If you've ever struggled to convey a lot of information in an email — knowing the recipient or recipient type (hint: client) doesn't read, but skims content — and did not receive any response, then the article I just read in Fast Company is for you.
Titled, "How to Write a Convincing E-mail," the article highlights 6 key points that when followed, result in effective emails that will actually get read. My own perspective is that your emails are an extension of your brand and if they are concise, clear and action-oriented, your prospects, clients and colleagues will respond more frequently and hold you in higher esteem. I encourage you to read the full article as it provides great examples of poorly crafted emails and then the same messages written effectively. Following are article highlights. When composing an email:
1. Have a specific decision in mind.
What is the outcome you desire?
2. Start by writing your conclusion.
As opposed to the way in which you compose an essay with and Introduction, supporting text and a conclusion, go for the conclusion and work backwards to support it.
3. Structure your supporting argument into digestable chunks.
Use bulleted copy where possible or two sentence paragraphs if content is not listable.
4. Bolster each argument with evidence.
Opinions hold little sway. You're seeking action. Make it easy to respond by using facts.
5. Repeat your conclusion as a "call-to-action."
At the end, repeat the conclusion you began with and invite a next step.
6. Stick a benefit in the subject line
I found myself analyzing my own emails and certain points immediately resonated. Point #6, I put in the "last but not least" category. Composing a subject line is analagous to crafting a great tagline in that it successfully distills a theme down to just a few words, which can express facts and intention with clarity of purpose.
Which points do you find most helpful?
We like to say that your website is a living, growing thing; it's not static, but rather constantly changing. Many people believe that maintaining a website is a lot of unnecessary work, so we've brainstormed six quick ways to revitalize your website that will improve your design, marketing, and visitor engagement.
1. Update your SEO
If you’ve got your company name in every page title on your website, you’ve got a problem. Take a look at your organic search and see what opportunities you’re missing. Revitalizing your website SEO can help bring in new traffic and potential customers, and strengthen your existing site in the eyes of Google.
2. Create simple calls-to-action
Adding calls-to-action on your homepage and select secondary pages is a great way to reflow traffic, bring in new leads, and spice up your current design with minimal effort. It shows that your business is on top of modern marketing practices and draws the eye in a distinctly visual way. Our blog post on what makes an effective call-to-action is a good place for inspiration.
3. Make sure latest content is highlighted on the homepage
Haven’t updated the “news and events” or “articles” section on your homepage in months? Yeah, your visitors have noticed. It’s a good bet that your homepage is the most viewed page on your site. Instead of thinking of it as a welcome mat, think of it as a welcome center – a place where visitors can come for the most up-to-date information about your business, employees, and industry. Engaging visitors here means higher site engagement and a lower bounce rate.
4. Add current case studies and client projects
Chances are, potential customers are visiting your website to see your portfolio and examples of past projects. Seeing success stories from a couple years ago won’t inspire confidence in your current offerings. Updating your case studies with stories, findings, and photos is a simple way to generate more interest and remain current.
5. Revise the copy on secondary detail pages
Things change, and if you’re in an industry that is constantly developing, revising copy on your important secondary pages is a great way to stay fresh for your visitors and for Google. It’s also a great opportunity to update your internal links to other pages on your website or to your partners and clients.
6. Update your website images
Do your website images look like this?
Or worse, like this?
Old images, bad stock images, or a lack of images can all hurt your website. They instantly make a site look outdated and unprofessional. Changing up your images with professionally photographed company events or well-chosen stock photography gives the appearance of a redesign without any of the work.
Once you have a plan for all of these elements in place – fresh content, calls-to-action, improved SEO, and quality images – you can easily maintain the habit of updating your website and keeping it current, engaging, and interesting for your audience.
Calls-to-action are the pick-up lines of Internet marketing; if you don’t have a good opener your efforts are lost almost immediately.
In creating a lead generation campaign, an effective call-to-action (CTA) is necessary to drive initial interest in your offer. At it's most basic, a good CTA should:
- Be branded
- Be eye-catching
- Have proper page placement
- Have clear messaging
Beyond this, there are different elements that make up an effective CTA. We've put together a list of fantastic CTA examples that encompass best practices, which you could use on your future CTAs.
Immediately, the slanted, all-caps font Priceline uses on its bid alerts tool creates a sense of immediacy. The terms "alert" and "instant" capitalize on a feeling of urgency in using this tool, and the visitor is easily convinced that the end benefit is worth the simple two-form first step. By including the minimum first step of the process in the CTA, Priceline is already driving more conversions than saddling visitors with one long form.
PayPal plays on humor and a sense of ease as its CTA's first impression tactic. The CTA is branded in PayPal's clear messaging: "We take something dangerous and make it safe, so you can rest easy." The considered use of blue and orange company colors enhances this idea that PayPal's got your back. It also highlights the three most important benefits of signing up with simple wording "Free to Buy," "Safer and Secure," "Flexible Funding," and uses personalized language and a concentration on "you" to connect with the visitor.
Politics aside, President Obama has capitalized on Internet marketing from the early days of his 2008 campaign. His entire homepage is essentially a compilation of CTAs, with the most important one sponsored at the top in prime real estate and rotated in a timely manner. Currently, his "Dinner with Barack" Offer countdown amplifies the need to sign up now in order to be the first winner chosen. This, paired with a distinct red button that differentiates itself to the eye in color choice, and a smiling president create one great CTA.
Writer Access, a B2B company that matches companies with content creators, is unique in that it's the only website that has a consistent CTA across nearly every page of their site. This CTA utilizes three best practices from left to right: personalization, simplicity, and promoted benefits. The appearance of "Jenna" adds a face to your content creator search, and entices you to trust the friendly, well trained, and available partner behind your conversion. The second item quite simply allows you to do a search and browse without the interference of Writer Access in your process. The third is a more traditional CTA tactic: it lists the various benefits associated with the offer and everything you would gain, should you convert.
Skype's CTA differentiator is its use of numbers to demonstrate value. Most of their CTAs hinge on a numeric offer that prompts further use (mainly subscriptions) and appeal to the visitor's logic. The bright colors, bubbly font, and trademark rainbow clearly brand it to the Skype identity while the consistent green "submit" button sets the click-through action apart. Going even further, Skype uses social media integration to promote sharing and enable trustworthiness by incorporating online approval from strangers.
Ultimately, your CTA should represent you as a brand and demonstrate value in your offer; the creative details are up to you, your marketing team, and the analytics and A/B testing they're using.
Have you seen any other great CTAs to add to the list?
After examining Parts 1 and 2 of Copywriting for the Web: the three C's and five great examples of writing for the web, it's time to concentrate on addressing the right people.
The first step in finding your followers, is to question…
What is the mission of your website?
Examine your company's mission and branding and how they are supported by the website: what do you want to accomplish with your site?
Here are some possibilities:
- Exciting visitors about your mission, approach, and impact
- Informing visitors about your expertise, activities, and achievements
- Inspiring visitors to explore the ways they can participate, contribute, and benefit
- Attracting visitors to your services
You want them to think and act, and come away with a basic understanding of your company and it's mission.
Who are your audiences?
Before you sit down to crank out what is sure to be fantastic website copy after this 3-part series, you need to identify the types of people who will visit your site. These could be:
- Potential clients/customers
- Prospective team members
- Industry professionals
- Investors or board members
Try to do a little research and check web traffic analytics to see the kinds of people coming to your site, what pages they're visiting most and the bounce rate of each page. This will give you a general idea of what kind of content they're looking for and who they are, which will enable you to tailor your writing to them. Which leads us to…
What do your audiences want?
Understanding your audiences' motivation will give you insight on how to approach them. Consider:
- What motivates them?
- Why should they care?
- What will they gain?
Think about why you visit certain websites and what you hope to take away from them, and then pair this knowledge with the traffic research you've done and look for the consistencies. Then, consider what do they want in relation to…
What do you want them to do?
This is the ultimate goal of your website: aligning your audience with what you would like them to do. Is it about lead generation? Building a community? Gaining customers? Your writing should build on a consistent theme of action; if not, you run the risk of it serving only as a brochure.
Taking these steps will help you create content that is aimed at providing for your audience. However, it is always important to remember that while the visitor's actions may be fairly consistent, you should always:
Speak to one person.
The diversity among readers is often overlooked when it comes to marketing copy. There is no "one size fits all" approach, and writing copy that implies a generic reader will be of little value. When writing, make sure to address this by tailoring your voice to the individual.
So go forth with quality content, tailored messaging, sharp writing and an eye for the individual, and create fantastic copy for your website.
Now that we've examined the "three Cs" – be clear, concise, and compelling – it is easy to see where they come into play when writing web content. But good content also needs to be styled, in form and function.
This week, I'll take a look at five guidelines for web writing and corresponding examples on how a focus on the right kind of language can improve existing content.
1. Focus on powerful ideas
Think like a journalist and don't bury the lead. Consumers are looking for what sets a company apart, so focusing on your goals and the ideas that drive you will show confidence.
- Before: "For over five years, our company has been bringing together directors of some of the largest corporations…"
- After: "The power to increase trust in capital markets lies with corporate directors. Our company brings leaders together…"
2. Emphasize impact
Concentrate on concrete examples of your work that highlight progress.
- Before: "We bring together a premier group of leaders who are committed to addressing the goals of improving patient health outcomes as well as the climate for innovation within the constraints of pressures to control healthcare costs."
- After: "Improving patient outcomes. Encouraging healthcare innovation. Containing costs. Through our company, healthcare leaders are working together to address some to the most pressing societal issues of our time."
3. Use active voice, not passive
Using active voice creates more power in the text, as it grants the reader the feeling of action. It generates immediacy, a sense of now, and positions you as an active leader in your field.
- Before: "Over 200 directors from Fortune 500 and equivalent companies have participated in private meetings…"
- After: "We produce private meetings that bring together more than 200 directors from Fortune 500 companies…"
4. Avoid language with an expiration date
If it's absolutely necessary to include timeline information, be sure to make it a concrete start or end point instead of using vague language.
- Before: "Over the past few years, our company has built…"
- After: "Since launching in 2001, our company has built…"
5. Avoid overused words
Remember your motivation and stay on track with your marketing. Using "popular" or overused terms will do nothing but bog down content and hinder your messaging. It also can come across as amateur and lazy.
- Before: "Our premier company provides unique insight and exclusive solutions…"
- After: "Our networking services will…"
These examples are born out of the "three Cs," and will help you to create focused content that is accessible to the reader, whose attention you only have seconds to capture. Stay posted for the next part of the series, where I'll dive into how to target your web writing to a specific audience.
Copywriting for the web can be difficult for any writer. It requires you to hone in on a specific audience, simplify many aspects of your business or organization, work with quantities of pre-existing content, and create compelling copy that is easily “scannable” for over-stimulated web audiences.
All in all, a pretty daunting task!
With this in mind, in Part 1 of our feature on Writing for the Web, I'd like to touch upon the three Cs of effective web copywriting.
Whether you're utilizing marketing staff at your business or have hired a freelance copywriter, maintaining a central voice (a topic for another time) that stems from the three Cs will help you create effective web content that your readers will appreciate:
- Less is more—keep content brief
- Avoid long paragraphs and organize copy in easily digestible bits
- Make pages “scannable”—use subheads and bullets when appropriate to make the content more attractive to the reader's eye
- Minimize scrolling—link to pages or downloadable PDFs for more detailed info
- Use links sparingly in copy and consider placing links to related topics in a sidebar instead
- Be direct—get to the point
- Avoid run-on sentences and keep one idea per sentence
- Eliminate extraneous words and phrases
- Avoid jargon that might be foreign to a reader
- Put the most important information first
- Engage the reader by writing from his/her point of view—what is most interesting/important to him/her? Use anecdotes or examples, when appropriate
- Be informative—avoid “fluff” and use facts whenever possible
- Use active verbs and avoid the passive voice
These tips will help make your website more informative and easier to read. Stay tuned for the next parts of the series when we dig deeper into some good and bad examples of each of the three Cs.
Next week is Marathon Monday in Boston, which got me thinking about "marathon web projects."What the Boston Marathon and marathon web projects have in common are that both can be painful, long and tedious. Where they differ is that running in the Boston Marathon can result in a feeling of deep accomplishment. Marathon web projects are…less satisfying.
What causes a website project to become a marathon and how can it be avoided?
Most websites we design and develop are on a timeframe of three to six months. There are exceptions, but this is the norm. These projects are extremely well organized with clear goals, milestones and assigned responsibilities for RainCastle and our client. Like a perfect storm, a website project evolves into a marathon when certain conditions are present, such as:
- The website project is not considered a strategic endeavor by client's top management
- The client's approval process is unclear or depends on people who are regularly unavailable
- Something changes, like a merger or acquisition, a critical team member leaving the client company, or a change in strategy
- The person on client team assigned to write copy has too many competing tasks on their plate and the website is not top of the list
- The copy is difficult to write or get approved because the brand positioning and messaging is shaky
- If we're doing the writing, the clients we need to interview are unavailable or challenging to schedule
As good partners to our clients, our role is to drive projects to completion, yet show flexibility and the ability to problem-solve on the fly. Sometimes processes can derail just because the speed and multitasking demands in 2011 are intense, but if a few conditions are met, website marathons will be less frequent then the Boston Marathon.
- Confirm that the website project is viewed as strategic by senior management and that they will participate in the Discovery process
- Make sure that whoever is assigned the copywriting is allotted the necessary time to get the job done as well as access to those who will provide key information
- Have an end date in mind that is not arbitrary – It is best to try to tie the launch to an event, a product announcement or something tangible
We hope you enjoy this year's marathon… the Boston Marathon, that is!
I love a surprise! Only just don't give it to me on a web site development project. I feel pretty safe assuming my clients would agree with this. For those of you who are not web development professionals and find yourself running a web project, I thought it would be useful to dispel five mistaken assumptions about the web development process. Each of the next five posts will address one of these assumptions:
1. Once you hire a web design firm, the client's role is minimal
2. Web firms should never preview work
3. An open source content management system (CMS) is preferable to an off the shelf CMS
4. It's OK if the CEO or top executive in charge does not attend the kickoff meeting
5. Flash is dead
Assumption 1: Once you hire a web design firm, the client's role is minimal
Recently a client of mine said, "I didn't know how much work I'd have to do on our web site!" It was an innocuous enough statement but reminded me of the importance of a thorough web development process review in the very beginning. While I do recall walking through the process, I realize that sometimes until you have first hand experience, some things don't always register. Here is the list of client tasks for a typical web development project:
Content Inventory - Arguably the most challenging task of a web project is not programming, nor information architecture or even design, it is figuring out what content stays, what goes, what needs editing and what needs to be created from scratch. This information then needs to be catalogued in a spreadsheet and assigned an author. Nobody is in a better position to determine these things than the client. If an average B2B web site is 100 pages, and sometimes considerably larger, it will take some time.
Copywriting - In cases where the client writes their own copy, allow more time than you think to get it right. Expect interruptions from your "real job," which may extend the process.
Information Architecture (IA) - Creating the IA is our job, but as the client you will have much to say about what content needs to be created, where it belongs in the information hierarchy and what links to what. Others on the team will also be involved.
Search - Though search is often our responsibility, the client will need to participate in meetings and reviews of keyword strategy.
Meetings - Other than for non-local clients, there will be a minimum of three face-to-face meetings, the project kickoff, the IA kickoff and the first creative presentation. Most of the rest of the process can be online presentations and conference calls.
The Approval cycle - Every client organization is different but there is usually a hierarchy of approvers and a selection of team members that need to be kept in the loop. With schedules and business travel, this can add unexpected time.
Next time I will discuss whether or not the web design firm should preview work-in-progress prior to the first creative presentation.
Having been in the web design and development game for over 15 years, I've seen clients and prospects fall into a set of familiar traps when it comes to the process of creating a web site. Here are five tips for avoiding the pitfalls lurking in any web development project.
1. In-house Copywriting
The number one reason for an off-schedule or derailed web development process is when clients write their own copy. While this is not always the case, we've seen on many occasions, an in-house person "assigned" to write web copy on a tight schedule. This person usually has a million other equally or more pressing responsibilities and consequently, the web copy languishes. In virtually every instance where we, as an outside resource, manage the copy, our client is thrilled and their schedules met. I highly recommend outsourcing copy for the best result in the least time.
2. Socialist Decision-Making Process
Though it may offend some reader somewhere, a "socialist decision process" seems to me to be a good description of one in which nobody on the client side asserts a leadership position. Consequently all decisions regarding the web site, be they design, IA, content, whatever, are made by a committee of people often consulted at random times. The subjective nature of a web site allows for many opinions. Without a clearly articulated decision process firm decisions don't happen and schedules and budgets are often impacted. The optimal decision process has about 4 people empowered by their organization. They may give colleagues the opportunity to preview the work as a courtesy, but the decisions rest with them.
3. Unclear Goals for the Web Site
Concerns about the competition, frustration with lackluster sales, anxiety about stale content, consternation from dwindling site visits; there are seemingly endless reasons for needing a new web site, yet surprisingly many companies go into a web redesign without clarifying their objectives. Ambiguity is the enemy of a web project. The most successful web site projects are ones in which the client presents a brief outlining their goals and objectives. We can then measure ourselves toward those goals as the project progresses.
4. A Tactical Rather Than Strategic View of the Web Site
For most B2B businesses, the web site is the most visible marketing vehicle with the greatest capability for generating leads. The tools at our disposal for building and measuring lead generation for every web site are unprecedented. Still, many B2B companies treat their web site as a content repository and nothing more. It is viewed more as a cost than a benefit. Our savviest clients have built the web site into their overall strategy for success and evaluate prospective web development partners on long-term value and not just price.
5. Unresolved Messaging
Messaging is not the same as copywriting. Good copywriting can only present when the underlying brand messaging is differentiated. Brand messaging is the pillar on which copywriting, design and even IA stand. Before beginning any web project, a company must have a clear brand positioning, the essential statement defining what they do and how it differs from the competition. From that positioning springs specific messaging for the company, its products and services, solutions or applications. When brand positioning and messaging are done well, web design, copywriting and IA often work smooth as silk.
In our many Web engagements clients often question whether they need an outside writer on the project. The reason for rumination is usually either related to budget or whether internal resources have the time to get the job done. From experience I believe that hiring an outside writer is necessary and often mandatory. Here are five reasons to consider:
1. Save Time
Most clients have a short timeframe in which to create a website. Content is arguably the most important component. In our experience, content development is the single thing that we've seen blow schedules. Content development takes time and a review cycle. Busy executives who have a web writing assignment added to their already full schedule, understandably tend to back burner it in favor of client work. Working with an outside copywriter takes that pressure off and allows the schedule to be maintained.
2. Provide Objectivity
It can be challenging to keep a fresh perspective when you work in a company and most of your exposure is to other company insiders. It is easy to become enamored of your product or service and view the world from that prism. Adding a professional writer, with a broad perspective and top communication skills, to the team will avail you of new ideas and potentially a different and compelling way to share your value.
3. Establish Messaging and Brand Cohesiveness
Nothing less than the success of the website is dependent on having the right messaging. A professional copywriter is trained to ask the right questions and distill pithy content from the answers. A good writer is also aware of all of the ways your brand is presented to customers and prospects and looks for ways to present cohesive messaging.
4. Be Brief
It's common knowledge that nobody reads anymore. More accurately, people skim web content, looking for relevancy. Not only does messaging need to be branded, it needs to be brief. As Mark Twain said, "Successful writing is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it."
5. Optimize for SEO
Copywriting and SEO go hand-in-hand. Optimizing your website for Search is an important part of the web development process. The first step is to identify key words and key phrases. The skill then is in embedding those key words and phrases into the content. A good copywriter can liberally apply key words and phrases while maintaining brevity, messaging and a natural flow to the language.
Together, these 5 points present compelling reasons for adding a professional copywriter to your team for your next web project.