Here’s how best to work with website copywriters in HR tech
HR Tech Copy work on a heap of website content for HR tech businesses. (We’re in the middle of two website copywriting projects right now, for example).
Working with partners can be fantastic. Hiring freelancers or working with a copywriting agency allows you to tap into expertise you don’t have, or can’t access, in-house. So ultimately, you’ll get a better-converting website you’re happier with, faster.
But projects don’t always go like that.
Businesses work with creative partners in all sorts of ways. Not all conducive to the best results. Which means deadlines stretch, tempers fray and projects go tits-up.
All avoidable, if you’d laid the right groundwork.
So if you’re thinking about hiring external website copywriters to support your next project, keep reading. (Or bookmark for the next time).
Here’s our take on:
Why you should hire an external copywriter (and why you shouldn’t)
When best to bring web copywriters into the project (and when’s too late)
How best to manage the project if you’re working with partners
What your external writers need from you, to do the best job
Why should you hire a copywriting agency?
As the director of a copywriting agency, you might expect me to say you should always partner with specialist copywriters. I won’t.
Sometimes it makes good sense to run your website copywriting project in-house. Sometimes getting partners involved will be an unnecessary expense and delay.
Some examples of when you don’t need to hire a website copywriter:
You know exactly what you want to say, and how you want to say it. You’ve already invested time/effort/cash in fleshing out your positioning and messaging. You simply need to translate that strategy into your site.
You’ve got someone in-house who can write, likes to write, and has the bandwidth to pick the project up. Maybe it’s a quiet period, or you can take something else off their plate to free space.
You’ve got someone in-house who can write, likes to write and there’s no hurry to get your website done. You’re happy to chip away at the project – it might take six months or more, but that’s fine.
You haven’t got people in-house but you’re hiring right now, and it’ll make a great first project for whoever you hire.
In those situations, there’s little reason to hire a website copywriter. But the catch is, very few
businesses are in those situations.
You think you know what you want to say but you’re crap at translating those ideas into compelling, converting words that do your business justice.
You think you know what you want to say but you’re not sure that’s what you should say. You want experts to validate your approach.
You’re way too close. And there are too many people contributing ideas. You need someone to sift through and separate the key messages from the chaff.
You’re juggling loads of plates with business-as-usual. You simply don’t have time to get this over the line.
You could try to squeeze the project in, but you know you’d probably cause delays because you’re so busy. You just want the new site live ASAP.
You know you could do a good enough job – but you don’t want good enough. You want specialists to create something exceptional.
If those sound familiar, that’s a good indication that you’d see value working with a website copywriter.
A word of warning though. There’s one situation where you might think you should hire a web copywriter but it’s a really bad reason.
Why NOT to work with external website writers:
You’re totally flat-out and want to hire a website copywriter because they can take the whole project off your hands. You want to forget all about it and come back to a fabulous finished site.
The fact is, your website takes input from your side. Website copywriters can help slash your involvement dramatically, but they should never work alone. Any external partner is just that – a partner.
If you’re so busy you need to completely tap out, now isn’t the right time to pursue a website refresh/launch.
When should copywriters get involved with your website project?
There’s a constant tussle between designers and copywriters, about who should get involved in projects first. The confusion probably stems from the term itself – website copywriter. But most (or most good) website copywriters do much, much more than write.
Let’s talk about what needs to happen during the project. Then we can talk about who should get involved when.
Before your developer picks up a keyboard, the typical website project should involve:
Outlining project scope, timelines and strategic context
Defining goals for the website
Auditing competitors and SEO research
Mapping user journey and determining site architecture
Wireframing for optimum page-by-page UX
Researching your audience (often speaking to sales, customer success, etc)
Fleshing out personas, if you don’t already have them
Deciding key messages and drafting copy, including variants to test
Deciding design components – look and feel
On that list, only a couple of things are clearly design or clearly copy. And that’s the root of the issue: who does what? If you don’t define this stuff, elements can get neglected. And you mightn’t realise until much further down the line what an issue that was.
For example, poor UX can cause conversion bottlenecks later – but it’s an expensive and time-consuming thing to change. Likewise, SEO. If your SEO wasn’t on-point at the outset, you might only realise when your traffic plummets later. But again, not an easy fix.
For me, copywriting should always lead design but it’s not such a simple equation because it depends on the expertise of your writer(s) and how you’re running the project.
If you’re running the project in-house, for example, you’ll play to the skills of people involved. Maybe your writers are bloody fantastic at UX. And maybe your marketing manager has a background in SEO, or maybe Jack from IT does. It doesn’t matter who does what as long as the job gets done.
But say you don’t have the in-house expertise. What then?
It depends who you work with, is the short answer. If you choose a junior copywriter, they’ll likely be happier to ‘fill in the gaps’ once the designer has finished. And you’ll pay less than working with senior copywriters.
That’s often how projects end up working, but it’s not the best way. If you’re spending thousands getting your site designed and built, copywriting shouldn’t be an afterthought.
And if you work with more experienced website copywriters, they’ll want to get involved earlier in the project – ideally from the very first stage. A good website copywriter understands conversion strategy, UX and SEO as well as the writing bit (which itself calls on a deep knowledge of sales and psychology).
That means copywriting should lead design. Your copywriter will likely produce wireframes to control how the copy is presented, because presentation is a huge part of copy effectiveness.
That’s not saying copywriters can design – I know I can’t. (“Ettie, thanks for the effort but I think you’ve exceeded the limit of your design ability”, I heard once, about an icon mock-up.) But copywriters aren’t just writers – they’re information organisers. And information organisation on a website means being able to wireframe copy to meet UX best practices.
That’s what it means when you hear, copywriting should lead design. And you’ll get a higher-performing website if you structure projects that way.
How best to manage a website project with external partners?
As I said above, you can’t completely tap out of the process. Or you can, but you shouldn’t.
Even if you’ve got a supermassive budget (in which case you’re not working with a boutique consultancy like HR Tech Copy anyway. You’re working with McCann or Leo Burnett or Ogilvy or some such).
On the other hand, you shouldn’t micromanage either. There’s no point paying specialists if you’re going to unpick everything they do.
It’s about treading the right line. Being involved, present, part of the creative process. But also giving your partners the freedom to add the value you’ve hired them for. Trusting their expertise.
In practice, that means not treating your external partners like add-on resources. If you make all the creative decisions in-house and brief a website copywriter to ‘write 10 pages of copy’, you’re cutting them off at the knees.
(That’s like going to a top restaurant and asking them to cook to your own recipe. Why would you go, if you won’t eat what they’ve spent years learning to cook?)
That’s why it’s a mistake to hire a freelance copywriter as an add-on. (“We’re almost done, we just need the copy. We’re hoping to go live next week”).
Instead, build a cross-functional project team that involves everyone – designer, writers, developers, etc – from the earliest stage. That’s easy and obvious if you’re running your project entirely in-house. But if you’re working with outside partners, it’s even more important.
Treat your project exactly the same way.
(The rare exception could be if you have all the expertise you need in-house. In that case, maybe you hire a junior externally purely to fill a resource gap. You don’t need or want their expertise; you just want them to work to an exact brief, under a senior of the same discipline. Like a writing monkey.)
Have weekly calls between the group, so everyone has a chance to have input. Try not to make unilateral internal decisions. Use the expertise you’re paying for.
What do website copywriters need from you to do the best job?
There’s no point paying for external partners unless you empower them to add the value you’re paying for.
Every business, product and service has nuances. Even in the saturated HR technology landscape where certain products seem ten-a-penny. Help external copywriters understand what you’re all about, and where you see yourself compared to competitors.
That’s not to say you have to know all your USPs. If you have them share them. But if not, your copywriter can help you sift through your proposition to pick out what’s unique about you. Especially if they’re specialists who know your market deeply.
Insight into your strategy and tactics
You’re cautious about sharing confidential information of course. But you hamstring copywriters unless you share your goals, direction, challenges and current marketing tactics. Your website is only one piece of the puzzle; to ensure it slots in where it should, your copywriter needs to see the bigger picture.
Your buyer personas/ info about your audience
Everything customer-facing you write should be informed by buyer personas. Share these with your copywriter – they’re the foundation for better copy.
If you don’t have them, most copywriters will advise you (and help you) build them before starting the website. This stuff really matters.
Download our free eBook about building and using better buyer personas
Previous marketing and sales collateral
Seriously, overwhelm us. Show us what you love, hate and feel indifferent about. Talk us through what works, and what hasn’t. This is the bigger picture.
Brand and TOV guidelines
HR Tech Copy work with some businesses that have prescriptive brand and TOV guidelines and others who have nothing formal at all. If you’re the latter, your copywriter should help you pin down the informal stuff that makes up your voice, so the website becomes a consistent part.
Read more: TOV for HR Tech – the Blockbuster guide
If you genuinely have no TOV, that’s a separate project. Like personas, it’s best to get this stuff pinned down before you start creating collateral that depends on it. (cart, horse, etc).
As we’ve agreed, there’s no point working with a communications specialist if you’re not going to trust their advice.
Sometimes you’re blinkered by being too close. An external partner can give sensitive constructive advice, but you might need to break the internal status quo.
Your copywriters can glean a wealth of information from the business, if you allow them access. Let them chat to key people, whether at an in-person strategy day or over the phone.
That’ll be people like… your sales team. Customer success. The executive team. People who know your company, your customers and your product inside-out.
Your time and commitment
Bring your A-game to project discussions. Be available when the website team needs you. Give prompt, comprehensive feedback. Don’t cause delays because you’re not fully on-board with the project.
Your honest, constructive feedback
A successful website project depends on your honest, specific, constructive feedback. It’s a crucial part of the process.
It also depends on your honesty about your internal situation, challenges and pressures. You’re building a project team – don’t keep anyone on that team in the dark.
Empower your partners
Including external website copywriters in your project team can be an excellent decision. But only if you’re empowering them to do the best job. A copywriting agency naturally increases your investment – if you’re not making the most of the resource, it’s wasted money.
To get the most from website copywriters, you need to shift your mindset. You’re not hiring contractors. You’re building a cross-functional project team where everyone’s on an equal footing, pulling in the same direction to get the best possible results.
So bookmark this article for next time you’re relaunching your website. Then give us a call.