The Writing on the Web: The Importance of Writing in Web Development & Design

web development tips

Picture this scene. You and your team have taken on a job to develop and design a website for a streetwear clothing company, kind of like Supreme on austerity measures, and now your team has reported that they’re done putting the finishing touches on their work and ask you to check the results. You head over to their desk only to see that your team has overlooked one important factor.

Instead of the actual mission statement, lorem ipsum still populates the webpage. Instead of buttons imploring visitors to ‘Explore Our Collection’ you’ve got buttons with the words ‘CTA’ literally displayed on them. It seems that your team has completely forgotten about the writing part. The thing is, instances such as these are pretty common in web development given that designers and developers tend to not be very wordy. At this point, lorem ipsum might as well be printed on web developers’ coat of arms.

The role of writing in websites

Imagine a website without words or with words that have actually nothing to do with the website itself. While it’s not entirely misguided to consider that the visual design and the codes underlining the website are the most important part in web design and development, the actual words is what completes them. Website isn’t just a collection of road signs that tells you when it’s okay for you to stop, as an exercise take a look at Web without Words to see how lost you’re going to be without words.

It’s wrong to consider writing as separate from design and development. Even when you’re coding, you are using words, albeit one that is written for machines instead of the human mind, and the Swoosh is just a swoosh without Nike’s iconic ‘Just Do It’ tagline. It’s more appropriate to consider writing as part of design and development, which is why it’s wrong to not consider them until the design process is done; they should actually be a part of the process.

For example, I can remember one instance where a company uses the exact same words on their printed marketing materials as on their website. It doesn’t matter if the writing’s excellent, in the context of marketing, writing for the web and for the print requires a different approach. The direct and concise approach tends to be favored in digital marketing, which is why for web designers and developers, thinking what words you should put on the website requires proper thinking as the space you’re working with would be limited.

Writing as part of design and development

Let me ask you this, does your design and development work involves designing for the 404 error page or other error messages? In lieu of generic error responses, you could use some original writing to improve your design, especially if you have some ideas on what the 404 error page should look like. The metadata for your website, such as page titles and the description for search engines also involve writing and the latter is especially important for the purpose of SEO.

Yes, those examples might be light on words compared to a Tolstoy novel but that doesn’t mean they’re irrelevant. Nike’s Just Do It only have three words but those three words are now a Holy Grail of sorts in the field of marketing. If you’ve ever seen Mad Men, then you know how important words can be in the realm of marketing back in the 60s. Website is the frontier for marketing in the 21st century so it’s natural that writing would be important in web design as well.

In web design, this is referred to as interface copy, texts that are essentially part of the user interface of the website. Navigation labels, the sitemap, CTA text on buttons and labels on forms are all examples of what constitutes interface copy. Good design might not always need words but they can always be improved by adding labels and this is where interface copy comes in. With enough creativity, you could use interface copy to stand out amidst the generic ones used by most websites.

The second part we’re dealing with is marketing copy. They fall somewhere between the interface copy and actual contents, bigger in length but not quite and usually written to fulfill a sales or promotional role. The text you’re putting in the ‘About Us’ page for example and products and/or services description fall under this umbrella. They’re not as meaty as blog posts or articles but as the focus lies on persuading readers, this is something that you still need to take seriously.

Everybody can write but few are actually good at it

While the actual word count for short stories might vary from anywhere between 1,000 to 10,000 words, the accepted definition is that short stories should be able to be read in a single sitting. Writing a made-up story of 2,000 words doesn’t sound hard, does it? Try doing one however and you’d be surprised at the commitment required for such seemingly simple undertaking. My college professor could write a short story in 10 hours, but she’d need an additional 20 hours refining and editing it into something worth reading.

Writing is hard and copy writing might be even more so given that its goal is to persuade people into spending money. By comparison, trying to make people cry or laugh is easier because those things are free; your time is the only thing you’re sacrificing. My point is, if you’ve been designing and developing websites without considering writing, only leaving them up until the last minute, you might want to reconsider that approach.