Why Can’t I Finish My Website?

Q. I’ve been writing my website content for weeks–okay, for months–and none of it makes any sense. I should know my business better than anyone, right? Why can’t I finish my website?

A. Right now, your competitors are flaunting their websites (and other marketing collateral) everywhere. If you want to compete with them, you have to finish writing. If you can’t finish your website, you are probably facing one of these problems:

  • Your content is being written or reviewed by committee–even if the committee is in your own head. Committees, whether real or imaginary, quarrel over every sentence, demanding a better, different, more creative, briefer way to say the same thing. There are thousands of ways to write good copy; thousands of ways to write this very sentence; and committees will argue until doomsday over a single comma.Stop the endless self- or committee-editing, and let your website compete in the real world.
  • You are hoping that if you gather enough information, it will magically coalesce. Unfortunately, lots of information may actually operate against a coherent website. You have to focus and prioritize. View all that information from the perspective of your customer–and decide on your most important message. You cannot appeal to a vague “everyone” or properly deliver dozens of competing messages on your website’s first page.
  • Your vision of the future or success in the past is preventing you from describing the business you have now. You know what you want in your future, you know what you offered in the past, but you’ve lost sight of what your customers want now, in their present. Websites can always be modified; in the meantime, customers want to know what you can do for them today. They won’t search for the information with fingers crossed; you must clearly tell them.

Is it time to let go of the stress of being a business owner and a writer–and let a professional writer take over? If your website (or other marketing collateral) is bogged down by self-editing, too much information gathering, or wishful thinking, contact TWP Marketing and Technical Communications. We’ll give you words that energize your marketplace and start your website working hard for you!

The Website Review You Need Now

Your website has served you well for a long time. But even if a website doesn’t change over the years, the world around it does, including your own company.

Take a deep breath. The following basic steps for a website review will help you evaluate the relevance and consistency of your existing website:

  1. Compare your website content to your corporate goals and values. Have your goals for your business changed? Have you said what you meant to say? Have you said what you need to say in the best words to capture and keep the interest of customers?
  2. Check the navigation. Are you lumping everything you do under one generic “Products” or “Services” page or does the navigation help customers find what they are really looking for? Is your navigation easy to follow and understand? Are the links working?
  3. Really look at your pictures and videos. Are they professional and representative of you and your company? Have you included pictures of actual projects you’ve completed, customers you’ve served, products you sell and staff your customers will relate to?
  4. Check the dates on your testimonials, case studies, blogs and articles. Are they reasonably current (in the last 5 years) and are they still relevant? Do they represent your proudest moments now?
  5. Compare your website to the competition’s. Has your website design kept pace with the designs your competitors are using? Is your differentiator still valid? Are you missing a vital piece of information (for example, conformance to new regulations)? Have you overlooked an opportunity to provide customers with information that other sites don’t carry?
  6. Print out the entire website (every page!) and proofread for grammar, spelling and consistency. The proofreading stage of a website review catches those inadvertent changes and typos that occur over time, especially when multiple people have access to a website’s content. The style used for numbers (0.05 or .05 or $4B or $4 billion), the presence or absence of a serial comma, the reliance on bold or italics for emphasis all need to be consistent. Those details are easy to miss when you proofread online.
  7. Evaluate the ease of use and responsiveness of your contact information: phone number(s), email(s) and forms. If you were a customer, would you feel welcomed?  Are your forms properly set up to qualify potential customers without frustrating them?

Repeat each of these efforts regularly. If you need professional help, please contact TWP Marketing & Communications for an affordable website review or an entire website makeover.

Does Your Website Educate Your Customers?

Your website has many goals, chief among them to introduce your company to new visitors and to convert those visitors to customers. A website that educates through blogs, case studies, e-newsletters, and dedicated website pages gives visitors a reason to return and to trust you enough to become customers. Here are the most important reasons for adding educational content to your website:

You have an opportunity to display your subject matter expertise. Even if every company in your field draws from the same body of knowledge, when you share that knowledge with customers, you establish yourself and your company as experts in their eyes.

Customers truly don’t know as much as you think they know. Customers are always looking for new information and for confirmation of the information they already have–whether that information is, yes, I am a size 8 or yes, hexafluoro-2-butene is used for dielectric etching.

The more questions you answer, the more likely customers will think of you first when they need answers: what product best fits their needs, whether a solution exists for their problem, and whether the advice they are getting elsewhere is correct. You want them to contact you for answers, not your competitor.

Visitors and customers appreciate a website that gathers into one convenient place the information they are searching for. A website that educates becomes a resource that visitors return to again and again. Each visit gives you another chance to convert visitors to customers and to remind customers why they value you.

Your website can anticipate and counter any hesitation by your customers. Your educational content provides accurate answers before customers become tangled in misinformation and before your help line is overwhelmed with repetitions of the same basic questions.

Creating a website that educates alerts you to the intellectual property in your own company. Your employees have knowledge that they have never shared because no one asked or because they mistakenly thought “everyone knows that.” When they become involved in creating educational content, their knowledge enriches your company as well as your customers.

A website that educates is constantly renewed. As information changes in your field, as you offer more details on a subject, or as customers and visitors ask for clarifications, you bring in new content–making search engines happy and increasing the chances that your website will be found.

It’s easy to create educational content. At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, we have created web pages, blogs, case studies, and e-newsletters that educate visitors and consumers in industries as diverse as extruded medical tubing and home renovations. Contact us today and begin to educate your customers on just how great your company is.

Four Rules of Good Writing

We all know the rules of good conversation: keep your audience in mind, avoid one-up-manship (and nonstop bragging), try not to bore people to tears, and listen.

Another rule: good writing is good talking. Here are a few stories that explain why:

1. Know Your Audience. John Smith (none of the names here are real) ran a plumbing business and filled his website with bathroom humor. Not everyone appreciates bathroom humor; and someone in the midst of a plumbing catastrophe probably appreciates it even less. One website cannot appeal to everyone. But make sure your website appeals to the audience you want to reach most.

2. Avoid One-Up-Manship. Mary Jones wrote a website that detailed her life history as an artist, bragging about her many triumphs as an artist. However, the website never mentioned what her art cost, where it could be found, how buyers could contact her–she was too busy bragging. Long lists of what you can do, long explanations of how you achieved your greatness, and disparaging remarks about competition fail to address what every customer wants to know: What can you do for me?

3. Know When You Are Boring. Sue Johnson led a technical company which addressed a complex message to others who were knowledgeable in her technical field. She needed a website filled with details and arcane language–it suited her product and her audience. But to keep her audience interested, her marketing materials, from website to brochure, needed to move away from long blocks of text. When she improved the formatting (using tables, headlines, bullets) and introduced videos, case studies, photographs, testimonials, blogs, and Q&A pullouts, her audience stayed on the website longer and appreciated her expertise more. No matter how wrapped up someone is in technology, they still appreciate a good story and an interesting layout.

4. Listen. Bob Adams had a successful full-time career as an IT strategist. However, when he went freelance, his clients kept pushing him to solve basic hardware and network problems. He listened to his clients, began marketing to what his clients requested, and now has a successful business with a staff. His long-term clients have also learned to trust him enough to request his advice on IT strategy. By listening to your clients, you end up truly knowing them, you avoid one-up-manship, and you keep them interested.

Good writing is good talking. When you need help transferring your great ideas to writing, please talk to me.

 

Nonprofit Marketing

Here’s a true story: A nonprofit was used to finding all of their clients through face-to-face contact. No one had considered any other means. Their website was barely functional, with no mention of their nonprofit status; it directed visitors to an email address that no one was monitoring; and it lacked information about who they were and who they served. It was hardly more than a holding page and was their only marketing effort.

As a result, the community had an entirely misguided idea of the nonprofit’s purpose. In fact, the community thought it was a for-profit company. The nonprofit was even accused by other organizations of “raiding” clients!

The ABCs of nonprofit marketing are the same as the ABCs of for-profit marketing (audience-specific, balanced, and complete), as described in my previous blog post. But here are some of the most common errors that nonprofits make in marketing materials:

  • They neglect to say that they are a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Your nonprofit status is important to donors and granting organizations. Include that information somewhere on all your marketing materials and proposals.
  • They make it difficult for anyone to reach them. Reaching the organization should be the easiest process, whether it’s through a link on your website, an email address and phone number on your brochure, a return envelope in your appeal letter, or an article about places where you’ll be presenting or setting up a booth.
  • They do not consider the general public. The general public is filled with potential clients, donors, and volunteers. If all your marketing efforts are directed to known clients and known donors, you are missing a large part of your audience. You are also neglecting to build community support.

The nonprofit described above asked me to turn their marketing efforts around. I stressed that one of the most important tasks that nonprofit marketing can accomplish is to put a face on the organization, including clients, donors, and volunteers.

I rewrote and drastically broadened the website content, and made sure that contact was simple, direct, and monitored. I wrote articles about the nonprofit, welcoming new Board members, thanking donors, and featuring (anonymous) client successes. I started a Facebook page. Once the community understood how the nonprofit was helping families right in their neighborhood, the nonprofit began to receive community-based grants and word of mouth referrals. The revised marketing opened up areas of financial support, but more importantly reached clients the nonprofit had not reached before–without jeopardizing its relationship with other organizations.

If your nonprofit is stagnating; if your marketing efforts are one-note; and if you haven’t revised your marketing materials in years, now is the time to contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

Websites That Drive Customers Crazy

The other day I had nearly finished purchasing an item on a retail website, and I couldn’t find the Continue or Next (or even Purchase) button. The only button on the page was labeled Add More. I didn’t want to add a second item; I wanted to purchase my first item.

When I called the store for assistance, they explained that the Add More button had the exact same function as Continue or Next. I always encourage creative content, but not when it interferes with the expectations of customers who are sure to believe that “Add More” means…add more.

One way to find out if your website is driving customers crazy is to ask yourself if you would patronize a company whose website worked and sounded like yours. Another way is to ask your customers what bothers them. Yet another way is to ask your help desk staff because they must answer the same questions from irritable customers all day long. Here are four sure ways to drive customers crazy:

  • Use popups that pop up right over the item the customer is most interested in. If the dismissal button is obvious, irritation is short lived; but many video popups are impossible to exit until the entire video finishes. Customers might very well decide to leave the page and the site rather than be held captive. Constant music or sound effects also risk driving customers away.
  • Don’t check your internal and external website links. Customers are driven crazy by links that don’t work. If you haven’t checked the links on your website for a while, please check them now. Please.
  • Change your content midway through the website. On the website for one IT service company, a free offer changed scope from page to page. Inconsistencies confuse customers but also send the message that you overlook details, even important ones like what exactly you are giving away.
  • Refuse to communicate. First, hide your contact information. Then give the phone number as a word (1-800-DONTCALL) that has to be translated into numbers. And when the customer calls the number, provide only three or four extremely narrow options, with no possibility of selecting “other.” So by the time the customer reaches a live person, the customer is already livid.

When you drive your customers crazy with your website, you lose money, whether through constant calls to your help desk, lost sales, costly mistakes in content, lost repeat customers or high employee stress and turnover.

A website review by TWP Marketing & Technical Communications examines your website page by page, item by item, to make sure that the content is clear, accurate and interesting and that everything works. This cost-effective solution helps keep your relationship with customers positive from first click to last. Contact us today.

 

Website Review: 5 Common Website Problems

Successful websites are constantly evolving: new pages, new blog posts, new success stories. But that new content opens the door to errors and inconsistencies. I have reviewed many websites and always discovered at least some of these 5 problems:

  1. Links that go nowhere. Of all the content that changes on a website, active links are the most likely to go wrong. The link was entered wrong to begin with or the page being linked to no longer exists. Links should be checked often.
  2. Inconsistencies in content from page to page. Whether the inconsistency involves serial commas (comma before the “and”) appearing and disappearing or variations in product and service names and prices, pages written at different times seldom match up. When any page is added, updated or deleted, then the entire website should be reviewed for inconsistencies in content.
  3. Changes in mission. As your business progresses, you may find that the products and services your customers demand differ from the products and services  you originally wrote about. Newly important information may be buried on secondary pages or may not appear at all. You need to periodically review and rewrite your to highlight the products and services your customers want most.
  4. Errors of spelling and grammar. Your original website may have been letter-perfect but chances are several people have had their hands on it since then. In addition, you may know your website so well that you fail to see mistakes, reading what you think should be there rather than what is. Typos happen. Make sure they don’t happen on your site.
  5. Abandoned pages. You may have started your website with great intentions to write a blog post every week and a news item every month, but now the dates on the posts and news are two years old. The staff you praised on your “About Us” page no longer works for the company. The product you introduced has been replaced twice over. Those abandoned pages are better off removed than standing as a constant reminder to you and your customers about your lack of follow-through.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications offers cost-effect reviews of websites, providing a fresh eye to seek out problems with links, inconsistent content, mission, spelling, grammar and abandoned pages. Contact us today.

What Not to Say: The Right Words Clear Away Confusion

Remember the show “What Not to Wear”? The hosts rescued badly dressed women mostly by stressing simple outfits that brought out the women’s innate sense of style and gave them confidence. Sometimes as a writer I find myself in a similar situation. My clients have marketing materials that are confused about audience, mission and even the power of words. My job is to find the clear, accurate, passionate message (the style) beneath the confusion so that clients feel good about their marketing materials–and so do customers.

  • Confusion over the audience. A local nonprofit’s website switched back and forth between addressing the people they were trying to help and addressing potential donors. As a result, on the home page, people they were helping became “you” part of the time and “they” the rest of the time. No one looking wants to be categorized as one of “them.” When you know your audience, your writing has the power to move people, whether to seek your help, buy your product or donate to your cause.
  • Confusion over the mission. One of my clients was transitioning between two main products. As a result, their website had become a roiling sea of information with no true focal point. Visitors to the website didn’t know where to look first and wondered if they had found the best company to meet their needs. You have to be committed to your own mission before you can convince customers to buy into it.
  • Confusion over the power of words. More words and longer words don’t equal more power. I like to use the example of two salespeople. One says, “Our professionally engineered, state-of-the-art product has the incredible capability of significantly reducing your annualized monetary outflow” and the other says, “Our product saves you money year after year.” A simple, clear statement that you believe in carries more weight than any string of five syllable adjectives.

At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, we believe in the power of clarity, accuracy and passion. Let us bring those three elements into your marketing materials and enable your message to shine. Contact us today.

Never Underestimate What Your Customers Don’t Know

I recently visited a website for a company selling beeswax candles. On one page of the site, the company explained how beeswax candles were made. The information fascinated me. I knew all about melting crayons to make candles and simply assumed any candle was made in the same way. It isn’t.

Many business owners give their customers credit for knowing much more than they do. The beeswax candle company did not make that mistake; and as a result they provided information on their website that kept me there much longer than I intended.

If you have been telling yourself that “Everyone in the industry does it that way” or “Everyone knows that,” it may be time for a reality check.

  • Knowledge that is common in your industry may not be common to your customers, who have their own special interests. Share your knowledge, educate your customers and you’ve hooked them. Items you can share include how your product is made or used, how to distinguish a good product from a bad one or how to repair or upgrade the product.
  • Knowledge that should be known to your customers might not be if you’ve left it to someone else (your competition?) to tell them. Items in this category include industry regulations, awards and baselines that you meet or exceed.
  • Knowledge that customers think they grasp (like my knowledge of how to make a candle) might be wide of the mark. Be specific. For example, if your industry is noted for extremely precise measurements, your customers will benefit from hearing exactly what precision your company reaches: within 1 foot, an inch, the width of a human hair, 0.00003 cm? “Extremely precise” seems clear but it actually vague.
  • Knowledge that you assume customers have because of their education or years in the industry might baffle them. After all, they are your customers because you have knowledge and skills they lack. Make sure you define acronyms and industry terms and try to stay away from industry jargon. Make it easy on your customers to understand what you are saying.

Need help figuring out how to write for your customers but not down to them? Contact me today at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

From its base in Peterborough, NH, TWP Marketing & Technical Communications writes marketing copy that engages your customers and delivers your marketing message with accuracy, clarity and passion.

Before You Start Writing

Before you start writing any marketing copy, whether a blog, newsletter, website, success story, proposal or article, you should know the answers to these four questions:

1. What does your customer want? Your marketing copy must provide a solution for the customer’s problem. You have to know the problem, be able to solve it, want to solve it and know how to communicate all that to the customer.

2. Where do your customers hang out? Do they search the web or newspapers? Are they more likely to read an article in a magazine or a story on your blog?

3. How much time are you prepared to spend? A regular newsletter or blog takes time; so does tweeting and maintaining a Facebook presence. Do you have the resources?

4. What is your deadline? A website or proposal that is four years in the finishing is four years overdue. Your marketing copy can’t start working for you until it reaches your customers.

If you are having trouble defining and reaching your audience or finding the resources and time to complete writing projects, contact me. At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, our words mean business.