You have a product or service you want to sell. You need to update your website. What is the single most useful thing you can do to make it better? Do you need “Web 2.0″ whatever that is? Do you need great Flash animations?
I don’t know what’s on your site but in at least 9 out of 10 cases the answer is, you need better copy, better descriptive text. I’m not saying that great design, innovative features, search engine optimization and clever movies won’t help. But if you want the most effect for the least effort, go through your web copy and clean it up.
For one thing, concise, clear, well structured, descriptive, focused, appropriate copy will go most of the way toward making your site search engine friendly. For another, it will make your site easier for people to use. Friendly is good.
Let’s go through those points one at a time.
Short is good. People scan web pages so short sentences make scanning easier. Bulleted or numbered lists make scanning easier still.
Give people a quick overview. There may be a call for extended descriptions, essays or other information, too. Great. Don’t lead with them. Give people the short version first, then offer extended descriptions as an option. A serious customer will go back and read them. A first time visitor, serious or not will generally ignore seas of text.
The same should be said of policies, procedures, mission statements, letters from the founder, president, CEO, staff biographies, company history and other assorted non-essential information. It can all add value to a visitor’s browsing experience but gets in the way of what most people come to your site for.
Avoid “corporate speak” at all costs. If you can’t find the word you are using in a defined the way you are using it in a reasonably current dictionary, it’s jargon. Don’t use it.
Let’s take a real example from a web design firm.
“Utilizing Web 2.0 strategies, maximize bottom line potentialities through synergistic interaction with your clients.”
Huh? I understand the meaning of all of those words individually, but can only guess at what the sentence trying to convey.
I believe they are saying that a modern website will help your business. Isn’t that obvious? You wouldn’t even be visiting their site unless you knew that you needed either an update or a new website of your own. We already know that a business website is about increasing sales and keeping existing customers happy. What value does their statement add to their site?
Wouldn’t it be more clear it they had said, “A a current site is more effective than a dated one?” Again, this might be obvious, but at least it acknowledges that you know a website is good business and it is understandable.
The clearest, most concise writing is an outline. Now reducing your website to an outline is going a bit too far. It is, however, a good concept to keep in mind while you are writing. Outlines are structured. Similar ideas are grouped. Sections go from general to more specific. Each level of concept is essentially a headline for that section.
Structuring your content in an ordered manner and using the appropriate heading tags for sections will make your information more readable for people and will make Google very happy. Search engines love well structured content.
- What does your product or service do? Specifically?
- Who does benefits?
- Why should I care?
- What real world problem does it solve?
- Why is your product better for me than your competitor’s?
- How much does it cost?
And the list goes on. This should give an idea of some of the questions that your visitors will be asking when they visit your site. Is it easy to find the answers? Is it obvious how to find the information?
I recently evaluated several Mac outlining programs. Some of the software sites were great, one had almost no information, suggesting that I download the program and see for myself. I didn’t.
In the comparative shopping phase, I’m going to look at feature lists. I’m not going to take the hours and hours it would cost me to download all the programs and try them out. Kicking the tires comes much later in the buying process. Give me facts: List features. Show screenshots. Link to reviews. Make product documentation available.
Increased sales? Yeah, right. How? Tell me that your display rack will increase impulse buys at the cash register. Okay, that sounds reasonable. Tell me that XYZ company used your product, and how, and got good results. Hey, that’s interesting.
In fiction writing there is a well known instruction: show don’t tell. Offer specific ways that what you have will benefit customers. Vague terms like increase sales, better productivity, enhanced customer relations don’t cut it. Every product intends to help. Take that as given. Tell your visitor specifically how you will help out.
What do you want your website to do for you? Do you want to sell directly. Then focus your words toward enticing people to make a purchase or try your product out from every page.
Do you want people to contact you? Can they do so from every page? Does your text focus on having people contact you or leave information for you to contact them?
If you are selling a service or product, every word should be intended to get me interested. Does a company mission statement do that? Probably not. Make it an optional link.
The single most common mistake people make is to write their copy to satisfy themselves instead of the customer.
Who is your website for? If you are a rap artist then your language is going to be specific to a sub-culture. It would be the same idea, different language for an opera singer. If you have a music store that sells CDs for both genres then you need to be much more neutral in your word choice. The wider your audience the less quirky or in-group specific your language.
This is a matter of knowing your target market. If you are selling lavender soap then you are going to want to sell the romance of your product. Feeling words would work best. If you are selling programming software then you need to focus on technical benefits. The same person might buy both products but will be in a different frame of mind when shopping for each.
Wrapping it up
This is a lot to remember. It’s amazing how much work it can take to make something appear simple. We’re talking simple, not simplistic. This isn’t about dumbing down a site but making it the sharpest tool possible.
It all starts with having a clear idea of what you want to accomplish, then offering just enough easily digestible details. Offer non-essential information as a side dish. Write appropriately for your intended audience and avoid jargon, unless you are targeting a specific market that appreciates it. Even then, it is important to highlight tangible benefits and avoid generic and meaningless statements.