I've seen many clients, who with the best of intentions fall into the same rut year after year. There are certain universal truths about successful websites; one of them is that on website projects that include a quality content editor as part of the dedicated team, the process is smoother, stays on schedule and client satisfaction is high.
Here's a common scenario. Insanely busy client initiates website project and can't wait to get the new site up — the current one is five years old (give or take a couple), which is three technology generations ago, and the company is looking tired.
The writing and other content development is divided among topic leaders around the company and a schedule is distributed. We provide guidance on writing and desired word count and counsel brevity. One of the company's writers gets called out of town. Another goes on vacation. Copy trickles in from others, some of which seems novel length long. Other copy switches from third person to second person in the same paragraph. An engineer writes in the passive voice with all the details of a product spec, and so forth.
So, how can a content editor help?
5 Benefits of a Content Editor
1. Understanding the Web Reader
"If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter." This quote attributed to Mark Twain, holds true in the Internet Age and even more so as we morph into the Mobile Age. The most prevalent mistake people make when writing for the web is to tell a story in microscopic detail.
The Jakob Neilsen Eye Tracking Study tracks web readers' viewing habits, which can take a distinctive "F-shape" pattern indicating that people read the header, skim the first few lines of a web page, skip down to the next subhead and skim some more. The implications of this are for the writer to craft copy that one can skim in this way and still glean key concepts.
Keeping the reader’s viewing habits top of mind effectively and consistently requires expertise, training and the ability to pare back detail --- skills the Web Content Editor has honed through experience.
2. Objective Perspective
A content editor will begin by asking about website objectives, key audiences, messaging and tone. S/he will come to the assignment with a fresh perspective, without preconceived notions, or the inherent need of an insider to spell out every last detail for fear that something is missed. S/he will assume of the audience either too much knowledge or not enough.
The content editor will objectively evaluate the internally created content, based on stated site objectives. A good copy editor will continually challenge the inside team to focus on the value the company provides rather than the details of how something works or that it is great.
Providing consistent reminders that a website is about the audience and not the company is arguably the greatest value of having an objective resource.
3. Messaging Expertise
Bringing a consistent "clarity of purpose" to the content is something a good editor keeps top-of-mind. From the inception of a web project, s/he will glean key messages and brand attributes that are necessary to convey in the content. With each piece of content, s/he will ask, is the key message coming through? Are the details overwhelming the main point? Is it clear to the reader?
Content editors understand the power of cohesive messaging, consistently executed, and will cut through the clutter to simplify and promote the right ideas.
4. Single Voice
With the number of participants and various backgrounds of team members writing for the web, it's no surprise that copy is widely uneven in quality and consistency of message. The website is not only an educational and marketing tool, it is a representation of a company's culture, which is a reflection of the brand.
Reading the work of a single, objective, professional content editor is not unlike using an app to create a playlist of one of your favorite artists, versus listening to an uneven conglomeration of songs grouped into one “radio station” that ostensibly delivers the same sound as your chosen artist.
5. Maintaining Schedule
When a client has a new product launch, various events to prepare for, client management and website writing on his/her plate, guess which one tends to fall lowest on the list of priorities?
While writing for the web may be something a company executive feels the team should do, the reality is that the website falls to a "when I can get to it" status. I can't think of a website project where a missed schedule wasn't the result of client produced content not being ready.
In our experience, there is no question that having a dedicated content editor is most important for keeping the web project on schedule. Building it into the initial project from the start removes the greatest impediment to launching on schedule.
What are your thoughts on having a dedicated content editor?
We create websites people love. Of course I can't say that officially — although it's true — as HubSpot has already created a great campaign around "love."
I admire HubSpot's website because it says in big bold letters, "Create Marketing People Love." Then it qualifies that brand statement with a "here's how we help you do it" statement: " HubSpot has not only managed to create a product people find useful, they've created a brand
and a culture
associated with a powerful human emotion, love.
As we've been designing a new website for ourselves, we've been giving thought to what makes a website people love. The obvious answers are that it generates leads, is easy to use and maintain, performs well, contains relevant content and looks good. Marketers might add that it needs to be interactive, have calls-to-action buttons and enable users to interact. While we focus intently on all of that, we have found that what makes a website people love is to bring emotion and a sense of purpose to the web experience, which is derived from a supporting brand that embodies these deeper attributes.
IBM's "Let's Build a Smarter Planet" is another example of a B2B company that has created a culture not around technology or services, but a collaborative goal of building a better planet, something everyone can feel good about.
Our recent work for AirStrip, a mobile healthcare company is an example in the HubSpot/IBM mold. AirStrip is filled with passionate physicians, technologists and other healthcare professionals who have a sweeping vision for improving the American healthcare system through mobile technology. We harnessesd that passion into a powerful tagline, "HealthCare Transformation is in the Air," which distilled their passion and goals and tied back to their name and to mobility
. What makes the AirStrip website "loveable," aside from the increased traffic they've seen, is that the brand tagline spawned a whole language, i.e.,
- Healthcare mobility is in the Air
- Better Quality Care is in the Air
- Clinical Efficiency is in the Air
- Improved Performance is in the Air
As web designers, we see our job as "bringing company brands to life... on the web." More often than not, we are provided copy, which is written by engineers or others steeped in the one hundred percent buzzword compatible terminology dictated by financial goals, product details, perceived customer expectations, loss of objectivity or leadership that hasn't articulated a higher purpose. Even great graphic or interactive design can't transform mundane language or undifferentiated notions. People see right through that. Our most successful website projects are collaborations with organizations that have articulated, or are open to doing the work to articulate, a brand that in some way can be associated with improving people's lives, and carries both emotional as well as business weight.
"All our words from loose using have lost their edge." So said Ernest Hemingway, probably at a Spanish bar one night in the company of other inebriated literary elite. I imagine if he could see the current state of B2B marketing content, he would have the smug smile of the prescient. In 2013, there is still no more powerful communication tool than your website. It is also true in 2013, as the cliche goes, that "content is king." But it's not just the quantity of content, it's the quality. The best way to create websites that people love is to start with content that rises above and touches people on a human level, conjoining them with your mission.
Want people to love your website? Give us a call!
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.