DIY Website Copywriting is False Economy

This week, just by chance, I happened to be emailed a client proposal for a website by a web developer. I was reading through it and came across this sentence: “By [you] supplying us with the text and content, we are able to keep your costs down.”

It strikes me that asking a client to supply their own content to keep costs down is false economy. Clients rarely create high quality content. And why should they? They’re usually not writers. And even if they are, it’s unlikely they have any experience writing for the web.

Without high quality content not only is the site unlikely to achieve its goal (to sell a product), but it could easily tarnish the reputation of the company. By trying to save a few bucks they’re jeopardising their entire web investment.

Failing to educate clients about the necessity for high quality content on their websites is a losing strategy for web developers. Sure they might make some money in the short term. But when their websites fail to create value, their clients won’t be happy and won’t be coming back or singing the developer’s praises around town.

Read Gerry McGovern’s latest spray on the importance of high quality website copywriting.

Website Taglines: “Solution” is the Problem

One of the most overused words on the web is “solution”, as in “web marketing solution” or “SEO solution”. It’s a meaningless cliché that says nothing about the nature of your business.

Take IT&e for example. Their web tagline boldly proclaims “Cutting Edge FINANCIAL SOLUTION Provider” (view website). But what does “financial solution” mean exactly?

Are they a bank, finance company, investment advisor or financial planner? Do they offer credit cards, home or personal loans, financial services staff for business or personal wealth planning? Actually, it’s none of the above.

In the bottom right corner the site states (in small text): “IT&e is a technology company with the reputation for delivering cutting edge solutions to the Financial Services Industry.” OK, I’m getting it now – they sell to the financial services industry.

And then, “IT&e offers a suite of products and service-based solutions to enable development of complex application solutions for the financial services industry.” That’s spectacular gobbledegook (using “solutions” twice in the same sentence) but I’m starting to piece it together.

I think IT&e develops software applications and provides IT services to the financial services industry. So why couldn’t they just say it? Why do I have to work so hard to find out what they do?

Every business website needs a good tagline – a simple statement of what the business does and who they do it for. For example, IT&e could use, “Software applications and IT services for the financial services industry”.

A new visitor needs to know immediately what your site is about. Don’t waste their time by making them decipher what your solutions are.

An article on the overuse of “solution”

Jakob Nielsen’s advice for writing good website taglines

Where is your website going?

My first job after uni was working at a small publishing company. One of my boss’s favourite sayings was, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” It was a reminder to his staff that the first step in any project is to establish what you want to achieve i.e. setting goals or targets.

In my experience few websites have any goals. Often they’re built on the reasoning, “We’ve gotta have a website because everyone else has one.” Even now, many people think a website is a kind of marketing panacea. They think that by simply putting a website up they’ll be deluged with sales enquiries. Unfortunately it ain’t so.

Realistic and achievable goals for a website fall into the following categories:

Prospect acquisition
A website can deliver sales leads directly (e.g. by prospects emailing you to arrange a consultation or providing their contact details) or indirectly (e.g. by prospects visiting your showroom after finding out about your products online).

Making sales directly from your website.

Customer service
You can serve your customers better by providing customer service online. This can range from FAQs on common customer queries to a 24/7 online help desk.

Building brand equity
People now expect businesses to have a website. And they expect the same respect, responsiveness and customer service on the web as they receive from other touch points. A website can have a powerful effect on customers’ brand perception.

Process automation
You can cut costs by automating processes online e.g. online billing, data gathering, delivering information, and human resources procedures.

One, or a combination, of these goals should be the primary focus of your website. Once you’ve selected your goals you can develop strategies to achieve them.

Flash back? (It never went away… unfortunately.)

I dug up some old research from my filing cabinet the other day. According to a 2003 study 80% of Consumers Hate Flash Intros. At around the same time this research came out I also discovered a hilarious parody of the odious Flash intro. But despite this public bollocking the Flash intro persists to this day.

At the risk of biting the hand that feeds me I have noticed some of the worst offenders are web designers and developers, interactive agencies and graphic designers. By all means showcase your Flash design prowess on your website. But why not let me actively choose to view it if I’m interested, rather than forcing me to click “skip intro” to get to the content I want to see?

“Skip intro” is an acknowledgement that many people find your Flash intro a waste of time. So what’s it doing on your site? There’s no need for an intro at all. Just tell me what I need to know on a normal, fast, efficient, well-designed website. If I decide I’d like to spend my time looking at Flash animations, then I will.

Flash is very effective when used properly. It’s great for Internet-based applications. But I really think it’s time Flash intros went the way of the Betamax video.

30 Blogs to Help You Improve Your Copywriting Skills

Direct mail copywriter Dean Rieck has put together a useful list of 30 copywriting blogs that are actually worth reading. He’s based his selection on who provides the most useful copywriting tips.

The blogs that I turn to when I want to hone my copywriting skills are:

  • Copyblogger – my favourite copywriting blog features several excellent, in-depth tutorials as well as articles by some of the best copywriters on the Web.
  • Nick Usborne’s Excess Voice – I’ve been reading Nick’s newsletters for donkey’s years, but he continues to provide valuable tips and tactics for writing online content.
  • Dean Rieck’s blogs, Pro Copy Tips and Direct Creative Blog, are also must reads in my book. BTW, Dean also wrote the must-read 5-Step POWER Copywriting Method
    on Copyblogger.

I also read Bob Bly’s blog. It’s not so much about copywriting, but always has thought-provoking posts on marketing which usually stimulate a lot of insightful comments. Bob’s a great pot-stirrer!

10 Years of Websites That Suck. Why?

The other day I re-discovered Vincent Flanders’s Web Pages That Suck. Its mission is to help visitors “learn usability and good web design by looking at bad web design”.

It’s totally irreverent and a hilarious and enlightening read. Flanders mercilessly parodies real life examples of clueless web design. He explains why to avoid mystery meat navigation and why you shouldn’t confuse web design with sex along with dozens of other useful design and usability principles.

I was shocked to see the site is celebrating its 10th anniversary. That’s 10 years that Flanders has been giving free advice, in plain English, on how to make a good website. And yet the web is still crammed with sites that suck – sites that don’t even follow the most rudimentary principles of good design, usability and online marketing.

Flanders isn’t the only long-standing evangelist for good websites. Gerry McGovern has been publishing his free e-newsletter on best practice web content management since 1996. Jakob Nielsen’s excellent Alertbox e-newsletter on web usability has been going since 1995! It’s also free.

It’s obvious the message about what makes a good website isn’t getting through. I’m really curious about what website managers know about what creating a successful website. Who do they turn to for advice? And what do those people tell them? Any insights would be most appreciated.