Why Website Designers Don’t Need Differentiators

19 Jun 2009


Or…How to Write Great Website Copy for Your Design Agency

This blog post was spurred by an answer I recently posted on LinkedIn to a website design agency. They were in the process of redesigning their website, and they wanted tips on what to do with their copy. This specific design agency was struggling a little because they kept falling into flowery high-handed words and phrases that ended up translating into…well, nothing.

Anyway, we’ve worked with well over a dozen design agencies over the years, as well as written copy for a few, so I started thinking about what I look for in a design agency, and I came up with a list of five criteria for my perfect website design agency website…

1. First, I always look at the design agency’s own design first. I’m one of those people on the side of less Flash. Although design websites are one of the few types (along with artists and musicians) that can get away with a really Flash-heavy website, I still don’t necessarily recommend it. Flash headers can fun, but if you design the whole website in Flash, it can often get cumbersome for people to navigate quickly to the information they want.

Oh, and please remember that most people do not have their screen resolution at like 1 million X 1 million pixels. I know designers love to have the biggest monitors and work on these ultra high resolutions – they should! That’s their job. But the rest of the world really does work on something less than a big-screen TV. So, please remember to check and see if your website has a horizontal scroll bar.

2. Next, I go to the portfolio. To me, this is the most important piece on a web agency’s website. I really recommend breaking your portfolio down by industry or some other groupings that make sense for you, like “social media sites,” “personal sites,” “B2B sites,” etc. And I suggest using some nice simple thumbnails that I can click on with a clear descriptive link.

3. Next, I’ll search for very, very specific information. So I suggest listing, very specifically, what capabilities you have. Use lots of bullets and choose clear, boring headers like “online shopping carts” rather than something like “actionable purchasing services.” You really don’t have to get all froo-froo with fancy sounding words. Clear and concise will get you farther than creative and murky. Depending on my client, I’ll want to know items such as:

a. Can you design social media sites?

b. What programming and technical capabilities, specifically, do you have? (Will you just hook up a contact form, or will you write custom code, integrate databases, and provide full hosting for a million-subscriber dating site?) If you have a lot of technical nitty-gritty stuff, then break up your services into clear sub pages.

c. What size websites are you used to dealing with? Do you design mostly brochure type websites? Or can you migrate massive amounts of data, efficiently, from a website such as Investopedia or Microsoft?


4. If I discover that you have the capabilities that I’m looking for, I’ll go through a few final criteria. Does the company look and feel approachable? Sometimes designers tend to be image-conscious. Who can blame them—that’s what they do, right? But sometimes they take that to such an extreme that their websites end up losing that personable edge that is able to make a sincere connection with the audience.

Don’t be afraid to put some real pictures of you and your staff up there – I know you may cringe at the thought, but the fact is, people want to connect with other people, not just with really awesome graphics. Along the same lines, testimonials are a great way to show that you’ve connected with your past clients, and that you could do the same for your new ones.

Finally, be yourself. Have a personality in your copy – and don’t make one up. If you’re funny, it’s OK to be humorous. If you’re kind of a geek, that’s OK too. Use some colloquialisms that you use in your unique speech. Let some of your company culture show through. Be who you are, and you’ll attract more clients who are the right match for you.

5. Finally, I’ll go to the contact page. If the website design agency site doesn’t have a real phone number, I’ll go someplace else. It’s very important to me that I know that I have a designer who will answer his or her phone. Sometimes my clients really start pushing on me for stuff, and I need to know that the designer will be around if I need something.

So…interestingly enough, there are only a couple of items on here that have much to do with copy. That’s not an oversight. I’m probably going to get yelled at here, but it’s my opinion that unlike other industries where my first advice is always: make sure you have a value proposition, a USP, a clear benefit that you can’t get somewhere else, etc., website designers don’t actually need this.

OK, so let me defend that statement before I get every copywriter out there up in arms: First, website designers are in a singularly unique position on the web in that they are selling what you are looking at. So, if you’ve already got the client in your “shop,” there isn’t such a pressing need for a USP. The potential clients are already there touching the wares and trying the product – so designers are one step closer than the rest of us to that potential sale.

Second, most website design agencies don’t have a fundamentally different service than most others. If they do, great, then by all means, have it up there as the first sentence. But for the most part, designers don’t, and trying to force them to have one ends up the equivalent of trying force a square peg into a round hole. For the most part, a website designer’s real differentiators come in the form of the items that are listed here:

a) their portfolio
b) their specific capabilities
c) their personality
d) their customer service

Or, I should say, it comes in the form of the unique mixture of these that the client is looking for. If a client can…

a) find a design similar to the one he is looking for,
b) discover that, yes, you have the specific technical qualifications he was looking for,
c) get the feeling that he’ll enjoy working with you, and
d) be assured that you will take care of him, personally,

… then, you are different than the other designers he or she has been considering. Because you (and probably only you), has that unique mixture of these qualities that makes you the right match for the client.

By the way, we’re always looking for great website designers to partner up with. So, if you’d like to be on our radar for some mutual outsourcing, email me at: [email protected].

The Writers For Hire, Inc. 
At The Writers For Hire, you are hiring not just one copywriter, but a streamlined team of experienced writing professionals. We've perfected our unique cooperative writing model, so you'll have the advantage of receiving a fine-tuned final draft that has been reviewed by several editors.

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