And Now This…

Some of you may know I have a secret double life as a web designer. I work a few days a week for a small firm in Northern California doing what I have intermittently described as Creative Services, Web Design, Marketing, Social Media Consulting, and Stuff On The Internet No One On Staff Knows How to Do for existing clients who have a need.

I also do it on my own on the side. I suppose I’d do it on the side more if I actually told people about it.

My philosophy is that every business ought to have a website, even if the only three things on it are your hours, your phone number, and your address. I am shocked— SHOCKED, I tell you!— the number of times I see websites missing one of those three vital pieces of information. A list of services would be great. If you’re a restaurant, a menu would be excellent. But you guys, the bottom line is to make it easy for your customers to want to give you their money! What’s the first thing you do when you need something these days? You Google (or ask a robot of some kind, who then searches for you). How are they going to find you if you’re not searchable?

Of course, generally once you’ve been googled you want to present an impression that you’re a competent, reliable business, so it helps to have a website that contains a bit more than just those three things. Your logo. A photo, some words about who you are and what you do. All laid out in an attractive manner that suggests you’re a legitimate business.

I like to build those kind of websites. I actually will host them and take care of the domain registration for you, too. But this is about copy. I’ve noticed a thing recently that happens a lot with clients, and that designers like to complain about. Here’s the scene:

You: I need a website. Here are my hours, phone number, and street address. Me: Great! Here's your website You: What is this paragraph of Latin? Me: That's called Lorem Ipsum. It's just nonsense filler text to indicate where your actual copy should go. We're ready to launch as soon as you provide that copy. You: Um... Me: ...

Don’t worry; this is super-common. Some designers bristle at this because they don’t write copy themselves. I’m more of a generalist, so I don’t mind writing your copy for you. But listen, a good designer won’t try to make you feel bad about what you don’t know how to do. You hired them to help you, not scoff at you.

It is intimidating to write if you are not a writer. Heck, even if you are a writer, it’s intimidating to sit down in front of that blank page and start writing. And it’s difficult to sell yourself, even if you’ve been in business for years. Look at me, I just now realized that I don’t have anything on my site that lays out all the services I offer! If you don’t feel up to the task of writing effective copy for your website, and your designer won’t do it, ask them if they can help you find someone who can. Or ask your writer friends if you can hire them to help.

I’ve recently changed my workflow as a web designer/developer. Instead of just throwing Lorem Ipsum into the space, which tends to confuse and distract non-designers, I have a worksheet I give with a list of questions like “what year did you start your business?” and “what area do you serve?” and “Do you have any testimonials, or know any customers/clients who might provide one if you ask?” If my client doesn’t get back to me with the worksheet, I lie:

For the last 325 years, Norman’s Dry Cleaners has been providing high-speed internet service to the greater Eureka area, and serves its population of over 4 million with 99.9% uptime. Our staff of 68 trained narwhals guarantee service within a one-hour window, or we will waive the first hour of your call time. Visit our facility in the heart of London anytime; we are open to the public, and provide tours by appointment.

My relationship with the client determines exactly how much I lie, and how ridiculous the lies are, but the point is, the first draft is done, and we can get to the business of correcting the information right away. Any words are better than no words, and factual words are better than any old words. And, well-crafted factual words are the best of all.

EDIT: I’m doing a whole lot more than spinning up simple websites these days. Visit Sharptooth Creative for current services and courses.



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