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Friday, March 02 2012
 Let's assume that you have a service that people want, and you have identified your ideal clients. You're ready for that new website, or it's time to revamp an old one.


Here are a few points to be aware of; they can sabotage the usefulness of your website, no matter what type of business you're promoting.


Too much emphasis on search engines.
There's nothing wrong with getting to the top of Google, or anywhere on the first page for that matter but that's only the beginning. How many of those who click through to your site take action? Once they get there via Google or some other search engine, your content has to entice them to take the next step.

·       
  
Anaemic website content that doesn't compel your visitors to action. Does your site content convey your core marketing message that lets visitors know you have the best solution to their problems? If not, then beautiful design and excellent search engine optimization are wasted. Too often, site owners spend a lot of money getting visitors to their site and give no thought as to how to engage them so they stay long enough to find out more and act upon the information they find.


 
Too much focus on flash, glitz and sophisticated graphics so they overwhelm the content. The best sites are those where website design and content work together to project a harmonious feeling about your business and to underscore the purpose of the website.


The key here is that the website content - your message - matters as much as the technology and design. Effective design helps project professionalism and create a level of comfort with your business. Technology makes the site easy to use.


But the words do the heavy lifting when it comes to selling your services.


Time and money spent refining your message pay off because then visitors know why you are the best person to help solve their problems.


Unless they gain that insight from your content, nothing happens.


Copyright 2010-2012 Maggie Dennison. All rights reserved.

 

Posted by: AT 09:46 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, November 23 2011
Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube: these days it seems that everyone is involved in social media in some way.


But David Meerman Scott in his book "The New Rules of Marketing and PR" cautions against ignoring the traditional website. He says that the company website is often ignored, but in his opinion it's probably still the most important thing to pay attention to. He believes, and I agree with him, that these other channels are added tools, not replacements for what you already have.

Here's how I think about it.

When I read your blog, Facebook page or Twitter posts, I get a snapshot of a moment: an article about something that's on your mind, a comment about a recent event, an announcement of your newest program, maybe an inspiring quotation. And that's all good. It keeps me up to date, gives me useful information, establishes you as knowledgeable.

But now imagine I'm looking for someone with your skills and talent to help me in my business or personal life. I want to know more about who you are and what you do. I want to know the benefits to me of your service and why I should choose you over your competitors. I want to be able to check out your background, your credentials, what makes you good at what you do. Then I may need time to think about it. I may go back and read your information again, perhaps several times, before I make a decision.

Maybe I can find that level of detail somewhere in your blog posts, Tweets, Facebook posts or in your collection of YouTube videos. But in my experience I have to do a lot of poking around to piece it all together. Many web users are impatient and in a hurry to find exactly what they are looking for and won't take the time to search around.

That's why the details of your business belong on a traditional web site that I can go back to as often as I want and still be sure of finding the same information in the same place each time.

Not everyone is as picky as I am when I'm choosing vendors, or partners to work with.

There's nothing wrong with keeping up with fast-changing social media tools, but don't let the buzz about Facebook, blogs, Twitter and other social media blind you to the basics of marketing and a core tenet of useability: make it easy for potential clients to find what THEY want and need - or they'll forget you really quickly.

Copyright 2011 Maggie Dennison. All rights reserved.

Posted by: Maggie Dennison AT 02:15 pm   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Saturday, April 16 2011
 Does your website need content or copy? And what's the difference anyway?

In a nutshell, content informs and copy persuades.

Copy is the technical term for material that is meant to engage your audience and persuade them to take action (sign up for a newsletter, buy a product or service, make a phone call), to let them know why they should choose you rather than someone else, to set yourself apart in your field, to lay out the benefits of your product or services.

Copy is based on marketing principles and the psychology of sales and persuasion. To achieve its persuasive purpose, you (or your writer) have to dig deep into your business and the benefits you offer, analyze your target market and identify their hot buttons, know what makes you different from everyone else in your field, then wrap it all up in words that motivate.

Content, on the other hand, is informational and educational and comes most commonly in the form of articles, blog posts, white papers or videos that establish you as an expert in the field.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and website content 
With the rise of SEM and the discovery that feeding the search engines lots of content could help your website rankings, the demand for website content exploded. And this is where the boundaries between content and copy started to become fuzzy and misunderstood. The murkiness deepened with the rise of blogs, which are built around content.

The popularity of content also led to the much-maligned "content farms" that churn out hundreds of keyword-laden articles with the express purpose of feeding the search engines. In early 2011 Google introduced updates that attempt to stop this deluge of low quality content.

What does all this mean for you? What does YOUR website need? 
That depends. Some pages may need copy, some pages may need content. It depends on your objective for that page.(You do have an objective for each page, don't you?)

This is where it gets sticky. I see an enormous number of sites that are built around content, but without a single piece of copy to persuade me of anything. So someone can come to the site, get tons of information yet not take a single step towards hiring you or finding out more about your product or service. They're happy to get free information and you lose out.

My rule of thumb: If you want to persuade readers to take action, you need copy. if you want to educate or inform them, use content.

For a very basic site, the home page, the bio page and the services page need copy as do any pages where you are directly selling a service or a product. This is where you should consider hiring a copywriter to build your copy around those elements that give it persuasive punch.

Contents kicks in for your article directory, your monthly newsletter, your "giveaways" or your blog posts.

What happens when you know the difference between website content and website copy? 
It helps you decide:

·         How to approach writing each page of your website.

·         What kind of professional to hire. Some specialize in content, some in copy, some do both but you need to be able to pick the right one and let them know what you want.

·         How to allocate your marketing dollars. It's more time-consuming and expensive to write copy because of the analysis and skills involved but it is more instrumental in selling than content.

 Since you approach website content and website copy differently and they have different purposes, they are not interchangeable: they complement one another.

Copyright 2011 Maggie Dennison. All rights reserved.

 

Posted by: Maggie AT 02:20 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, November 21 2010
 Website visitors are impatient, easily frustrated and have ridiculously short attention spans.

The first decision a website visitor makes is not whether to hire you or buy your product. It's whether to stay on your site or leave. And that decision depends on how well and how quickly you engage them.

That decision takes between 5-7 seconds maximum: you have to find ways to persuade them - quickly - that it's worthwhile sticking around. It's up to you to make your site so valuable that they stay, read on and take action.

Search engine optimization is the focus of a lot of sites. But all the keywords in the world don't help if you forget that websites are read by human beings, not by Google, and it's a human, not Google, who will decide whether to pick up the phone and call you, or sign up for your newsletter or take whatever action you are asking them to take.

Here are some ideas that will help your site stand out in the minds of your visitors. Let's assume you already have a clearly defined target audience so that you can customize the ideas below to their wants, needs, problems and hot buttons.

A strong headline
These are the first words a visitor reads and may be the reason they decide to stay and read on, or to leave. It can include keywords for the search engines, but your primary objective is to get the attention of your visitors so that they decide to read more.

Video
This is a great way to make a strong human connection and let your visitor know quickly what you can do for them. It gives them a sense of you and your company and why your site and your business is interesting for them.

An interactive component
This could be a survey, or a test or questionnaire that gives participants useful information. Readers love to give opinions, and they love to find out more about themselves, their attitudes, their business acumen or how smart they are generally. This way you get them involved in the content.

Articles
Post new articles regularly but make them substantial, not just keyword-laden pieces that are obvious food for Google without giving useful information. There are tons of empty articles out there that do nothing more than that. Don't do it...it's better to showcase your expertise!

Resources
This is a place where you can give some exposure to people and businesses you know, like and trust. It may help a visitor find something they're looking for and it makes you look thoughtful and generous.

No matter which of the above you choose, quality will always win out: quality that reflects to the visitor that you understand them and can offer useful solutions for their problems - it's the same principle that applies to your marketing content.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: AT 03:00 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, July 25 2010
 As a copywriter I know headlines are important in catching the attention of your site visitor, and compelling website content pulls her in and lets her know exactly what you offer and why you and your company are a good choice.

But there's another often over-looked element at work that helps you break through the clutter of email, phones, social media and other distracting stimuli.

It's how your website content LOOKS.

Not the overall design of the website that's created by your designer. I'm talking about techniques you or your copywriter (if you hire one) can use WITHIN the content to enhance the power of the words, make them easier to read, pull the eye to the phrases and sentences you want to emphasize and make it easy for the eye to glide down the pages while reading - and understanding - your message quickly.

Here are some techniques you or your copywriter can use to make your website content easier to read and understand.

1. Bolding
2. Capitals (use sparingly)
3. Italics (use VERY sparingly)
4. Color
5. Columns
6. Lists
7. Varied line spacing
8. Indenting
9. Highlighting
10. Quotes
11. Sidebars
12. Text boxes
13. Underlining
14. Different fonts
15. Photos/image
16. Subheadlines

There are others too, some of which need the help of a designer but these are the most common ones that you or your copywriter can incorporate easily.

That doesn't mean you should go wild on the page! When you use one of these techniques, you need to be clear WHY you are using it at that particular place in the content. Why do you want to emphasize a certain phrase? Is it central to your message?

Using a technique for its own sake, without a good reason to do so, can backfire by creating an unwanted effect.. Emphasizing too much means that nothing stands out so you defeat the purpose.

These techniques can jazz up your content when used in conjunction with good words but they can't rescue your content if it's poor to begin with. So start with strong content, then consider what you need to emphasize using one of the techniques listed above.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: AT 03:03 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 20 2010
 It's time to create or update your website. What's the first action you take? Usually you contact a graphic designer who can create a pretty design, or a programmer who can build the technical end of the website.

Even the language we use is geared towards that action. We talk about "creating a website," or "building a website". No one ever talks about "writing a website." Often the writer is the last person to be brought on board the project.

Yet, if anything, the writer is the first person to hire.

Here's what happens when you hire a writer first.

 

  1. The writer helps you organize the material so that it flows well for marketing purposes. This includes defining which pages you need, what information goes on each page, how the pages are linked to one another so that visitors are guided to go where you want them to go, what information needs to be displayed in sidebars, boxes, or other graphic elements separate from the main body of the content
  2. The writer helps you define website navigation based on ease of use and come up with user-friendly names for the buttons.
  3. The writer helps you define the obvious and secondary benefits of your product or service.
  4. The writer can help you define what makes you stand out from others in your field, so you can be positioned as a "go-to" person.
  5. The writer can help you narrow down your target market so that your content is written in a way that hits home with a particular group of people
  6. The writer helps you define your message so that your content is clear and enticing for your readers.
  7. The writer helps you decide on the "call to action" that best fits in with your marketing strategy and your audience.
  8. The writer makes sure that every page fulfils its purpose on the site. Yes, every page needs to have a specific objective and the content has to be presented in a way that fulfils that objective.
How can a writer do all this? Because most writers (the good ones!) do more than provide words on the page. They are also marketing strategists.

They have to understand marketing and the psychology of perception and human behavior, in order to write website content that generates interest and grabs attention. They have to know how to present your content in a way that's visually easy to read, makes your website easy to use and the information easy to find.

All the points mentioned above affect the design and programming in smaller or larger ways.

Think of your writer as a "web content developer and marketing strategist" and it begins to make sense.

So often, the content is the last element to be considered. Yet that's backwards.

Sure, content, design and technical functionality have to work together, but it's the words that do the heavy lifting of selling your product or service, providing information, or whatever you want the purpose of the site to be. Design and programming need to support and underscore the message, not overwhelm it or be created in a vacuum independent of the content.

So often, when the designer/programmer is ready to include the content, words are thrown together at the last minute "just to get the site up." I've seen this happen all too often. And the result is a website with a beautiful design, where everything functions impeccably, and content that stinks or navigation that is not user friendly.

These days, the trend is towards websites that are simple and clean looking. A writer who collaborates with your designer and programmer can help to avoid things going off into needless flights of creative fancy, or technical bells and whistles that are nice but not necessary.

Do yourself a favor. Before you hire a designer or programmer for your website, talk to a writer and marketing strategist. Even if you want to write the content yourself, shelling out some dollars for a consultation or two with a writer will help you put foundational elements in place that save you time and money.

Better still, find a writer, graphic designer and technical person who are willing to work together as a team. That way they can play off each other's strengths and expertise, and provide the best possible results for you.

It's worth it to have a site that's not just attractive but is also an effective marketing tool.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: AT 03:05 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, March 11 2010
 Today I'm on a rant! I'm fed up with websites and online services that make it difficult for me to complete a really simple task.


When someone comes to your website, most of the time they're in a hurry so the easier you make it for them to find what they want, or to do what they want, the more likely they are to start or continue a relationship with you.

Here are a few situations that happened to me in the last two months:

Newsletters that make it difficult for me to change my email address. Some of the big providers (aweber, Constant Contact, 1shoppingcart) do this beautifully but some give the option only to unsubscribe. Sure I can unsubscribe and then re-subscribe with my new address but why do they make it so difficult? When I phased out my Yahoo address (which I used mainly for newsletter subscriptions in order to protect my real address from spammers), and shifted to gmail, this happened A LOT.

Sites that ask me for my zip code "so we can direct you to the best location" EVEN THOUGH I already have an account with them. My cable company does this every time I log on to pay my bill. Why not have a button on the home page that allows me to log right into my account without jumping through hoops?

Difficulty unsubscribing from a list..This story would be ridiculously funny if it weren't so darned aggravating! I unsubscribed from a list and still the emails kept coming so I asked the company if they would kindly remove my name manually. "That's done," I thought. Wrong! I got an automatic reply saying I had to contact them through their "Support" on their website. So I went looking for a button that said Support. Couldn't find one. I finally found a small button hidden away at the bottom of a sales page that said "Request". Request what?? Turned out this was the button for "Support". I filled in my email address and my request to, for pity's sake, get me off their list. Then a notice popped up telling me I would get an email asking me to confirm my request. OK. One more hoop. Well, I'll just click the link in the email and I'll be done. Wrong again! Now I was asked to go online and create an account with them so that they could process my request for them not to contact me any more! I did. But it took multiple steps for something as simple as unsubscribing from a list.

These are good examples of systems that were probably developed by techies without adequate input from people who'll actually be using them.

Given that people on the web are usually in a hurry, goal-oriented and more impatient than offline because they're used to things happening quickly, is this good customer service? I'll let you decide.

For me it wasn't.

Sure each one of these incidents, taken alone, may not be a big deal, but when they all happened within a short period of time, I realized how easy it is to irritate your clients.

There may be technical or business reasons for doing things they way they did them.

But they forgot one thing.

The client experience.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: AT 03:06 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, February 18 2010
Your website has been up for a while. Then why aren't you pulling in loads of leads that could turn into paying clients?


Every business is different and has its special characteristics and challenges. But let's assume to start with that you have a service that people actually want, and you know who your best clients are.

Here are a few of the many common things that can go wrong no matter what business you are promoting.

1. Relying too heavily on search engines. It's fine to get to the top of Google, but that's only the beginning. How many of those who click through to your site take action? Once they get there via Google or some other search engine, then your content has to entice them to take the next step.

2. Anaemic website content that doesn't compel your visitors to action. Does your site content convey your core marketing message that lets visitors know you have the best solution to their problems? If not, then beautiful design and excellent search engine optimization are wasted. Too often, site owners spend a lot of money getting visitors to their site and give no thought as to how to engage them so they stay long enough to find out more and act upon the information they find.

3. Too much focus on flash, glitz and sophisticated graphics. The best sites are those where website design and content work together to project a harmonious feeling about your business and to underscore the purpose of the website.

The key to all of these is that the website your message matters more than the technology. Time and money spent refining your message will pay off because visitors will know why you are the best person to help solve their problems.

Unless they gain that insight from your content, nothing happens.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: AT 03:13 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, December 02 2009
 One of the first questions I ask someone who wants me to write web content for their business is: "What's the purpose of your website?" In the majority of cases, the answer is "to get clients." Unless it's a direct-marketing site where you are actually selling a product that people pay for on the spot (this requires a different approach) my reply is: "I don't think that's going to happen the way you think it will."

If your website is a tool to build your busness, why would I say that the purpose is not to get clients?

Because getting clients is not a one-step process.

Suppose you want to create a website and you are surfing the web because you are looking for a professional content writer to write your website content. You come across a site that looks good, you like the content, you like the background that the website owner brings to her work and her writing samples are exactly the kind of writing you'd like on your site because it's compelling.

What now? Do you pick up the phone and say: "Hey I found your website on Google, I've looked through it and I'm ready to hire you today?" Unlikely. Why? Because at this point there's only an inkling of a relationship between you and the professional content writer. There's an old saying that people do business with people they know, like and trust. A one-off look at your site, however detailed, is not enough for someone to get to know, like and trust you enough to hand over their hard-earned money. Would YOU do it?

As we know the best way to get business is to build relationships with people who come to know you, and are then willing to enter into a business relationship with you. How often do you hire someone without even a short conversation? Or in the webworld, without at least some getting-to-know-you email exchanges.

For me the purpose of a website is to start a dialogue with a potential client, whether the dialogue unfolds by phone or email. But you still have to nurture and cement the relationship before those visitors will write you a check or hand over their credit card number to you.

Expecting visitors to come to your site and hire you right away is like going on a blind date and expecting a proposal of marriage at the end of the evening. You leave out the whole dating process. Of course, there's always love at first sight, but I wouldn't base my expectations for my website on it!

 

Copyright 2009 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: AT 03:33 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, November 01 2009
 "Take a look at my website and tell me what I can do to make it better," a life coach called Beth asked me. "Everyone tells me it looks really professional."

I knew she had a reputation as an effective coach who was compassionate yet firm enough to help her clients get results in their lives so I was intrigued to see how she presented herself.

Beautiful! I thought when I looked at her site. Really beautiful!

But as soon as I read her home page content, my heart sank: I could not tell who her target market was, what made her different from dozens of other life coaches vying for the same clients, or why I should choose her.

True, the content was well written, but lacked the specific focus that would make her stand out from the crowd. It was the same general vagueness that I'd heard many times before. "I'll help you each your dreams." "I'll hold you accountable." "I'll get you unstuck," "I'll help you find your passion." It was no use to her in promoting her business; it was a waste of time and money; it sat there, taking up space and costing her monthly fees and maintenance. Sure it gives credibility to a business to have a website but what's the use if it doesn't serve you?

A famous copywriter, Claude Hopkins, once said that specifics sell and generalities roll off your prospects like water off a duck's back. I don't know a marketing person who doesn't agree with him. It's basic marketing wisdom.

When I looked more closely at Beth's business, I saw that she had a strong focus on career transition and in fact had a Master's degree in Psychology with an emphasis in Career Counseling. So we packaged her services into a 5-step program for women in transition and we put it front and center on her site. Now her site visitors know who she's speaking to and how she can help them.

That's why a great website begins with content that addresses the wants and problems of a specific target market. Otherwise it doesn't matter how beautiful the site is. Think about it. Do you want people to say: "Your site is beautiful," or do you want them to realize they need your services and call you for an appointment?

Hiring a copywriter to help refine your message can save you money - by helping you with content that sets you apart from the masses and gets your target market to sit up and take notice. And copywriters who are experienced in writing for the web, can guide you to the basics of what you really need from a web designer (Hint: just because the technology is there and you CAN use it, doesn't mean you should).

 

Copyright 2009 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: AT 03:31 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, October 04 2009
 Here is the second part of my series on "Is Your Website User-friendly?"

To recap for those of you who may not have read the first part (shame on you!) - by "user-friendly" I mean "Do you do everything possible to make it easy for your user to make a decision that will help them solve their problems?" If your website doesn't move them in this direction, then there's no purpose in getting them there in the first place.

Their decision might be "I need to find out more before I decide to buy so I'll email her" and, although you'd like them to buy right now, at least they are moving forward in the buying process, rather than feeling blah and leaving the site because you haven't grabbed their attention strongly enough. Or their decision might be "This person seems to know what she's talking about. I think I'll sign up for her newsletter."

Here are a couple more points to be aware of when you're evaluating your site for user-friendliness.

Does your site immediately capture the attention of your visitors?

What gets attention and keeps it long enough for your visitors to decide to continue reading your content? A punchy, benefit-laden headline! Like a trailer for a movie, it implies a promise of something more. It gives a strong focus to the page, offers something they can identify with, and provides a reason to read on and find out more.

Does your site make it easy for visitors to get in touch with you?

Visitors to your website are probably in a hurry and they have a dangerous weapon in their hands - the mouse. In the moment when they decide to take action, how easy is it for them to immediately contact you? Do they have to search through the site for a telephone number or email address? Is your sign up box hidden at the bottom of the page? Or are the details obvious to them, no matter where they are? If you don't make it easy for them to contact you at the moment of decision, chances are they'll leave and never come back. Make it easy for them to take the action you want them to take.

Is your site written in language that your target audience can relate to?

One of the most common mistakes I see is that people write content that would get an A+ from their English teacher, but doesn't do a darned thing to persuade visitors to the site to take any action.

Marketing is about perception, human behavior and the psychology of sales and persuasion: that's the perspective the content needs to be written from. Otherwise it's bland and boring, and you can't bore your visitors into taking action.

And for those of you who are protesting: "But my business is different!" - when it comes to content, no it's not different. The underlying marketing principles are the same no matter what product or service you are promoting. The trick lies in knowing how to apply those principles to YOUR business.

 

Copyright 2009 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: AT 03:29 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, August 10 2009
 By user-friendly I mean "Do you do everything possible to make it easy for your user to make a decision that will help them solve their problems?" If your website doesn't move them in this direction, then there's no purpose in getting them there in the first place.

Their decision might be "I need to find out more before I decide to buy so I'll email her" and, although you'd like them to buy right now, at least they are moving forward in the buying process, rather than feeling blah and leaving the site because you haven't grabbed their attention strongly enough. Or their decision might be "This person seems to know what she's talking about. I think I'll sign up for her newsletter."

Here are the first couple of points to be aware of when you're evaluating your site.

Does your site load quickly?
The first thing that people notice is whether the site opens up quickly. If it's too overloaded with images and graphics that take more than 4 seconds to open, your visitors will probably leave. Resist the temptation to have too many images. Restrict them to those where it is immediately clear that they are directly related to the content of your site. If your visitors have to perform mental gymnastics to figure out what a particular image has to do with your service, you've already lost their attention.

User-friendliness then moves on to the content.

Does your content let visitors know that you understand their dilemmas and have a solution to their problems?
The days are gone when people went to the web just to browse around because it was new, exciting and fun. Now people browsing the web are more goal- and task-oriented. They go to websites for something specific. That's why they type specific words into Google or Yahoo to find what they're looking for, words that represent their problem or the solution they're searching for.

If your readers feel that you understand them and what they are up against, you've already begun to establish trust and credibility and you've increased the chance that they'll stay and take action.

Does your site make your customer the center of its focus?
If your site is about you and not about them, shame on you! Why would a visitor come to your site and be enthralled to read YOUR opinion of how great you and your services are? Sure, you have to let them know what you do, but there's an art to letting them know while making THEM the center of your focus. Content that is written from the reader's point of view will grab their attention every time. Let's face it, we all like to feel that people are paying attention to us and our wants and needs. Why should it be any different in the online world? It's not!

It's critical to make your site and its content appealing and relevant to the wants and problems of your perfect clients, if you hope that they'll give a second thought to doing business with you.

So there you have it! Part II of "Is your website user- friendly?" follows next month. Watch out for it!

 

Copyright 2009 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: AT 03:28 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, June 09 2009
 With few exceptions, visitors come to a website not to admire the design but to read the content. That doesn't mean that design is unimportant - it is. But not in the way it is often used.

Design should showcase the content and serve it, not overshadow it. Yet most people focus on the design and create their content as an afterthought.

Think about it: if you take away the content and leave the pretty design, what happens when a visitor looks at your website? Probably nothing. Take away the design and leave the words and your visitor has something to work with and respond to. Consider Craigslist.com. No design yet it's an extremely popular and heavily used site. Now Craigslist is an extreme example and I'm not advocating that you use it as your model. I just want to illustrate my point that in the end it's the words that make or break a website. It's the verbal content that keeps a serious visitor on your site.

Sure there are exceptions such as sites that are promoting a service that's purely visual e.g. graphic designers, or photographers. Even then, the overall design of the site needs to fade into the background so that the content of that person's work stands out.

But no matter what you're offering, you still need words that let people know who you are, how you work, what makes you different from every other artist or photographer. Have you ever seen a catalog without product descriptions that are meant to get you enthused about the product? Even the large e-commerce sites have words to augment the pictures of their products.

Professionally written content is not a luxury. When you're planning your website, make sure to budget enough to include a content writer so that your beautiful design really has full value to you. Without compelling words, its decorative and nothing more.

The answer to the question in the headline is: neither! They are equally important. Design and words have to work together. A good designer understands this and will refer you to a professional content writer: if not, find one who wants you not just to have a pretty site, but to succeed.

Copyright 2009 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: AT 03:27 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, April 07 2009
 A website that focuses too much on the latest whizz- bang technology and not enough on the needs of its visitors, does not serve your business well.


Now I'm not bashing technology, not at all. I love it. But I want to emphasize that it is not to be used for its own sake, but for a specific strategic purpose that supports your customers in making good decisions (to sign up for something, to hire you or to buy your products!)

Your website is used by human beings. Your customer probably doesn't care much about how complex the technology is or how wonderfully creative it can be. She wants your website to help her do what she came for, and that is to find useful information or a solution to her problems.

The trap here is that it's easy to figure out how technology works so it's tempting to give it a prominent role. It's more challenging to learn how your customers behave on the web and what's going on in their minds, so that you can lead them to make a decision in your favor.

The key is to do simple things and do them well. "Because I can" or "because it's possible" are not good reasons for doing something. "Because it's useful to my customers" is.

Take it from the pros. Look at the home pages of Microsoft and Dell, two heavy hitters in the field of computer technology. Both pages are clear, simple and easy to navigate with no sign of the latest bells and whistles. Maybe they're there in the background making things run smoothly, but the information these companies want you to understand and respond to is clearly in the foreground.

That's the way it should be if you want your visitors to feel welcome and encouraged to delve deeper into what you have to offer.

 

Copyright 2009 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: AT 03:24 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, March 08 2009
 So your business is on line. It seemed like a good idea and anyway these days it's expected if you're to be taken seriously. Then why aren't you getting loads of business from it?

Here are a few common reasons why many business websites flounder.

1. The site has no clear purpose. Without a strategy behind it, a website becomes just a mish- mash of information that doesn't move your business forward.

2. Overuse of flashy graphics and images get in the way of the message.

3. Trying to do too much on one site. A site should be targeted to ONE audience. If you have several target audiences, then each one deserves, at the very least, its own page on your site, and at best a site of its own.

4. Paying too much attention to getting high rankings on the search engines. Then, when visitors click to the site, the content is badly written or not compelling enough to entice them to do what you want them to do. Search engine rankings are only step 1. If you're going to pay a load of money or spend a lot of time on search engine optimization, then for heavens sake, back it up with persuasive content so it's worth your visitors' while clicking through to your site!

5. Asking visitors to do something too quickly e.g. asking them to call for a free consultation when what they really need first is to get to know, like and trust you before they are willing to do business with you. Sure, there are those who respond quickly - they're the ones who need what you have right at that moment. But what about the majority, who aren't quite ready to jump in?

6. Having no mechanism to capture details of visitors. Most people will not take action on their first visit to your site. You need to have a mechanism to capture their contact information so you can keep in touch with them.

The type of website and the kind of content you provide will vary depending on your business and your target audience. But no matter type of site you are planning, ask yourself "Do my visitors want the latest whizz bang technology, or do they want a clear, coherent, compelling message that tells them exactly how I can help solve their problems?"

 

Copyright 2009 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: AT 03:23 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, September 22 2008
 Over 40% of Internet users believe that only half the information on the web is accurate. Government websites are trusted by over 70% of people while fewer than 10% find pages posted by individuals to be credible. These are results from a survey carried out by the Center for the Digital Future of the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California.

The message here is loud and clear: your website has to overcome a lot of suspicion and cynicism.

Here are some easy-to-implement ideas that will help bridge the credibility gap.

 

    • Include full contact information on every page, including address, and a telephone number. If possible use a number that's answered by a live person. Stay away from Post Office Boxes: it can look as if you're hiding behind an anonymous address. If you want to use a different address from your physical location, consider a using a company that gives you a street address.
    • Add a foto to your site. A picture makes you seem familiar to your visitors. When they've visited your site a few times, they'll begin to feel that they know and trust you.
    • If you have a clear brand off line, use it online to continue the familiarity and confidence that people have already developed offline.
    • Include testimonials: anything another person says about you is many times more powerful than anything you could ever say about yourself. Ask your best clients to write a few punchy words about their experience with you.
    • Make sure all the content on your site is up to date and accurate, especially if you're in a field where information changes often or where there are frequent new developments. Take down the page announcing last month's teleclasses (I've been guilty of this one myself!) Otherwise it looks as if noone's taking care of the site.
    • Don't overdo bold, italics or other special formatting. It can quickly make your page look "hypey."
Posted by: AT 02:53 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, July 22 2005
 Beyond words, there is another aspect to text that can make it easy or difficult for your prospects to read. 


It's the formatting. 

The more inviting your text appears to the eye, the better the chances are that it'll actually be read. 

Here are a few ideas that will make an immediate impact on how your text appears to your readers. 

    • Leave plenty of white space. 

      You've probably heard this before, but do you know WHY it's so important? 

      I know you want to cram as much as possible onto a page, but if you're not careful, you can turn your prospects off. 

      Large blocks of text can seem intimidating and overwhelming. They can actually create resistance to reading more. Breaking up the text makes it appear friendlier and less formidable, therefore increasing the chances that your prospects will read what you want them to read. The space between text is just as important as the text itself. Assuming your prospects are in a hurry, as most people are, it's easier for them to skim the page if it's appealing to the eye. 

      If you look at direct mailing pieces from major companies such as Reader's Digest, Time Life, and AARP, you'll see how they spread a letter out over several pages. They could fit it into a much smaller space and save money by using less paper, but they do it in a way that creates lots of white space - savvy marketers indeed! 

    • Indent the first line of each paragraph. 

      Indent the first line of each paragraph between 5-10 spaces. Yes, I know it may seem old-fashioned. Many years ago it became common to line all text up on the left side of the page. It definitely looks cleaner and tidier. But that's not your primary goal. Your primary goal is to make sure your prospects read your material. 

      The indented spaces create a launching ramp that allows your eyes to find a smooth way into the text. They also create visual variety, which keeps your readers interested. 

      You'll see that I have not taken my own advice in this article: that's because my email distribution system doesn't allow it (or maybe they do and I just haven't figured it out yet!) Sometimes you just have to go with what's possible. 

  1. Don't justify the right margin. 

    Your right margin is justified when the end of each line is lined up neatly under the one above it, so that the right edge of the text looks straight. 

    Let's see how that happens. In order to have everything exactly lined up, your computer varies the length of the spaces between words. That means that as you read, your eye constantly has to adjust as it reads across each line. Rather than an uninterrupted flow, it's like hitting speed bumps. You may not notice it consciously, but it's happening. 

    Do you ever notice how a newspaper column often has a line or two with large spaces between words? That's when they are justifying the right margin and stretching the text to fill out the whole line. Next time you notice this, watch how it stops the flow of your reading. 

Copyright 2005 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: AT 03:42 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
 

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