How to brief a web copywriter

It’s every content editor’s nightmare: steer an entire website’s content based on a two sentence brief. And that’s being generous…

It’s only natural that a client has little input to give when it comes to content – after all, it’s just words innit? (!)

So, to resolve this issue (if only in my own mind) I thought I’d set the record straight and detail what a copywriter needs to develop content for a website.

Of course, the exact requirements can change depending on the type of project at hand, but this list goes some way in providing a good framework to start off with.

Forgive me if it’s a little specific, but I will deal with site wide content issues at a later date.

Requirements of a copy brief include:

Who’s the target audience?

This is without doubt, the most important bit of information you’ll need. It’ll affect page length, structure, language and tone.

What’s the objective of the copy?

Websites on the whole have three main functions: marketing, information or transaction (e.g. sales). Be clear on what the business objectives are for the site as a whole in addition to the copy concerned.

How does this content fit with the site as a whole?

This point applies to smaller projects, where one section of a wider site needs attention. Nevertheless, this information is vital in knowing how content will work with the rest of the site.

Page length?

A fairly obvious point, but one that’s frequently overlooked. Page lengths differ hugely based on usage of the site, audience attention span, the depth of the page within the IA (ie whether it’s a navigation page or detail page at the end of a journey). That can of course all go out the window if the client is adamant they want their three page PDF of policy copied word for word onto a page.

What’s the deadline?

Again, fairly obvious point, but trust me on this. Don’t ask for something to be written asap. It’ll only be pushed aside for someone who’s provided a firm completion date, or worse, forgotten about. Provide firm / strict copy deadlines without fail.

What format or structure should it take?

This is more about presentation than what type of file someone’s going to emailed (but, for the love of god, do ask whether the copy needs to be in Word, PDF or HTML etc). There are universal standards when it comes to a default format but the client might not agree that front-loaded bullet-pointed easy-to-scan copy is best for their business. Are there any design issues that may affect the copy structure? If so, ignore them – copy is far more important than design (okay, so I’m joking…kind of).

What tone should be used?

Once you know what audience you’re pitching at, you should have a fairly good idea of what tone you need to take. Addressing young people? Adopt a tone which mimics that of a trusted, older sibling. Use a tone which infers that the user is an intelligent individual that’s capable of making decisions for himself/herself. Unless, you want to sound like a teacher who’s trying to be down with the kids. Of course, this all goes out the window if the client has an editorial style guide.

What should the writer avoid?

Despite the need to target hard to reach audiences, a client may want to avoid any controversy. Make sure the boundaries are clear before the work starts.

So, there we have it. Was this useful? Please leave me feedback below.