The 7 deadly sins on your website

Spiders webIt’s astonishing how few people actually THINK about their website visitors when they’re planning out their websites.  That’s why many websites don’t work; they’re focused on the website owner not the potential customer!

Try and put yourself in your potential clients’ shoes and think about what they are looking for when they arrive on your site.

  • How easy is it for them to work out if the website is likely to give them what they want?
  • How easy is it for them to find the product or service or information they were looking for?
  • How persuasive is the copy that is about that product or service?
  • How compelling are the benefits to the potential client?
  • How visible is the call to action?

So here are the 7 deadly sins:

  1. Too much going on.  This confuses your potential customer as they don’t know where to start and it means they have to think and make decisions – much too difficult!  They might just hit the back button and go somewhere easier to process.  Clean up your act – trim the number of options down to 2 or 3 and give the reader something to lead them towards those choices.
  2. No headline to engage them.  Welcome to our website is not a headline, neither is Home, or About or Services.  They are simply wasting prime real estate that you could use to tell your reader that there are lots of exciting goodies on this website and tempt them to explore a bit.
  3. Creative menus.  I know that Services is boring and What we do sounds better than About, but people know what these boring menu tabs mean.  They don’t have to think about it at all, they just click and they’re where they want to be.  Besides anything that has ‘we’ in it on a website is obviously nothing to do with your reader.  If you get too clever with menu names, people don’t understand them and often don’t bother clicking on them.
  4. We this and we that …  This may sound rather rude, but as a visitor to your website I am not at all interested in what you do – only in what I get.  So we do this and we do that doesn’t connect with me at all.  Now when you start talking about You can have this, or You’ll find that … I’m paying a lot more attention now you’re encouraging me to imagine what it would be like with your product or service in place.
  5. Copy that is flat, boring and unexciting.  How can you make widgets exciting? I hear you ask – well, if you desperately need a widget or your machine won’t work and people will be sitting around being paid for doing nothing, you should be able to find a way.  To write copy that really reaches your potential customer you need to know who they are – exactly – and you need to understand their problems, their wants and needs and then write content that persuades them that you can fix all that for them.  It’s all about ‘what’s in it for me?’
  6. Too much copy.  We’ve all heard about long copy websites, but they’re not brochure sites, they’re the sites that are virtually single page sales letters.  For ‘normal’ websites you need just enough content on the page to tell people enough to persuade them to take action.  They don’t need to know how you do what you do (any more than you need the detail of how the mechanic is going to fix your car).  They don’t need to know lots of details about your affiliations, awards and the hobbies of each member of your team.  They don’t need to know how proud you are of all your achievements (except perhaps on the About page – but briefly).  They just need to know ‘can you fix my problem?’ and ‘will it be fairly painless or, better still, enjoyable?’
  7. No call to action.  There are so many web pages where the message is quite clear until you get to the end and … nothing.  If you don’t tell me what to do next I might just flip to the next website on the list.  This means you need to know what you want people to do on each page of your website, then tell them to do it and make it easy for them so put the link under their nose don’t expect them to scroll about looking for the menu.

So that’s what not to do – just do the opposite to catch potential customers in your web.

When did you last ask your customers how you’re doing?

How are we doingIn order to write anything that reaches my clients’ target audiences effectively, I need to know what that target audience wants.  It’s astonishing how few organisations actually know this.  The answer to the questions “Why do people buy your services or products and not those of your competitors?” tend to be one of these:

“I don’t know.”  Honest, but not useful.

“Because we’re better.”  Better than what?  How better?

“We’re very good at what we do and people like our approach.”  If you’re not very good at what you do, you probably shouldn’t be in business.  What do they like about your approach?

“We’ve got a lot of testimonials, so we know people appreciate what we do.”  Aha, testimonials – let’s see what people say, that could be useful.  After reading a few I still haven’t identified anything other than validation that the organisation is professional, reliable, has excellent attention to detail, employs friendly people and is proactive in their approach.  What’s wrong with that, I hear you demand – isn’t that good news?  Well, it’s what I would expect from any organisation – in fact, I’d be worried if an organisation didn’t tick all those boxes.  It doesn’t make a company stand out from the crowd.
What might seem like a simple question is suddenly much more challenging – and still needs an answer if you want your organisation to be head and shoulders above the competition.

The other question I ask is “What benefits do your clients experience as a result of what you deliver to them?”

By now you should be getting the idea.  What we’re looking for is measurable outcomes, not lots of nice compliments (they are great to have, but while they will give you and your team a morale boost, they won’t persuade potential customers of the value of engaging your services or buying your products).  What is a measurable outcome?

  • 20% increase in sales over the same period last year/month.
  • 2% reduction in staff levels without losing productivity.
  • Increased productivity that has increased overall output by 20,000 widgets per month.
  • Improved close rate on sales from 48% to 79%. 
  • Better staff retention cutting recruitment costs by 50% over 2 years.

As you see – numbers matter.  People like to see results and results generally have a number attached.  So what kind of results do your customers get?  Do they know and have they measured them?

The only way to get the answers to these questions is to ask your customers – and it’s worth making the effort.  Not only do you get valuable feedback, you are likely to get testimonials that will make a real difference to how potential customers make the decision to engage your services.  Remember it’s not about a checklist, it’s about really understanding the detail that makes the difference.

What stops people reading your message?

Broken barrierPutting a barrier between your message and your reader makes absolutely no sense at all, but it’s surprising how many companies make it hard for people to process the information presented to them.  Of course, nobody does this deliberately, but also few organisations know how to check for those things that trip their readers up and leave them frustrated or simply reaching for the back button (online) or the paper recycling bin (offline).

There are many blogs in the Readability category that outline the hazards of online issues, but fewer about the hard copy material you distribute.  These are some of the pitfalls associated with marketing flyers, brochures, leaflets and booklets that you will certainly avoid – once you know about them.

Common to online and offline material

Dark backgrounds with lighter writing.  Even though the resolution for print is sharper, ordinary sized (10-12 point) font cuts the background up and creates a dazzle effect.  It’s really hard on the eyes and the brain is working so hard to decipher what the letters are that the message can easily get lost in the process.  This reduces comprehension levels.

Headlines that are in all capitals – with no shape to the word this makes reading and understanding harder – and don’t be tempted to use a capital for each word, unless you want people to Read It One Word At A Time!

Justified text – when all the lines are the same length it’s so easy for people to get ‘lost’ and read the same line twice, or skip lines.  This just increases frustration and that isn’t the emotion that you are hoping for when you’re marketing your services or products!  Left aligned works best (centralised should only ever be used for headings, it makes your reader work too hard for paragraphs).

Very long lines of text.  Whilst most documents are not wider than an A4 sheet, which is about the longest line most people feel comfortable reading, if you are creating a trifold or gatefold don’t be tempted to extend your main text to more than 100 characters (in 10-12 point font).  This is the point where people start to actually move their head to scan back to the beginning of the next line and feel uncomfortable – next action – they stop reading.

Hard copy material

If you don’t have a company font that you use on everything, always take a look at your marketing material in two or more font options, it changes the whole look and feel of the production.  I’d recommend trying a serif font (e.g. Georgia, Cambria, Times) and a sans serif font (e.g. Arial, Tahoma, Century Gothic) to see what it looks like.

If you’re producing a paper flyer remember that people don’t always turn over paper documents.  Most people expect paper to be printed on one side only.  If your flyer has two sides you will need something in the bottom right corner – on both sides – that indicates that there is more information over the page.  This doesn’t apply to documents printed on card, which most of us automatically turn over.  When you create folded documents different rules apply.

Single sheets – most people scan single page documents in a ‘Z’ pattern (unlike on screen where we scan in an ‘F’ format).  So you need a headline at the top and your contact details either across the bottom or in the bottom right corner.  If you want people to read the main section on the left use subheadings and bullet points to direct their attention.  Anything on the right should be support information rather than essentials.

If you are creating a booklet remember that most of us read the right hand page before the left hand one.  We tend to read booklets like magazines and newspapers rather than like an actual book.  This is because there are headlines and sections and you will always find that the most important information in commercial publications is on the right.

Ensure that you have reader-focused headlines.   The first job that any message has to do is to engage the reader – if you don’t do that then the rest is wasted effort (and money).

These are just some of the issues that will improve the reader engagement and the likelihood that they will take action.  Check your current marketing information out to ensure you remove all barriers to people getting your message.

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