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A designer’s guide to writing effective copy (& why it matters more than you think)

Believe it or not, copywriting is one of the most important content-creation skills a designer can possess. If you think about it, design exists to support and deliver content—not the other way around.

As a designer, content should be the driving force behind many of your decisions, whether you’re creating the content or someone else is. So if you can understand how to write effective copy (and understand the purpose that it serves), you’ll be able to better serve your clients and ultimately create better designs.

In this article, we’ll cover some helpful copywriting tips for designers to help you build better experiences.

Sales Copywriting vs. UX copywriting

First things first, understand the nature of the copy you’re writing for. There are some subtle differences between sales (or persuasive) copywriting and UX writing.

Sales copywriting is all about getting users to make a purchase or sign up for a product or service. UX copywriting, on the other hand, is all about helping users reach a goal efficiently and effectively.

There are overlaps between the two, for sure. But while sales copywriting is often about convincing a customer to do something, UX copywriting is about helping them do something they’re already trying to do. You don’t have to sell them on the goal, just help them achieve it.

Badges by Marina Verdú

Get familiar with SEO

Search engine optimization is a vital skill for any copywriter. Understanding how search engines evaluate the content on your website and how to create copy that both capitalizes on that methodology and serves your users is vital.

While you don’t need to be an SEO expert to create effective web copy, understanding the basics of keyword research and optimization, domain authority, and red flags for search engines go a long way.

Understand how people read on the web

For the most part, people reading on the web don’t want to read huge chunks of content. They scan the pages they visit looking for the information they need, only glancing over other content. (There are exceptions to this, of course.)

Make your copy easy to scan. People reading on the web don’t want to read huge chunks of content.

Make your copy easy for visitors to scan. That means keeping paragraphs short (2-4 sentences is a good rule of thumb), using plenty of headlines, adding bulleted lists where they make sense, and even using bold and italic text (sparingly) to highlight the most important parts of the content.

Write Freely! by Camille Pagni

Shorter is often better (but not always)

Most people reading online want to get to the point quickly. They don’t want to spend ten minutes reading an article that could have conveyed the same information in three minutes. And sometimes, a long read time will deter visitors from even starting to read your content.

The content you write should be as concise as you can make it while still delivering the information you need to deliver. Creating an outline for what you need to cover can be an excellent way to make sure your content is streamlined from the get-go.

Don’t be afraid to edit your copy after you’ve written it to remove unnecessary parts or repetitions.

Use the right tools

There are so many tools out there that can help you be a better writer. It can be tempting to write your content directly in whatever CMS you’re using for your website. But taking a step back and writing your initial draft in an app like Google Docs or Bear before copying it into your CMS and tweaking from there so that it flows properly within your design.

Other tools like Grammarly and Hemingway can also be incredibly helpful. Grammarly is a great option for checking your grammar, spelling, and even the tone and reading level of your writing. Hemingway helps your writing become clearer and more concise. Both offer both online and desktop versions.

Contracts by Kasia Bojanowska for Monograph

Make your design and copy work together

Your design should support your copy. Ensuring that your design and the copy you write work together is essential to creating content that people actually want to read.

When creating your design, be sure to consider how it will support your copy. Account for the styling of all kinds of text content you’ll have, as well as other media that will be included on the page. Be sure that your font choices and visual elements create a pleasurable reading experience for your visitors and they’ll stick around on your site a lot longer.

Read, emulate, improve

If you want to become a better writer, then it’s important to do a lot of reading. In the case of copywriting, pay attention to the content on other websites. That includes everything from homepages to microcopy to product descriptions.

Create a swipe file of copy that you love from other websites. You can do this in a text document or by just grabbing screenshots of great content. When you’re looking for inspiration, glance through your swipe file to see how other sites have tackled the same kinds of content.

From there, you can emulate aspects of their copy in your own writing. Just keep in mind that emulating is not the same as copying. You’ll want to make sure that you create content that’s appropriate for your brand’s target audience. But emulating the structure or general style of a piece you love can be a great place to start.

As you write more copy, you’ll get more comfortable with the process. And you’ll find that your copywriting skills improve, both in terms of the quality of the content and the speed at which you can create it. Copywriting is a valuable add-on skill that you can then use in your own work or for clients.

Cameron Chapman About the Author — Cameron Chapman: Editor. Blogger. Author. Designer. Copywriter. Marketer. Entrepreneur. Speaker. Consultant. Coach. I wear a lot of hats. What most of them have in common, though, is storytelling.

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