Websites: What Comes First – Copy or Design?

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Websites: What Comes First – Copy or Design?

The yellow small chicks with egg isolated on a white background

In this instalment of Words that Bite, I look at an issue that often arises with websites – what should you focus on first? The copy or the design?

To be honest, it is a bit like the philosophical dilemma over what came first, the chicken or the egg.

That is, it is a circular debate that never goes anywhere.

A web designer/developer might argue that it is best to approach them first, because the most important thing is how the website looks. They will tell you, ‘Worry about the copy later.’

A copywriter will say that it is best to start with them, because it’s the words that count. They can help you come up with a concept for the site, as well as help design the website architecture. After all, a website is all about structure, and copywriters love structure. They don’t just write words. They spend their lives thinking about the best way to organise copy to make it enticing for customers and clients. A copywriter will tell you, ‘Get the structure and the words. Once we have those, we can think about the design.’

What is the most common scenario?

I have some clients who want a website and come to me with nothing except a request that I assist in creating something that will help them reach their customers or clients.

I have others who come to me with full-blown designs and merely want punchy copy slotted into them.

More often than not, clients come to me after they’ve worked with a web designer/developer and just want me to fill in the blank spaces with words.

What do I prefer?

Chicken before egg

Well, if copywriters are chickens and web designers/developers are eggs, I believe the copywriter (or chicken) comes first.

By this, I mean that I prefer it when a client comes to me with nothing. That way, I can talk to them about their business and then come up with a concept for the website based on the client’s vision for it. After that, I design the website architecture, placing a great deal of emphasis on usability. Finally, I draft the copy.

Once we have a wireframe and the copy, I suggest we look for the right designer/developer. In my experience, this makes the designer/developer’s life easier, as they can see exactly what we want to achieve with the website because they have both the website wireframe and the copy. In short, we give them the tools they need to paint a beautiful picture, and they aren’t left wandering around, not quite knowing what the client wants because everything is based on what was said in a meeting.

Painter at work


Essentially, I believe working initially with a copywriter can prevent a lot of angst.

I also find that (and I say this with the greatest respect to my friends who are web designers/developers) web designers/developers don’t have a lot of time for words, even though the words are the magical creatures that make any site ‘sticky’.

Now, I admit that it is possible to create a ‘sticky’ site merely through images. However, most of the time, the job of driving a potential customer from the home page into the rest of the site cannot be done by images alone.

In 99 cases out of 100, you need words to persuade a customer or client to do what you want them to do:

  • Buy a product online.
  • Subscribe to a newsletter.
  • Call or email to make an appointment.
  • Visit your café or restaurant.
  • Visit your store in person.
  • Come to your office for a free initial consultation.

Therefore, I sigh a little whenever I am presented with a home page that looks slick and is decorated with nice images (which often have no apparent relevance to the business). In these kinds of designs, more often than not, there is very little room for the copy. This always causes me pain because, most often, it isn’t possible to explain in one sentence why a particular business’s products or services are the best possible option for customers or clients.

Nevertheless, it is important to understand that my view is shaped by my copywriting background.

What is the solution?

Ultimately, I think the answer is to think beyond what should come first – design or copy. Yes, it is time to move beyond circular debates that end up nowhere.

I think it is important instead to look at the bigger picture.

Let’s go back to the chicken and egg analogy. In order for chickens and eggs to survive, you need a coop to protect them. Otherwise, you might find you lose both chickens and eggs to predators such as foxes, dogs and crows.

Basically, I think that before you try to create a website, you need to ensure the concept behind the website and other digital marketing strategies is safely located within a broader digital marketing plan.

In developing that plan, you should consider the following:

  • What is the purpose of your website?
  • Are you going to have a blog?
  • What will be the purpose of the blog?
  • Are you going to use social media?
  • How do you plan to ensure your use of social media will engage customers and clients, as well as generate sales?
  • Which social platforms will you use?
  • Do you have sufficient content for the platforms you have selected?
  • How will your digital marketing plan generate leads?
  • Who will generate the content?

Essentially, your digital marketing plan should function as a ‘coop for your business’. It should not only ensure that your digital platforms are located in a safe structure but explain exactly how each one will help grow your business. To do this successfully, you need to understand how each one works and make some sensible decisions about whether they are appropriate for your business.

Once you have a marketing plan, you can look at each of the individual elements that make up that plan. If you are a small business, you might want to start with a limited number of platforms, and then branch out into others when you have the time and resources.

In the case of the website, the marketing plan should tell you exactly what you want the website to do for your business. Your overriding concern should be that the website captures the essence of your business and will work actively to drive customers or clients through the sales-conversion funnel.

This is the point where you should think about your website architecture and draft your website wireframe.

Whether you hire a web designer/developer or a copywriter to prepare your wireframe shouldn’t matter. If the marketing plan is clear and focused, then both the copywriter and the designer should be able to work within it.

Let the web designer/developer and the copywriter collaborate

The other thing I find is that clients tend to want to keep their copywriter and the web developer/designer as far apart as possible.

I am not sure whether this is because clients don’t realise that, ideally, they should collaborate or because clients are scared of losing control of the project to people outside their business.

Preferably, the copywriter and the web designer/developer will work together to create the best possible website for your business. If you allow them to communicate, it ensures they are always on the same page and avoids misunderstandings. It might even lead to some really terrific ideas that would never have emerged if you hadn’t let them join forces.

In the end, web designers/developers and copywriters are like the chicken and the egg: you can’t have one without the other. Most of the time, we get on really well. After all, we both want the same thing – a great website for your business that pushes customers or clients through the sales-conversion funnel.

Do you need assistance with your website architecture or digital marketing plan? The Pink Rottweiler can help. If you would like a no-obligation chat about your options, call the Pink Rottweiler on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at

Who is the Pink Rottweiler? The Pink Rottweiler is Genevieve Burnett – a copywriter who will take the time to research your business and come up with the smart words to sell your product or service.

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