So you’ve got a website for your company, and it needs to say stuff. Easy enough: Just sit down at your computer and start out with “Welcome to our website.”
Then type out your life story, and boom! Instant content marketing success. Your phone starts ringing and your customer base starts growing.
OK, obviously, content marketing doesn’t really work this way.
Writing content for the web — particularly for sites promoting products or services — is hard work, even if you’re an intelligent person and a decent writer. That’s because many of the rules about writing, the rules you probably learned in school, don’t apply to websites.
So, instead of trying to adapt the writing rules you learned in high school or college, try out these three simple content marketing rules:
Rule #1: Always remember your readers have no patience
People surfing websites for information about products and services don’t want a novel or a magazine article. They don’t want to spend an hour getting lost in your lovely words. They’re not on your site to kill time.
(Of course, people often do browse on their phones as if it’s a magazine — which is why social media marketing can be so effective. But that’s a topic for a different post.)
The point is, people aren’t reading your site for pleasure. They’re not here for fun or inspiration. They want info and they want it now, because…
Rule #2: Your readers have their own agenda — not your agenda
People normally get online with a clear objective: To find a local carpet cleaner who charges less than $250 and can get here by next Monday — or to find someone who will fix their garage door or create new parking lot signs for their church. And so on.
That’s all they want. And while they’re searching, in the back of their minds, they probably have a list of More Interesting Things I Could Be Doing Right Now, None Of Which Involve Your Company’s Website.
All of this is made even more challenging by the fact that:
Rule #3: Your reader is nanoseconds away from your competition
If your home page blathers on about irrelevant info, or if your menu is hard to navigate — or if your site looks like it hasn’t been updated since 2008 — your readers aren’t going to stick around.
Why should they? There are literally hundreds of other websites offering the same service on Google, just a click away.
There’s no reason they should stick it through the quirks of your navigation, or sort through your cluttered homepage, or scroll past a lengthy explanation of your values. You’ve got a few seconds — literally, a few seconds — to make a good impression. If you fail, the reader (and the reader’s money) are gone.
It might sound heartless, but when you want to succeed with content marketing, it’s true.
Can’t Remember 3 Content Marketing Rules? How About 1?
All three rules can be rolled into one: Keep your readers in mind when you write your website content. Give readers what they’re looking for. It’s likely your business already uses this philosophy in person. If you own an auto parts store, for example, and a customer needs spark plugs, you show them the spark plugs.
On your website, your readers are looking for information, so make sure your content delivers it — immediately.
Keep your home page direct. Show them what you offer. Save the story of your humble but inspiring origins for the About Us page. This story may have great value, but don’t let it get in the way here, not when you have only a few seconds of the reader’s attention.
Make it easy for users to find what they want. Make sure your navigation is simple so customers can find your services and product descriptions with no effort on their part.
Sound easy? It isn’t. But your hard work will help customers learn about your company without having to work for it. A customer who doesn’t have to work to find answers is a customer who sticks around rather than clicking the back arrow to check out your competition.
Web Content Writing 101
With all this in mind, here’s a quick guide to writing with your customer in mind.
Here’s your goal: To give your reader answers, instantly. The reader will not know how hard you’ve worked on your content. In fact, the reader shouldn’t notice your writing at all — just the answers you’re providing.
Simple and direct sentences do a lot of this work. These kinds of sentences are made of:
- Stronger Verbs: Limit your use of the verb “to be” (“to be” includes “is” “was” “are” etc). Instead of saying, “There are several varieties of products for customers to consider,” try, “Choose from several options…”
- Fewer Words: Delete words you don’t need. Often, you won’t need words such as that, really, rather, just, literally, somewhat, definitely, very, quite (and many others).
- Clear Paths: Each sentence blazes a little trail for the reader. Every “therefore” and “however” creates a fork in the road. Simpler sentences will help you avoid creating a maze instead of a trail.
- Lists: Lists, like the one you’re reading now, can help readers take in details without feeling overwhelmed.
- Variety: It’s OK to break the rules once in a while to create variety for the reader. But not too often. And break these rules on purpose, not out of laziness.
Putting It All Together: Writing is a Process
Do you have a writing process? Keep writing long enough and you’ll develop one. Many successful writing processes include:
- Revising: The first draft gives you something to work with, but don’t stop there. Look for ways to make it better. Often, the act of writing a first draft sparks a better idea which you can employ in the next draft.
- Taking Breaks: Before you start making your first draft better, take a break. Write Draft 2 tomorrow, if possible. If you can’t wait that long, do something else for a couple hours before you start writing again. A fresher perspective will pay off.
- Reading Out Loud: Believe it or not, reading a draft out loud makes revising much easier. A draft’s problems have a way of boiling to the surface when you read them aloud.
- Writing Badly: Is your first draft terrible? Does it make you question whether you should ever be allowed to write again? Good. You’re off to a great start.
Content marketing with your customers in mind takes time and hard work. If you need help getting started — or if you need help getting your writing over the finish line — let us know.
We think about how to reach customers all day every day because getting, and keeping, customers’ attention matters so much. It drives growth in digital marketing.