenever I need to do a website revision I’ll give myself at least a month to do it. And then I’ll break my big deadline down into tasks. For example, during week one I’ll work on preparing any new uploads to the website, week two I’ll create and outline for and write a webpage, and week three I’ll work on preparing pieces in my content pipeline—several pieces of content that support my new project, and then in week four all I have to do is put it all up on the website, connect what needs to get connected, and launch the revision.
For a new website, I recommend giving yourself at least a few months if you’re working full-time, because you’ll need some nights and weekends off. Also, make sure your deadlines account for other events like attending conferences out of town or going on vacation.
My favourite content planning software: Asana
Using a paper day planner for your content plan works, but I prefer software that allows me to easily move things around and set deadlines that send me notifications. That’s why I use Asana. Here’s an example content plan I started:
Doesn’t that make your big, scary website seem a lot more manageable? I include comments under each section to remind myself where I’m at, so at the end of the week I can check in to see what still needs to be done to meet my deadlines. As you can see in this plan, I’ve sorted my content plan into phases starting with research, moving onto writing, and then finally adding technology. Do what works for you.
Asana is also great if you work with a team, because you can assign team members tasks and deadlines and use the messaging functions instead of email.
If you want to learn more about how to plan and write great website content that foregoes popular fear-based marketing techniques, sign up for the Changemakers Copy Lab! Readers get in for only $75 (with lifetime access!) for a limited time, after which the price will go up.