So you’ve got this website for your company, and it needs to say stuff. Easy enough, right? So you sit down at your computer, start out with “Welcome to our website,” proceed to type out your life story, and boom: Instant online sales. Your phone rings off the hook. Also, your life is full of rainbows, cupcakes, and a lifetime supply of free dairy delights from your frozen yogurt vendor of choice.
Okay, obviously it doesn’t really work that way.
Writing content for the web—particularly for sites promoting products or services—can be wicked hard. Even if you’re an intelligent person and a decent writer. That’s because many of the neat rules about writing you learned in school don’t apply to websites.
Here’s the first cold, hard reality of web writing: Your readers are heartless.
Your readers have no patience.
People surfing the websites for information about products or services are not looking for a novel or magazine. They don’t want to spend an hour or so getting lost in your lovely words, and they’re not looking for something to peruse while they have time to kill.
(Of course, people often do browse Pinterest, Facebook and blogs somewhat like 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 sheer pleasure. They’re not here for fun or to get warm fuzzies*.
They want info and they want it now, because …
Your readers are ruthless, selfish and have their own agenda.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit overstated—but not by much. When someone wants to find a service online, it’s not because they were sitting on their couch one Thursday evening and said, “You know what I want to do? I want to learn about the carpet cleaning services here in my fine city!”
More likely, they get online with a clear objective: Find a local carpet cleaner who charges less than $150, can get suspicious blood stains out of my carpet, and who can get here by next Monday.
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 Carpet Cleaning Websites.
All of this is made even more challenging by the fact that:
Your reader is nanoseconds away from your competition.
If your home page blathers on about irrelevant info, or if your menu is harder to navigate than a corn maze in Iowa, or if your site looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1992, your readers aren’t going to stay.
I mean, why should they? There are literally hundreds of thousands other websites offering the same service on Google, just a click away.
There’s no reason why they should stick it through the quirks of your navigation, or sort through your cluttered homepage, or otherwise “just give you a chance.” You’ve got 15 seconds—literally, 15 seconds—to make a good first impression, or the reader (and his money) are gone.
Heartless. But true.
The conclusion of the matter?
Don’t kid yourself. Keep your readers in mind when you craft your web site content, and give them what they’re looking for.
Make sure your writing is clear, streamlined, and to the point. (I’ll be posting more articles on how to do this in the future).
Keep your home page direct and immediately communicate what you offer. Save the story of your humble but inspiring origins for the About Us page—it may have great value, but don’t let it get in the way here.
Make it easy for the user to find what he wants. Make sure your navigation is bone-head simple so customers can find your services, product descriptions, etc. with no hard effort on their part.
Sound easy? Alas, it isn’t. But focused content can make the difference between your website scoring business for you or sending business to the other guy.
*This is true UNLESS, of course, you sell warm fuzzies—or products associated therewith. Do you sell baby clothes, dog treats or another product with an emotional appeal? Then by all means tug on their heartstrings—but do it purposefully. You’ve got to know what your audience is looking for.