Back in the old days, when I was young and writing print ads and direct mail. Before the web. Before everything was connected.
Back then, I could write each piece as a standalone element.
If I wrote a piece of direct mail, what came before and after someone read that package was simple and clear.
The “before” part involved a letter carrier delivering the letter to a prospect’s home.
The “after” part involved 1) The recipient dropping the letter and its contents in the garbage, 2) The recipient completing an order form and mailing it back or 3) The recipient calling a 1-800 number.
That was pretty much it. Easy. Simple.
Online things are a great deal more complicated.
If I write a new web page for a client, it never exists in isolation. There is no simple before and after.
Instead, there’s a crazy complicated before and after.
The before part could involve people coming to that new page via a link on the site’s homepage, or from other pages on the site. Or from an email or e-newsletter. Or from a tweet or YouTube video, or Instagram post and so on. Or from a paid ad. Or via a sponsored page of content.
Or, most likely of all, from a combination of several of the above.
As for the “after” part, that depends on the purpose of the page I just wrote.
Maybe the page’s purpose is to close a sale, or to get someone to sign up for something, or to presell them on a purchase as part of a longer campaign. Maybe it’s to get them to click through to another page, or one of three other pages. Or to another website altogether.
See what I mean?
When you write a new page for a website, you have to pay attention to what comes before and after.
To best navigate this complexity, here are three things to do…
1. Insist on a briefing from your client that includes a description of what comes before and after the page you are writing.
This sounds obvious, but more often than not I have had to make a point of asking a client to describe and show me the full context that surrounds the new page he or she is asking me to write.
How do people arrive at that page? Where are they coming from?
And most important of all…
What expectations have been set BEFORE people arrive at the new page I’m writing? What has been promised? What are visitors expecting to find and hear?
And, of course, the purpose of your page will be defined by what comes after. Are you sending people to a shopping cart? To an information page or review page? To a sign-up page?
If you don’t know where people are meant to go next, you can’t truly understand the purpose of the page you’re creating.
2. Pay attention to the tone of voice and design of the pages that come before and after.
We are meant to be creating a smooth and friction-free experience for our readers. This means there shouldn’t be any weird or jarring shifts in either the tone or the look and feel of our page. It should fit in with the pages that come before and after it.
Again, if the client doesn’t give you access to the “before and after”, you won’t be able to write a page that creates a smooth and effective transition.
3. Make this part of your work process, and as a way to cross-sell your services.
I make a habit of asking for the before and after. Always.
This helps me do better work.
But it also gives me opportunities to expand the scope of my project.
Sometimes when I look at the before and after web pages or emails or e-newsletters, I might see something that is old, dated, poorly written or in some way out of sync with the rest of the flow. So I can turn to my client and suggest I rewrite those elements as part of an expanded project.
There have been years when I have probably come close to adding an extra 30% or more to my income simply by expanding the scope of projects in this way.
Wrapping it up…
It’s all too easy to just follow the brief and work on the pages we’re asked to write. Heads down and keep writing.
But online, where every page and screen is connected, you can’t do your best work that way.
You have to know what comes before and after.
Get into the habit of asking about what comes before and after, and you’ll do much better work.
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