Dear Storyline, what is a user journey and can I charge clients for this service when I'm writing websites?

Confused Journey.jpg

This week on the Storyline Blog we deal with something that’s probably on a lot of your minds, if you’re writing websites. What the heck is a user journey? How should you fit it into your workflow? And is it a billable service? Here’s a letter from Confused Journey, a Boston-based website writer, that sums up all these issues and concerns really nicely.

Dear Storyline,

So I’m writing a website for a start-up based in Boston. I was at a meeting in the park the other day, (yes, my client is really cool), and she asked about user journey. I kind of bullshitted my way through the meeting, and think I did ok, but now that it’s time to actually write the website, I’m a little confused. I mean, if user journey is just how the user moves through the website, isn’t that the web designer’s job? And—I know this may sound selfish—if I’m expected to put in all this extra work to figure it out, shouldn’t I at least be getting paid for it?


Confused Journey

Dear Confused Journey,

Wow, yeah, your client sounds pretty fun. We got some homemade pizzas from a really fun client once, but having a meeting in the park is definitely on our bucket list. I just hope your laptop was fully charged and you brought a sturdy coat. January in Boston must still be pretty cold.

We were actually really glad to find your email in our inbox yesterday because user journey is something we think about a lot at Storyline, and for good reason: user journey is really the essence of a website.

In a nutshell, user journey is all about putting together content in a way that achieves desired outcomes or reactions from users. If that sounds too technical or smells too much like content marketing, it’s not. It’s actually hands-on and straight-forward content structuring.

Do I want my users to scroll down the home page I’m writing, or do I want them to head straight to the contact page? Is it my client’s blog that I want my users to notice first or their services? Or is my client’s mission the most important thing about the website? How do I organize the navigation menu so that everything a user could want from the website is a click or two away and discoverable intuitively?

That’s all user journey.

Why is this part of your job as a website writer?

The short answer is because structuring content helps tell the story, but there are other factors too. Designers and developers aren’t necessarily thinking about how website content works as a whole, for one. Developers tend to focus on the functionality of individual parts of a website (and how much they cost), while website designers usually look at how those parts are behaving in relation to each other at the visual level and about how visual elements are interacting with content elements.

This leaves the website writer to focus on how the content actually guides the user through the website. Which is fine, as I said, because it’s the content that tells the story, and storytelling is the website writer’s job.

Ideally, figuring out user journey comes at the very beginning of the project, which is also how you can fit it into both your workflow and your quote.

Why is creating user journeys a billable service for writers?

Have you seen celebrity “tidier” Marie Kondo in action? That’s what you need to do for all the overstuffed, cluttered and “unloved” drawers and closets of content your client dumps onto the floor of your office. You’ve got to sort all those pages and sections out and put them back together again so that they tell a coherent and compelling story. And not just that. If you do your user journey right, users shouldn’t even notice they’re “using” a website. They should be experiencing it.

That’s no small feat.

Another byproduct of creating a user journey is a very important deliverable: a smart and elegant sitemap that will help the project in three important ways.

One, your sitemap will give designers a blueprint that will help them integrate written content much more effectively into their canvases. Two, it will give your clients a clear idea of how their new website is going to work, i.e. how it will attract new leads, drive conversions, etc. Three, it will give you, the writer, a rationale for your own work, which is just beginning.

Is all of that chargeable? You bet. And it’s more than a highly specialized skill set worth paying for, a site map is a deliverable that every web development team needs before they start working on a website.

How do you charge for a user journey?

Usually, we divide our bill into two parts. The first is a discovery phase, which includes the site map and user journey, a user study and a writing sample. When you phrase this service as an integral part not only of the writing process, but of the website development process itself, you’re accomplishing two very important things. You’re making yourself more valuable to the web development teams you collaborate with and you’re making most clients an offer they can’t refuse.

Hope that helps. Stay warm and enjoy the park,

Your friends at Storyline