What we do. What we ignore.

As web professionals, we often focus on what we think we’re supposed to focus on. When I started as a web designer, my “supposed to” list typically included design, standards compliant HTML/CSS (with knowledge of SEO), javascript, and the sort of general “help the client not make stupid decisions” (like having a Flash splash page and etc.).

While those items are fantastic, they alone won’t help you deliver a solid product to your client. The missing pieces come from the realization that a website actually exists for a purpose. Typically this purpose is either to communicate a message about the product or service, or to sell the product or service.

An exercise with your eyes closed.

Think of the last website you built for a client. Close your eyes and visualize the homepage. Now pretend you know nothing about the client, and are looking at the homepage for the first time. What does it communicate? If you take only 5 seconds to look at it with fresh eyes, does it clearly and effectively communicate the message? Is there a clear next action, like “Add to Cart” or “Find out more”?

I’ll assume that you can see room for improvement, even if you’re happy with the site. Regardless the answer, I strongly recommend getting a copy of Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think. It’s a quick read that may be one of the most important books you can buy as a web designer. It’s “advanced common sense”, as Krug refers to it, but it’s full of the sort of discussions and examples that you might not think about in the hustle and bustle of life as a web professional.

The Importance of Good Copy.

So back to the “supposed to” list from above. What it’s missing is an understanding of sales, marketing, and messaging. Yes, you can design a homepage, but what’s the homepage saying? What’s the text on the homepage? Odds are good that your client supplied it. Odds are better that if your client supplied it, you didn’t even read it (except to trim it down because they likely sent you 3 paragraphs of text where you designed a sentence to go). Odds are even better that your client hasn’t fully thought through why they sent you that text.

So what to do? Call in a professional copywriter, or see who in your office or virtual team is an excellent writer, and have them handle it. Why?

An interesting new study from Wellesley College researchers suggests that advanced language skills correlate with the ability to predict what another person is thinking:

That’s from NeurScienceMarketing.com in a post about salespeople. But the findings are relevant once you understand that a website is a sales tool. The point of Don’t Make Me Think is to avoid requiring your visitor to actually think. To do this requires careful consideration about what they want in the first place. And evidence suggests that strong language skills indicates an increased ability to anticipate the needs of the user.

As a web designer it can be a fascinating move to start thinking in terms of sales and marketing. But even if you yourself don’t move in that direction, it’s worth getting to know some copywriters to recommend to clients. Profitable clients are happy clients, and happy clients are more likely to refer business in the future.