Glenn Murray on Using Wireframes for Copywriting
Our latest Champion, Glenn Murray, is not a prototypical Balsamiq user. He's a copywriter (although perhaps not a typical copywriter either). He recently wrote an article that opened my eyes both to the world of copywriting and to uses of Mockups that I wasn't aware of. So, why would someone who writes words for a living use a visual user interface tool like Balsamiq?
He answers that question on his blog in an article called "What's a copy deck? And how important is it for a copywriter?", an amusing critique of traditional copywriting. In it, he describes the standard copywriter's deliverable, the copy deck, which he has never used. He explains why he has broken the mold by creating his deliverables using Balsamiq, which helps him write better copy and pleases his clients more than showing them his text in isolation.
As a UX designer, I can relate to Glenn's use of our tool. Reading about the conventional copy deck reminds me of the user interface specification documents I used to read (and write, pre-Balsamiq) – rigid and lifeless. Using Balsamiq for writing, as well as UI design, not only makes the author's/designer's ideas clearer, but also brings them to life.
Coincidentally, we recently redesigned our homepage and also used Mockups to hone the copy because we wanted to see it in the context of the page as a whole. Reading Glenn's article, I learned that this approach isn't unique to us.
Q&A with Glenn Murray
What is your title or job description?
I’m a website copywriter. I write mostly high level stuff – Home, About Us, Products, Services, etc. My company is Divine Write.
What trends do you see in your role or industry?
Definitely the biggest trend right at the moment is towards SEO copywriting and high volume ghost-blogging. But I think that’ll be relatively short-lived. As a title or label, anyway. It’ll evolve naturally back to simply writing high quality content. Google’s getting way too smart to be gamed by simplistic tactics. What I think will be a much bigger and longer-lasting trend is the overlap of web copywriting into user interaction design and information architecture.
Web copywriters – good ones anyway – tell a story about a business. About its products and services. Not necessarily a ‘once-upon-a-time’ sort of story (although those can definitely work). More a ‘this-is-what-we-can-do-for-you’ sort of story.
Now in most cases, the web copywriter is the main story-teller. The designer plays a big part too, of course, but it’s usually a supporting part. I don’t mean their work is less important by any stretch. I simply mean the story is usually extremely complex, and the design can only tell part of it.
This means the copywriter will usually have a better grasp on the finer points of that story. And on the audience, and their needs. They know what will effectively fulfil the reader’s needs, meet their expectations, educate them, motivate them and compel them to act.
And as websites are becoming more and more important and sophisticated, and readers are expecting more of them, the finer points of the story are starting to become the real differentiators. The websites that incorporate those finer points into their interaction design and information architecture are the ones that stand out from the crowd.
In other words, the sites that tell the same story across the board are the ones that convert better. Calls to action, menus, site structure, page segmentation, image content, buttons... All of these elements – and their relative prominence – need to tell exactly the same story as the copy.
So it makes sense that they have the same story-teller.
NOTE: Obviously there are big companies out there that engage dedicated user interaction designers and information architects. But they’re few and far between. The vast majority of websites are for SMBs, who are lucky to have a web designer and copywriter on-board. They’ve never heard of – and don’t have the budget for – user interaction designers and information architects. So it’s all down to the website copywriter.
Why do you use Balsamiq Mockups?
About 5 years ago, I started adding rudimentary buttons, text callouts, menus, visual calls to action, and so on, to my copy deck. It wasn’t long, though, before I discovered that as a wireframing tool, Microsoft Word makes a great word processor. I was spending way too long moving and formatting boxes, so I started looking for alternatives. That’s when I discovered Balsamiq. Now I use it for almost all my home page copy, and quite a bit of sub-page copy too. And my clients love it! In fact, I’ve won clients because of it.
I’ve spoken to a lot of other copywriters who are experiencing the same frustrations I was when trying to write only the ‘pure’ copy. When I introduced the Balsamiq idea to them, they instantly went for it. It’s like they were already at a tipping point. And although I like to tell my wife I’m the smartest copywriter in the world, I’m sure there are others out there who’ve come to the same conclusion without any help from me!
I chose Balsamiq because it’s easy and intuitive to use, fast, reasonably priced and does exactly what I need, without any unnecessary bells and whistles to complicate things.
What tips do you have for people who do what you do?
As a minimum, use Balsamiq when writing your home page copy. Ideally, use it to write other pages too, and link them together in interactive PDFs for client review. Like this:
What sets you apart from other people/companies that do what you do?
I take the time to do it right. Partly because I’m a perfectionist, partly because I’m really good at it, and partly because I have a good reputation and a great search ranking, so I have the luxury of passing on the low-budget jobs. Plus I think of myself as a businessman, not just a copywriter. I think like my clients do, so I can put myself in their shoes. I’ve also spent a lot of time consciously putting myself in the reader’s position; I was a technical writer in the software industry for 9 years, before I started Divine Write. And technical writing’s all about identifying and bridging knowledge gaps.
What's challenging about your job and how do you deal with it?
The single biggest challenge is finding enough time to write and to market my business. I’m still a sole operator, so I have to do everything. When I get busy, I have no time to focus on my SEO. When my ranking slides, things get quieter, and I have to invest time in my SEO again. Then I get busy, and we’re back to square one. The other major challenge is educating clients about the value of what I do. Most people think copywriters simply string together pretty sentences. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, on many jobs, the actual writing component is a small part of the job. This difficulty has only increased as I’ve moved more and more into interaction design and information architecture. If I mention those terms to my clients, I may as well be speaking Latin!
What do you like most about what you do?
Creating new stuff out of nothing. An awesome new website or mobile app out of thin air. I also love the business side of things, and being (virtually) surrounded by amazing, intelligent, inspiring people. And, of course, I love being able to work from home, spend more time with my wife, and watch my children grow up.
What has Balsamiq allowed you to do for your customers or teammates that you were not able to do before?
As discussed above, it’s allowed me to do more than just write the ‘pure’ copy. I can now have a hand in all the other important parts of the story. Plus I can now give clients a much better insight into how the copy will be presented, and how it will integrate with the other elements on the page.
What has been your experience showing your mockups to other people, for instance team members or clients?
They love it. Without exception. I’ve even won jobs because of it. My clients see examples of wireframes on my site, and it just clicks with them. A few agency-type copywriters have raised questions about whether presenting copy in this format is the right way to go. But most web copywriters work in a very different environment from an agency. So, while I respect their viewpoint, I definitely disagree.
What do you do for fun outside of work?
When I’m not doing the family thing, I create stuff. Like www.propertyblurbs.com and www.carblurbs.com. They’re websites that automatically write sales copy. I also love reading, movies, music, I run whenever I get the chance, and I like pina-coladas, and getting caught in the rain.
What inspires you?
- My wife (I wish I had her patience).
- My kids (I wish I had their free thinking).
- Amazing peers and colleagues who are super intelligent and just go for it (like Noam Chomsky, Luke Wroblewski, Bill Slawski, Fred Schebesta and my business partner, Ian Butler).
- Amazing products that solve everyday problems in elegant ways (like Evernote, Remember The Milk and my Kindle).
- Everyday problems (that I can’t help but try to solve myself).
Do you have any feature ideas or suggestions for how we can improve our product(s)?
- I’d LOVE to be able to create HTML versions of my wireframes.
- I’d love to be able to save things as templates. E.g. Save a combination of objects (a container, a button, and a paragraph of text) as a template, insert that templates on other pages, change the original, the change propagates across the other pages too. [Editor's note: We do offer this, it's our Symbols feature]
- A better way of creating drop-down menus. At the moment, I simply create a duplicate of the page and add the drop down to the duplicate, then link to the duplicate page from the top level menu item on the original page. See my screencast above to see this in practice.
Thank you, Glenn, for sharing your process and helping us better understand the work you do. You are a Champion!
Do you have a story to share about the awesome things you do with Balsamiq? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your stories or blog posts!