Every potential client has this question: “What’s the process?”
Here’s how I typically answer it:
“All I need from you is to 1) answer a short questionnaire, 2) do a 90-minute Zoom interview with me, and 3) connect me with 3-6 of your past clients for me to interview. That’s it!
I deliver everything to you — your copy, wireframes, SEO info, transcripts — in a Google Drive folder. Then, we make adjustments together in a Review Call. Finally, I liaise with your website designer as they implement your copy into a beautiful live website.”
This short answer gives an overview of the process from the client side of things. Because I think what potential clients are really asking is this:
“What do I need to do? How much time is required of me? What can I expect while working with you?”
And I want to make it clear right away that my website copy services are done for you.
This is the service to choose when you want to hand your website off to experts to get better results and save your energy for your zone of genius.
But, in this article, I’m sharing the behind-the-scenes stuff I do as part of my internal website copywriting process — the elements I typically don’t share.
These steps are how I get results for my clients. It’s a process honed over years of client work.
This article is for you if you’re…
- A founder wondering why the website copywriting investment is about the same as website design — something you may not have been expecting because isn’t copywriting, just…. writing pretty words?
- A fellow copywriter wanting to systematize your website projects to write faster and get better results — yep, feel free to steal my process and make it your own. I believe sharing our knowledge with one another uplifts the whole craft!
- Someone who just wants to know every detail before making a decision about working with me — I respect that. And here it is, every detail.
Step 1: Pre-Project Deep Dives
Step 1 of my website copywriting process is the Pre-Project Deep Dives. Aka, gathering all the information I need to strategize your website to attract more of your best clients.
The Pre-Project Deep Dives is the ONLY time I need my clients to do a little bit of “homework:”
- Answer my Market & Mission Clarity Questionnaire (basic information-gathering questions)
- A 90-minute interview with you, the founder (+ potentially other team members/partners)
- The contact info for 3-6 past clients + permission for me to reach out to them for an interview
Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements:
Market & Mission Clarity Questionnaire
This is a short questionnaire that gives me a jumping-off point for questions I want to ask you in our interview.
Most of the questions should be easy for you to answer (like: “Who are some of your direct competitors?”). Some of my clients like to write, and so share lots of details in their answers. Others give short, to-the-point responses. Either way is fine with me!
Here’s a screenshot of what this questionnaire looks like to get a feel for the questions:
90-minute interview with you, the founder (+ potentially your core team)
This is pretty much what it sounds like. You show up for our call on Zoom with a coffee, and we chat about your business — your story, your vision for your company, your clients, your client journey through your website, and more.
I record these calls so that a) I can be more present with you instead of taking crazy notes and b) I can review the transcript later for your unique voice (if you = your brand).
Past client interviews
You reach out to 3-6 past clients to see if they’d be open to doing a casual, background research interview with me. (I have an email template to use if you want!) Once you’ve confirmed permission, I take over scheduling the interviews.
Guess what? Most people say yes to being interviewed — happily and easily. They want to support you… plus, talking about yourself for 30 minutes on the phone or over Zoom is not as big of an ask as it may feel to you. I’ve had many people do these interviews in the car on the way somewhere, in their office in between meetings, or on their daily walk.
Depending on what your business is, these conversations can be fun, or cathartic… or they can offer a sense of closure about their time with you, where they really get to reflect on that investment.
Here is what one of my recent clients shared about these interviews:
“It is very emotional to read and see how their experience changed their lives in unguarded words.” I’m not crying; you’re crying!
But for real, talking to someone reveals so much more than a survey or written testimonial does — because we’re connecting, human to human.
Step 2: Voice of Customer Research (interview mining)
Step 2 of my website copywriting process is Voice of Customer Research. Aka, breaking down the interviews I’ve done into usable messages.
This is hugely important because while the client interviews themselves are awesome… pages and pages of transcripts are overwhelming to deal with as you’re writing copy.
You need something to break them down and make the gold inside actually accessible.
Voice of Customer research is that something.
From a bird’s eye view, here’s what my VoC research process looks like:
1. Separate each interview transcript into individual quotes
Anytime an interviewee is saying something meaningful, I grab that quote and put it into its own cell in my Interview Mining Spreadsheet.
2. Summarize each quote into my own words
My goal here is to make sure I capture the “gist” of what someone is really saying.
3. Categorize each quote into a messaging category
These categories include:
- Features & Benefits – Discussing an element or characteristic of the service or program and/or the benefit they received from an element or characteristic of the service
- Pain Points – Discussing their “before state” — how they felt or acted, things they tried before that didn’t work, what they were struggling with or challenged by
- Desires & Motivations – Discussing what they were looking for in this service or program or what made them say “yes”. OR their Big Desire related to this service or program
- Hesitations – Discussing what hesitations they had to saying “yes”
- Transformation & Outcome – Discussing their “after state” — how their life has improved since the service or program
- Unique Selling Proposition – Discussing why they chose this company/person over the competition; discussing things that make this company/person stand out compared to others
4. Look for patterns within each messaging category to find the top messages
The goal here is to come away with ~5 to ~15 messages for each category that span across all the interviews, so that I can confidently say, for example, “Most interviewees experience THESE 7 pain points.”
If you’re more of a visual person, click this short video walk-through to see me walk through these steps using a past client, Sketch Design Repeat, as an example ⤵️
5. Imagine how it feels to experience the Pain Points or Benefits
This step is all about empathy. What does it actually feel like to have a certain pain point or experience a benefit? How is someone’s life affected? (A strategy I learned from Belinda Weaver of Confident Copywriting.)
For example, for each Pain Point, I ask myself, “What happens as a result of this pain point? And what happens as a result of THAT?”
Here’s a snippet from my Sketch Design Repeat project ⤵️
6. Finally, make note of any “Sticky Phrase” an interviewee says
This is any phrase or word that I think is memorable and could lend itself to being used verbatim in the copy itself. (I think this is a concept that comes from or was popularized by Copyhackers.)
For example, for Sketch Design Repeat, one client used the phrase “Get the art licensing ball rolling…” and it ended up in a headline on the final website! ⤵️
Here it is in my Interview Mining Spreadsheet:
And here it is on the final website:
… So… all this BTS research and analysis stuff? It’s why I’m constantly talking about how copywriting is so much more than “words that sound good.”
It’s why I do not recommend outsourcing a big copywriting project (like your website) to someone who isn’t trained in it. E.g. a virtual assistant, a designer who casually throws it into your design project, or your sister who’s “really good with words.”
They probably are great with words… but the problem is… that’s not the only requirement for effective copy, not by a long shot.
Step 3: Competitor analysis, keyword research, and voice
Step 3 of my website copywriting process is the rest of my research process. Including: competitor analysis, keyword research for SEO, and brand voice.
Aka, everything else I do for research outside of Voice of Customer research.
Let’s break it down.
I look at the websites of your top, direct competitors. I do a combo of the competitors you tell me + the current ranking websites for your target home page keyword to see how Google searchers are going to compare you.
I gather the following simple information from 5-10 competitor websites to make comparison easy:
- Headline: This is the first thing Google searchers will see, so I want to make sure your headline stands out.
- Main message: This is my impression of what the company’s message is from just reading through their website. What are they trying to convey above all else… and how can we do something different?
Here’s a screenshot of the Competitor Analysis for Sketch Design Repeat ⤵️
Keyword research for SEO
My approach to SEO for client-based businesses is to identify one amazing keyword (and often, synonyms for that keyword) for each sales-focused website page.
An amazing keyword = proven traffic + hyper-relevance to your service/audience + search intent of someone looking to HIRE + possibility of outranking the current ranking websites.
I use a combo of common sense and SEO software, like Moz, to build a list of possible keywords for each page, and then whittle that list down to the top contender.
This process is pretty similar to my Voice of Customer research process, but instead of grabbing quotes from client interview transcripts, I grab them from my In-Depth Discovery Call with you, the founder.
I look for Sticky Phrases that I could use verbatim in the copy, and I make notes about your voice/style of speaking.
Finally, I also consider what you shared with me as your vision for your brand voice + any brand voice work you’ve already done (sometimes clients come in with voice guides, and I use that if they have one; though it’s not required).
Here’s an example from Sketch Design Repeat ⤵️
From my notes, you can see how I ended up with website messaging with lots of bold statements, like this headline…
“Our art brings in thousands of dollars for companies. It’s time we all get paid like it.”
Talk about a powerful message!
Step 4: StoryBrand Framework
Step 4 of my website copywriting process is the Storybrand Framework.
What is the StoryBrand Framework? It’s a messaging framework created by marketer Donald Miller. Essentially, it uses the hero epic story structure (think: Starwars) to help business owners create strong, memorable messaging.
I like it because it helps me make sure that we’re creating messaging focused on the client’s POV — not the business’s.
Also, it uses regular-person lingo, not abstract marketing jargon.
The framework follows this hero’s journey:
- A character (aka, your target client)
- Who wants (aka, desire)
- But has a problem (aka, pain point)
- Then meets a guide (aka, your company)
- Who gives them a plan (aka, how your company solves the problem)
- Which leads to success! (aka, positive outcomes)
- …Or, if they don’t follow the plan, they risk experiencing failure (aka, what happens if they don’t work with you)
- Ultimately, our character undergoes an identity transformation (like how a hero in a story has a character arc)
I use the work I’ve done up to this point to fill in a StoryBrand Framework for my clients!
StoryBrand has a special worksheet/outline to use (easy to find by Googling), but I’ve found it easier to just create my own simpler version in Google Docs that I can type directly into.
Here’s how I did the StoryBrand Framework for Sketch Design Repeat, using all the research I did leading up to this:
A woman who is a surface designer by trade and an artist/illustrator at heart. Likely has a full-time job (possibly also in design; like graphic design) and does surface designing in her free time. Hasn’t yet made much money (if any) from it.
To make a living as a surface designer; mostly through art licensing. She wants to be able to support herself through her art, so she can quit her job and focus on her most fulfilling work. Art licensing is appealing because it doesn’t require a marketing engine or means of production — which likely means more time for art!
But has a problem:
EXTERNAL (surface-level): Doesn’t feel confident about how to get in touch with, be noticed by, and impress art directors, so efforts to get deals are scattered and ineffective. Is not making any money!
INTERNAL (how that makes them feel): Loses confidence in her work itself (maybe it’s not good enough?). Feels incompetent. Worries it’ll never “work for her.” Thinking this is just a pipe dream.
PHILOSOPHICAL (how things “should” be): If an artist’s work is good, it should be easier to make a living from it! “I put a lot of work into my art; I think I’m good. So why isn’t it paying off financially or even professionally at all?” An artist shouldn’t have to be a marketing genius just to make a meager living.
Meet a guide:
Sketch Design Repeat
AUTHORITY (what makes you qualified to help?): The results her student have gotten. Feedback from her students. Her own successful career as a surface designer (designs on household name brands like Pyrex & Trader Joe’s), using the methods she’s teaching now.
EMPATHY (how can you show empathy?): Shannon’s personal story: Early career in a boring graphic design job; started surface design because she just loves it/wants work to be on products everyone uses; trial and error (penguin story); traction after 3 years; exponential success now.
Who gives them a plan:
- Take Pitch Your Portfolio or Artful Pricing
- Implement with Shannon’s active support & the active community
- Walk away with an organized system to do company outreach consistently
- Watch your first deals roll in and your momentum build!
- Get organized in your surface design business so you can make progress (and spend more time on your art)
- Boost your confidence to pursue a career in surface design and keep going (because it can take a while to get momentum)
- Get traction with art directors (get a few deals, have some reaching out to you)
- Connect with a community of other surface designers so that you don’t feel so isolated and have people to ask questions of
Possible failure if not following the plan:
- Stay overwhelmed with how to do company outreach — never get traction
- Lose confidence with few responses to your work and little money earned
- Keep wondering about which path to take (Instagram? Emails? Trade shows?) and never really take consistent action
- Give up your dream too early
From insecure artist dreaming of making a living and impact to organized, confident, working surface designer!
If you like this framework, I recommend starting with the Building a StoryBrand book, which goes into more detail about how the framework works!
Note: I did take a StoryBrand website course. But I didn’t get certified, so I do not call myself a StoryBrand copywriter, even though I use some of the principles in my process.
Step 5: Website Strategy
Step 5 of my website copywriting process is Website Strategy. Aka, deciding which pages to include, the website hierarchy, and the user journey through the site.
Let’s take a closer look at what goes into Website Strategy:
What pages to include + website hierarchy
The goal here is to have the exact number of pages you need — no superfluous pages that distract from the main offer.
I often come across websites with 10+ different pages for things that … don’t contribute to the company’s goal of lead generation.
For example, one of my recent clients shared their previous website hierarchy with me, and here’s a small snippet:
There are several pages in this website hierarchy that either seem redundant (like “Staff” and “Associates”), confusing and pointless (like “Links”), or just not in line with their goal to attract new clients (like “News”).
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach to website strategy… it’s just not the best approach for those who want their website to go beyond a “basic business requirement” and become a powerful sales tool.
If you’re using your site just to build a personal or organizational brand, then you can have 10+ pages that just provide “more info” about your company.
But if you’re using your site to speak to new clients, then your website strategy needs to be lean and highly focused.
This is why my website copywriting packages include a default FIVE website pages. Chances are, adding more than that could hurt, rather than benefit, your business. (Okay, sometimes, yes, you do need more — I’m open to that possibility.)
So far, we’ve been using one of my past clients, Sketch Design Repeat, a course creator for surface designers, as an example. So here’s what I recommended their website hierarchy be ⤵️
ABOUT, RESOURCES, BLOG, COURSES (with a dropdown to the PITCHING course and the PRICING course), and a CTA in the top right corner that reads “FREE CHALLENGE!”.
The main offer is the courses, and the secondary offer is a list-building effort, the Free Challenge. Because Sketch Design Repeat doesn’t offer any 1:1 services, I suggested keeping the Contact page in the footer — still easy to find, but not taking up valuable real estate in the navigation because it’s not a lead-generating CTA.
The design team tweaked my recommendations a bit with the final website. While I stand by my original recommendations, the final hierarchy is still lean and highly focused, so I’m good with it, too!
It goes: LEARN, RESOURCES, ABOUT, BLOG, CONTACT ⤵️
The user journey through the site
Next in website strategy, I consider your user journey. This means getting specific about how you want each potential client to navigate through your website.
From the home page, where do they go next? And then where? What’s the ultimate CTA?
You can’t force anyone to take the exact user journey you want, but you can make it the path of least resistance, gently guiding them from one page to another in a specific order.
(By the way, my blog post on website strategy shares four user journeys for different business models. Click here to read it if you haven’t yet.)
For Sketch Design Repeat, the ideal user journey I created is HOME > COURSES PAGE > SPECIFIC COURSE PAGE > SIGN UP ON THE COURSE PAGE.
Step 6: Wireframing
Step 6 of my website copywriting process is Wireframing. Aka, the visual layouts of each page.
You might be surprised to find that this falls under my responsibility as a copywriter. After all, isn’t copywriting, er, writing? Isn’t the layout the responsibility of the designer?
I know some copywriters don’t do wireframing at all, and instead create copy using designations like this:
H1: This is my amazing headline!
Subhead: Here’s my more amazing subheadline
Body: More information is found here in the body copy paragraph.
Button: Work With Me!
In this way, they’re strictly sticking with the writing, and they leave the layouts up to the designer. But I don’t like writing web copy this way for a few reasons:
- Without a wireframe, it’s hard for you, as the client, to visualize how your copy will look and flow on your website, so it makes editing or approving your copy a frustrating challenge.
- Your target market doesn’t read your website copy straight down a page vertically (like they would read a novel). They skim, they bounce around. So, as your copywriter, I want to make sure I’m using space with this in mind — highlighting the most important things where the eye will naturally catch them.
- I believe in using your website as your most valuable sales tool. So, equal to my writing work is my strategy work — how can we give people the right information, crucially, in the right order? This right order is where your layout (or wireframe) comes in, guiding readers through an intentional journey… that ends in action.
So you can see what I mean, let’s take a look at an example wireframe from Sketch Design Repeat:
As you can see, I use Google Docs and the “tables” function to create a simple wireframe for each page. The headlines are indicated with Headline fonts in Google Docs, and ditto the subheads. I use [brackets] to indicate clickable buttons!
At this point, the words are still front and center (there are no design elements), so you, as the client, are easily able to focus on the words. But you can also get a sense of how the flow will feel through your site!
The final layout is really close to the one I created, with some creative liberties on the part of the design team (which I fully support and encourage!).
As you read through the final website page, your eye naturally catches on the most important info. For example, these lines stand out:
- “The best advocate for your art… IS YOU!”
- “STEP-BY-STEP | ORGANIZED | SUSTAINABLE”
- “ORGANIZED, CONFIDENT, AND LICENSED SURFACE DESIGNER”
- “Quit getting side-tracked and START EARNING.”
So even if someone doesn’t read the body copy, they’re getting a solid idea of the promise of this offer + who this offer is for.
Pretty cool, right?
Step 7: Writing copy
Step 7 of my website copywriting process is… finally…. Writing actual copy.
Aka, the words you see on each page.
This is the hardest part for me to try to explain because it’s the most intuitive part of the process. It feels like I input all the groundwork — all the interviews, the interview mining, competitor analyses, StoryBrand Framework, and more — to my brain….
… and then it comes out in copy.
Unfortunately: I can’t give you a formula for my done-for-you copywriting projects, because these custom projects are high-end and unique to each client!
Call it years of honing my writing skills. Call it synthesis. Call it intuition. Call it flow state. Call it magic.
But… I do make conscious, strategic choices for each project. So, while every one of these projects is custom, I think it could be helpful to see me walk through a website page and explain some of my choices and how I arrived there.
Click the linked image below to watch the video ⤵️
Once the first draft is done, I edit it by following a checklist I created for myself.
This checklist is what I use after I’m feeling pretty good about a first draft, and I want to double-check it before I send it to my client:
Edit for messages
☑️ One clear message
☑️ Different from competition
Edit for strategy
☑️ One clear action
☑️ Clear secondary/tertiary actions
☑️ Website user journey makes sense & is easy to navigate
Edit for voice
☑️ Aligns with client voice notes
☑️ Aligns with what client indicated they envisioned
☑️ No unnecessary wordiness
☑️ Matches with how customers talk about their problem
Edit for conversions
☑️ There are clear CTAs throughout, especially at the end of pages
☑️ The button copy is clear
☑️ Contact page is easy to navigate
Edit for SEO
☑️ Keywords per page are different enough to not be confused by Google
☑️ Keywords are used at least 3 times per page (if possible), particularly in headings
☑️ Edit for grammar, typos, spelling, and consistency
If you want to see how all the research (& etc) came together for Sketch Design Repeat’s final website: Click here to visit the website.
Step 8: Delivery, revisions, and your site launch!
Step 8 of my website copywriting process is Delivery & Revisions.
I send you a Google Drive folder with everything you need to hand your copy, SEO info, wireframes, and client testimonials over to your designer:
- Transcripts of the client interviews I did (shared with permission from the interviewee)
- Testimonials I collected through the interviews (these are story-driven, with a beginning, middle, and end to help people see themselves in the transformation story)
- Headshots of your clients who shared testimonials, to include on your website
- SEO keywords and metadata for each page
- Wireframes, copy, and visual recommendations for each website page (including where to put testimonials, types of images, and etc.)
Plus, I send a 10-minute walk-through video explaining my choices (kind of like the video I shared in the “writing copy” section of this article).
Here’s a screenshot of what the Google Drive folder ultimately looks like (including version 2 the final version) ⤵️
You have about two weeks (unless you ask for longer) to review your copy and jot down your notes.
Then, we do a Review Call over Zoom to chat through every note you have and answer questions. Doing Review Calls instead of asking for revision notes via email is important for a couple of reasons:
- It feels collaborative. You are brought into the process at this stage to openly share your thoughts.
- You don’t have to try to explain yourself in writing. It can be tricky (and time-consuming) to explain a nuanced adjustment you’d like. Instead, you just show up to the call to talk it through.
- You can have questions. If you’re unsure about something, we can talk about it frankly and brainstorm our way to a solution together.
- We reduce miscommunication, making the revision process faster. On our call, I can ask you clarifying questions to make sure I completely understand before tackling revisions.
We do this up to two more times (though most people only need one more Review Call), and then I send the final documents off to my proofreader to catch any inconsistencies and grammar mistakes.
And that’s it! You send the folder to your designer. While they’re working, I’ve made sure your designer knows who I am and how to contact me if they have questions.
AND THEN YOUR NEW SITE IS LAUNCHED 🎉
You feel extremely confident in your messaging and design — and are ready to use your website as a major sales tool for your business.
Not to mention, you’ll see your ranking on Google start creeping up month after month and driving more potential clients to you.
But guess what?
I’m not washing my hands of this important project just yet.
The next step, once your website is launched, is to test it for anything that creates confusion or friction in the user experience and prevents people from taking action.
This step removes a lot of the risk from your copy AND design investment because I’m not just saying, “thanks, hope it works for you” and leaving.
I’m testing to make sure it does — and creating fixes if something is getting in the way.
This brings me to…
(The Final Step) Step 9: User testing
Step 9 (the final step!) of my website copywriting process is User Testing.
Here’s how it works.
5 regular people in your target market navigate through your LIVE website once it’s launched. They are asked to speak their impressions aloud, answer questions, and perform specific tasks.
The point is to…
- See how user-friendly and intuitive your website is
- Hear real people talk through whether or not they would take the action we want them to + why/why not
- Pick up on any lingering points of confusion or friction either in design or copy
These user tests are incredibly interesting.
For one, I think it feels validating to hear regular people have genuine, spontaneous POSITIVE reactions to your website.
Because they’re being paid to share honest feedback and they have zero connection to you, their positive feedback is perhaps more trustworthy than a friend’s or a colleague’s.
For two, these user tests help me get better and better at my work. They help me get outside of my “copywriter” bubble and see what actually works in the wild and what doesn’t.
So not only do I apply the changes to your website, but I also make notes for my next client website project to avoid whatever small hiccups from the get-go.
Okay, so I know some of you probably want to see what a “user test” actually looks like, right?
Click the image below to watch a real user test for the Sketch Design Repeat website ⤵️
You can see that, at first, I’m asking the users to answer questions like…
- What does Sketch Design Repeat offer?
- Who is the target audience for Sketch Design Repeat?
Because I want to make sure that the website is, first and foremost, clear on its message.
Then I ask questions like…
- Talk me through your impressions on the X page.
Because I want to hear their naked first impressions about a page and invite suggestions for improvement.
Finally, I ask questions like…
- What, if anything, would stop you from buying this course?
Because I want to see where the messaging gaps are that hinder the ultimate action we want website visitors to take!
When the user testing is complete, I share these videos with you, but I also organize comments and suggestions into a document + offer specific suggestions for addressing any “sticky” areas.
Here’s a simple example of a finding from user testing, and how we adjusted:
- People weren’t sure how to navigate to the courses on this website, because the navigation menu copy proved to be a little vague.
- The course page navigation originally read “LEARN”. So I recommended a simple fix to name the navigation page title something more straightforward, like “COURSES.” (*cough cough*, you might remember that this was my original nav before the designers changed it… 😉)
- Shannon (the founder of Sketch Design Repeat) was able to immediately make this simple fix and, as a result, make her website instantly easier to navigate.
Want to see all the feedback and fixes? You can click the image below to view the full Summary & Applications document.
WE MADE IT!
We made it through my entire process. This was a labor of love — it’s always easier to just *do* your process vs. explaining it.
If you read this far, thanks for sticking with me.
Your website messaging & strategy is in good hands with me
What I hope this breakdown has shown you is that I put a lot of love and work into each of my projects.
I have systemized the hell out of website copywriting and strategy because I never want to “wing it” with something as important as your website — your most valuable sales tool, your anchor for your online presence, your Source of Truth for anyone curious about working with you.
Also? I’m always iterating and improving this process. Every year, I adjust this process, based on what I find is helpful and not helpful or to integrate something I learned from a UX or copywriting course I’ve just taken.
In short: your website messaging and strategy is in good hands with me.