Posts Tagged ‘marketing message’

If You Want to Get Attention, Say Something Worth Hearing

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Every day, we’re bombarded with more online information than our brains can possibly absorb. It’s as if a truck backed up to our homes and businesses each morning and dumped a ton of junk mail at our feet.

If you want to get any work done, you simply have to ignore or trash about 95 percent of anything you receive, even if it’s a subscription to a blog or eNewsletter you really mean to read.

So how do you get others to pay attention to your marketing messages?

Not by yelling louder or more often.

Here are my guidelines for being heard by the people you want to reach:

1. Know your ideal client and what problems she’s trying to solve.

If you don’t know whom you’re trying to attract and how you can be of help, it’s time to stop and figure that out. Everything else flows from this fundamental knowledge.

2. Provide quality content that solves a problem, teaches a new skill or inspires.

If you can do all three, even better. People are busy and easily distracted. To get your ideal client to pause and read, you need to give her content that’s immediately useful. It can be as short as a few sentences or as long as a feature article. Just be sure it’s worth her time.

3. Write with clarity and precision.

Nothing undercuts your message more than rambling sentences and poor grammar. If you’re not sure of your writing and editorial skills, find a good copyeditor to review your work before publishing.

4. Be consistent.

Produce and distribute your messaging content, via a blog, eNewsletter or other form of social media, on a predictable schedule, so your readers know when to expect your quality content—and look forward to it.

5. Be truthful and trustworthy.

Building a good reputation for your work is contingent on being a good person to work with. Enough said.

There is, of course, much to master about messaging tactics—how to build a good email distribution list, how to write effective headlines that get noticed, how to integrate keywords into your content to maximize search optimization, and so on. But even if you’re brilliant in all of these skills, if what you have to share isn’t worth reading, you’re wasting your time and everyone else’s.

The best test of your content? If you weren’t the author, would you take the time in the middle of a busy day to read it? I hope your answer is yes, but if not, you know what you have to do.

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

Photo Credit: maol via Compfight cc

What Have You Learned This Year? Five Questions to Help You Improve Your Marketing in 2013

Monday, December 31st, 2012

There’s plenty of advice out there about trends for 2013 and how to plan for the coming year. But before you look forward, it’s a good idea to take stock of the year drawing to a close.

If you’re like me, some of what you tried for your business worked well this year; other strategies were less successful. But mistakes are as valuable as successes. Both provide opportunities to learn and do even better next time.

So here are five questions to ask yourself as you reflect on 2012 and plan ahead:

1. Who is your ideal client—and whom are you actually helping? Are your present clients meeting your expectations?

All too often, especially when you’re starting out and don’t want to turn anyone away, it’s easy to fall into the trap of accepting clients who soak up your time but want to pay the minimum. Not worth it, especially as you’re trying to build your business. Look over your client list and determine who’s worth your time and who isn’t. Then let the sponges go.

2. What was your most successful marketing strategy? What did you do right to gain more qualified clients?

Note the adjective: qualified. You want to focus on the outreach you did that brought you more of those you want to help, not just more inquiries or more people who aren’t your target market. As you evaluate your success, think in terms of return on investment—not simply money spent, but time, as well. How can you expand on this effort during the coming year to build on your success?

3. Which marketing efforts failed to bring you desired results? Why? What went wrong?

Remember, this isn’t about banging your head against the wall. You want to identify what was a waste of time and money, and why. Maybe your concept was good, but the execution failed. Or maybe your execution was perfect, but you misunderstood your ideal client and how she would respond. Analyze your effort to figure out how you missed your target, what’s worth refining and repeating, and what to avoid in 2013.

4. How has your understanding of your work evolved? Is that reflected in your marketing messaging? Do you need to make refinements?

The more clients you help, the more you develop and refine your sense of your own capabilities and what you do best. Take some time to pat yourself on the back, note down your strengths and the words your best clients have used to describe you and how you’ve improved their lives. Look over your web content and other marketing materials to assess whether your content accurately reflects the true nature of your work—from your ideal client’s point of view—and your true abilities. Then make any necessary refinements.

5. Of all the marketing initiatives you tried this year, which one did you enjoy the most? Why?

Chances are that the marketing you enjoyed the most, you did the best. Maybe you discovered a passion for blogging, or you love the challenge of maximizing ROI from a Google AdWords campaign. Perhaps you found that you have a skill for teaching through workshops or webinars. Or maybe you’ve met some of your best customers by shmoozing in professional networking meetings or by helping others through LinkedIn forums.

We all thrive when we’re playing to our strengths. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try new approaches that push you out of your comfort zone, but it’s always a good idea to make the most of the strategies you really enjoy. Not only will you excel at what you love, but you’ll learn more about yourself and new directions for your business.

As we enter 2013, use what you’ve learned from this exercise to plan for an even better, more successful year of promoting your great work. Good luck and best wishes for a prosperous, fulfilling New Year!

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

Want Your Message to Get Attention? Think Like a Telegraph Operator

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

I finally got to see Lincoln this weekend, Steven Spielberg’s stunning portrayal of the President’s battle to pass the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery. Among the film’s most powerful scenes, there are several moments when all action pauses for a telegraph transmission. Tension mounts as the telegraph receives a string of Morse Code beeps and the critical news is translated—the outcome of a key battle, the House vote on the Amendment’s fate.

We take instantaneous messaging for granted today. But during the Civil War, the telegraph had only been in use for some 20 years; Western Union had just laid the first transcontinental telegraph cable in 1861. Operators needed be proficient in Morse Code, the series of dots and dashes, transmitted as short beeps and long beeps, that represent each letter of the alphabet.

Messages were short, focused and aimed at a very specific audience, then communicated in person or hand-carried to the intended recipient. And for those reasons, quite effective.

Except for the medium, not so different from effective messaging today.

Here are a few lessons about messaging we can all learn from the days of the telegraph:

  1. Know your audience. It’s easy to send out any kind of message into cyberspace. But if you’re not clear about whom your trying to reach and what they care about—what information they would stop in their tracks to discover—chances are good no one will pay any attention.
  2. Convey your message in a way your audience understands. In the 19th century, not everyone knew Morse Code; they needed an operator who could translate telegraph transmissions. With the Internet, you can write anything you want and put it online, publish it via emails, your blog and other social media. But if you’re using lingo or a language style that the people you want to reach don’t share, your message will be dismissed as unintelligible beeps.
  3. Keep it focused. Whether by telegraph or Internet, short, simple and clear add up to a memorable message that sticks.
  4. Time your message to arrive when people are looking for the information you want to provide. There are cycles in every business. Everyone’s looking for bargains right now before the holidays. After New Year’s, people look for ways to fulfill their resolutions to lose weight and get fit. In January and February, people in cold climates begin to plan for vacations in warmer ones. These are the obvious cycles. Whatever messaging you do, understand when those you want to help need it most, and set your schedule accordingly.

Bottom line: Our technology certainly has evolved, but the essence of human communication hasn’t.

End of transmission.

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

Extreme Web Makeover IV: Music & Memory

Monday, November 26th, 2012

If you have any experience with a loved one who struggles with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, you know the great challenges and sense of loss for all involved. But what if there were a medication-free way to help your loved one reawaken to the world?

It turns out there’s a simple and elegant solution: personalized music playlists. Hearing personal favorites on a device like an iPod can tap deep emotional memories and enable many of those with Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s and other cognitive challenges reconnect socially and feel more energized and upbeat.

I’ve learned all about this amazing process from Music & Memory, a non-profit based in metro New York that trains nursing home professionals how to set up and manage a comprehensive personalized music program for those in their care. For the past three months, I’ve been helping their great team revamp their website and create a professional, easy-to-navigate user interface designed to boost donations and subscriptions to their webinar training series. The new site went live on November 19.

Capitalizing on a Viral Video

Music & Memory’s challenge was an enviable dilemma: Last April, a video clip from a documentary about their work went viral. The clip told the story of Henry, a 94-year-old with dementia, who is non-communicative and doesn’t recognize his daughter. But as soon as he listens to his Cab Calloway favorites on his iPod, he awakens to his surroundings and can express himself quite effectively.

Nearly 7 million people have viewed the video, which has aroused tremendous interest in Music & Memory’s great work. The non-profit has sought and enjoyed extensive media coverage from major news outlets, including the New York Times, NPR and CNN, among others.

Converting from an Organically Grown Website to Strategic Web Content and User-Friendly Design

But Music & Memory’s website was a jumble of information and calls-to-action that did not effectively represent or explain the quality of their program. The site had grown organically, using a free template. Content was written from the organization’s point of view, rather than the user’s. Benefits were not clearly articulated. Navigation was cluttered and confusing. In addition, Music & Memory was in the process of switching over to Salesforce, a sophisticated contact management system that required a better web platform.

Working with the Music & Memory team and web developer Ed Booth of Insight Dezign, I took these steps to upgrade the site:

  • Defined key target audiences and established a hierarchy of calls-to-action, with donations and enrollments in M&M’s webinar training series at the top of the list.
  • Researched keywords that would boost search; salted these keywords throughout the site, in text, title tags, tabs, headlines and subheads, urls, ALT tags, search result descriptions and keyword tags.
  • Revised and wrote new content for the entire site, creating a conversational, unified tone throughout.
  • Reorganized content into a logical site navigation.
  • Selected the StudioPress Streamline theme template as the starting point for the new design; this template includes options for a hierarchy of multiple calls-to-action, essential for the site.
  • Selected images from Music & Memory’s documentary stills for the featured image within each main section of the site.
  • Laid out all page content within the template, unifying styles.
  • Integrated testimonial quotes throughout the site, including a rotating sidebar widget, a main Testimonials page and forms.
  • Using the Premise plug-in, wrote and designed a vertical sales page for the webinar series to expand the inquiry pool for this important revenue stream.
  • Wrote three Resource Guides—how to run an iPod donation drive, a guide for elder care professionals who wish to bring Music & Memory to their facility, and a guide to creating a personalized playlist for a loved one at home—that serve as free lead-generation downloads.
  • Served as project manager of the site build, in coordination with Ed Booth and Music & Memory staff. Oversaw completion of all details for the site visitor interface.

Ed built the site and added in many modifications to the template, enabling Music & Memory to fully realize their vision. Working closely with M&M tech pro Melody Ward, he integrated all forms with Salesforce. As always, he worked his magic on every technical challenge and request for greater functionality that we threw at him. He also patiently fixed whatever broke or jammed, all the inevitable problems that arise in a complex site build and launch.

Promoting the New and Improved Website

Whenever a site goes live, it’s always a thrill to see it in action. We coordinated the site launch with a year-end appeal letter that is scheduled to arrive in people’s homes today, November 26. Next steps for Music & Memory include an emailed site launch announcement tied to the annual appeal and a targeted email campaign to drive elder care professionals to the webinar training landing page. We’ll be following Google Analytics results to see how the site performs and making any needed modifications in the weeks and months to come.

It’s been a wonderful opportunity to help such a great organization strengthen their ability to attract more donors and reach many more people who can benefit from this affordable, uplifting form of personal care.

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

How to Keep Your Annual Appeal Out of the Circular File

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

The week before Thanksgiving, along with the inevitable flood of holiday gift catalogues in the mail, comes the inevitable flood of annual appeals from your alma mater and any good cause you may have supported in the past, along with requests from many causes you haven’t.

If you’re like me, I’m sure you toss the ones you don’t really care about, which constitute at least 90 percent of the mail, and set aside the ones you want to review for tax-deductible giving before the end of the calendar year.

So what makes a direct mail annual appeal worth opening, let alone reading—let alone responding to with a donation?

Just saying what you do and why it’s important aren’t enough to save an appeal from the circular file. Here are three key criteria to an effective annual appeal:

1) A Qualified Mailing List

This may seem obvious, but given the amount of junk mail we all receive, it’s certainly not always followed. Especially for non-profits that need to watch every dollar spent, it is well worth the time and investment to create and maintain an up-to-date database of qualified donors who have given in the past.

You can amplify this list through effective lead generation materials on your website—free, valuable content that your site visitors will want to download in exchange for their contact information. Understand the people you are trying to attract as donors, what they care about, what motivates them, what they would want to receive that is relevant to your work and helps to educate. Create quality content to give away in exchange for the contact information you need to expand your list of potential donors.

2) A Compelling Story

The best way to bring home the positive impact of your non-profit’s work is to tell a story that illustrates how your efforts benefited those you intend to help. Journalists use this approach all the time to explain a complicated issue—like rising gas prices—by telling the story from a local point of view. Readers can more readily identify with an abstract issue if it’s explained in personal terms.

To hold your audience, your story needs to have emotional impact that’s earned, not forced. People don’t want to feel manipulated. Stick to the truth. If your work is really good, you’ll have plenty of compelling anecdotes that can be woven into your narrative.

3) Great Visuals

A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words. Not everyone will read a long appeal letter, no matter how well crafted. Use quality photos that illustrate how you help—not grip-and-grin snapshots of donors at events—to help tell your story and draw your reader into your appeal. It also pays to invest in a professional graphic designer to lay out your story in a way that is compelling and easy to follow.

In addition to the above, be sure to get your appeal in the mail in time for it to arrive a month to six weeks before December 31, so recipients won’t miss it in the Christmas rush. And do a thorough evaluation of your appeal’s effectiveness when you’ve received all your donations.

There are many, many good causes out there, all competing for donations. Your chances of raising money for your good works are significantly better if you have a solid mailing list and a great, humane story, well presented, to share with your qualified donors.

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

Why Bother with a Website If You Have Good Word-of-Mouth?

Monday, November 12th, 2012

I know a small business owner, a specialist in computer repair and Internet security, who doesn’t have a website. Ironic, he admits, to be in the business of helping others have safe and effective communication online while lacking an on-line presence. But he does great work and has an excellent network of person-to-person referrals, and he’s been very busy.

The problem is this: Last year, someone across the globe pushed a scam over the Internet using the name of his company. If a potential customer looks up his business online, the first thing they find is the thread of warnings about the scam. You have to know him and type in his name to get to the real information about his business on his LinkedIn profile. Last time we spoke, he was planning to create his own website, but I have yet to see one.

Maintain Control of Your Message

Now, just because you don’t have a website for your business doesn’t mean you’ll end up with this kind of dilemma about your good name. But the point is, just about everyone checks you out online these days before they try to contact you to do business. And you want to be sure to have the upper hand in controlling what they read about you when they do.

According to Google, 97 percent of consumers go online to find local businesses. So if you’re relying on word-of-mouth for your business, like my friend, chances are you have a clientele that is primarily local and possibly regional. If people hear about you from trusted sources, they may call, but they probably will look you up, too. If they don’t find you online, this is what can happen:

  • They won’t fully understand your work and the range of options you offer for helping them solve the problem that’s brought them to you in the first place.
  • They may make assumptions about your qualifications that aren’t true.
  • They may make assumptions about your pricing that aren’t true.
  • They may wonder if you take your work seriously.

At the least, answering any of these questions or doubts can cost you time, having to explain yourself and your work in detail whenever you get an inquiry. At most, your lack of a web presence can cost you more business.

Expand Your Referral Network

While it’s wonderful to have a strong word-of-mouth network, you expand your odds of getting more business through your website. As any solopreneur soon learns, there are unpredictable cycles of feast or famine. If you’re just relying on a local personal network for business, you can find yourself without work at the most inopportune moment. Building a strong referral network online begins with a solid web presence that is your main reference point.

Clarify What You Do and Why

One of the great benefits of creating a website for your business is that it forces you to clarify for yourself what you do, the value of your work and why you do it. You may already have good answers for all of the above, but until you sit down to put it into words, you won’t realize what you’re missing from your pitch and how you could make it better.

Simply put, even if you have a strong personal referral network, a professional website that presents you and your great work in a way that resonates with those you hope to reach is well worth the time and investment to ensure you that you’ll continue to have all the business you need.

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

When NOT to Promote Yourself

Monday, November 5th, 2012

There is a time to speak and a time to listen. This past week, when Superstorm Sandy plowed into the East Coast, it was a time to pay attention, seek shelter and offer genuine help. But not a time to promote your brand.

American Apparel and The Gap learned that lesson the hard way. American Apparel was roundly criticized for launching a 36-hour Hurricane Sandy Sale, and Gap got an equally well-deserved trouncing for encouraging those who might be bored during the storm to shop online. Both received an outpouring of angry social media push-back. With so many suffering from the disaster, the pitches were justly recognized as tasteless and completely inappropriate.

Sears was chastised, too, for pushing generators and cleaning products via its Twitter feed in the storm’s aftermath. Even if people were looking for these items, the promotion appeared self-serving. Which, of course, it was.

Other businesses demonstrated thoughtful restraint or offered genuine assistance. Chevrolet donated 50 trucks and vans to search and rescue efforts. The Citi Foundation, which gives $500,000 annually to the American Red Cross, donated $1,000,000 for Sandy disaster relief. Sure, these moves helped burnish brand image. But they were tangible gifts of much-needed resources.

So, what’s the best, most humane approach to marketing your brand under such circumstances? Two rules make sense:

  1. Put yourself in the shoes of the people affected by the disaster. What information would be truly helpful to them that’s relevant to your work? Can you be of genuine assistance in some way, or will your offer appear to be simply self-serving or making light of the true suffering involved?
  2. If your business is located within the disaster zone, sincere words of support and comfort are appropriate (emphasis on sincere), as well as any updates about what’s happened to your business, when you expect to be available again for your customers and how to contact you.

For thoughtful commentary on the subject, see:

Nick Cicero: Is There a Right Way to Respond On Social Media After a Hurricane? on Social Fresh

Michael Sebastian: After Sandy, Lessons Emerge for Corporate Communicators on PR Daily.

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

Seven Ways to Repeat Your Message and Get Noticed

Monday, October 1st, 2012

There’s a golden rule in public speaking:

Tell your audience what you’re going to tell them.

Tell them.

Then tell them what you told them.

When it comes to delivering a memorable message, repetition is key. With so much information battering us for attention every second—from emails, texts, tweets, social network posts; on our smart phones, radio, TV; not to mention from live beings in our midst—it’s amazing that we can remember anything at all.

The Rule of Seven
So how many times do you need to repeat your marketing message for your ideal customer to pay attention, remember and follow your call-to-action?

The annoying answer is—it depends. If you’re an expert in a small but clearly defined niche, you may have a dedicated following who just need to hear your advice once to take action.

But if you’re competing in a crowded marketplace, you need to repeat and repeat and repeat. Some marketing pros cite the Rule of Seven—a minimum of seven times to repeat your message in order to be noticed. It’s probably no coincidence that seven is the average number of bits of information that we can hold in our short-term, conscious memory.

Vary the Medium to Develop Your Message
This doesn’t mean you need to repeat the exact same message in the exact same format, over and over. In fact, it helps if you promote your message with some variety, so your ideal client doesn’t yawn and move on because she’s heard it already. There’s a balance to be struck between reinforcing your message and annoying the people you’re trying to convince with too much of the same thing.

So here are seven ways to get your message across in different styles and formats:

  1. Blog about it. Tell a story about how your helped solve a problem for a client. Be sure she’s someone your target audience can identify with. Tweet about your blog post, using keywords that your target audience is likely to use for search.
  2. Create a video of your client explaining how you helped her solve that problem. Embed it on your website homepage, post it on your social networking sites and tweet to your followers.
  3. Create a short guide to solving that problem, optimize it with keywords and post it on your website as a download in exchange for email addresses. Promote it through your social networks.
  4. Promote a free webinar about how to solve that problem in greater detail, using  your email list of qualified potential clients and social networks.
  5. Do the webinar. Offer participants a discount for your product or service.
  6. Guest post on a blog with a significant audience of potential clients about how to solve that problem. Link to your website and your problem-solving download.
  7. Get yourself an interview on your local business radio show and tell your story. Promote your next webinar.

And so on. You can, of course, also tell your story through traditional advertising, such as newspaper ads, if your budget allows. The point is to think creatively, across media that your ideal client favors, and plan your promotional push within a short enough period that will help you to reinforce your message multiple times.

As you develop your campaign, be sure to measure results. Which tactic garnered the most inquiries? Which gave you the best return on your investment of time and resources? Experiment, test and refine. With each new round of repetition, you’ll have a better shot that your ideal client will actually be listening.

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

 

Why TV Ads May Not Win Elections, After All

Monday, September 24th, 2012

If you’re able to stomach the hype, dueling punditry and horserace journalism of this year’s bitter presidential campaign, you probably know by now that the Romney campaign has raised millions more than Obama’s, largely through secret private donations to Super PACs. Both campaigns are flooding TV markets in battleground states with commercials; by Election Day on November 6, the contenders will have spent an estimated $1.1 billion on TV ads.

That in itself is a sobering thought (how much of the national debt could have been retired with that money?). But according to James Suroweicki’s financial column in this week’s New Yorker magazine, all that money for all those ads may be an even bigger waste of resources when you consider how campaigns are actually won.

Step One: Target Your Message to Voters You’re Most Likely to Win Over
Citing Sasha Issenberg’s new book, The Victory Lab, Suroweicki explains how sophisticated political campaigns have adopted corporate marketing strategies of micro-targeting their messages to each segment of voters. Focusing on voters who are still undecided or who favor their candidate but need that extra push, campaigns tailor messaging according to detailed demographics, including shopping tastes, voting history and media preferences.

If that approach sounds familiar, it should. Political campaigns are only following best practices for strategic messaging—know your ideal client, understand her issues and explain how you can help solve her problems or help meet her challenges.

Of course, delivering the right message to the right audience segment isn’t enough. You have to follow through on your promises, which, in politics, is not always a guarantee.

Step Two: Persuade Your Won-over Voters in Person to Get Out and Vote
But of greatest importance during the run-up to the election is this: Even if you persuade the right market segment of voters with your expensive, targeted TV commercials and direct mail to vote for your candidate, it doesn’t mean squat unless the people you convince actually get out and vote.

And here, Suroweicki points out, political science researchers have demonstrated that good old fashioned human contact works best. Forget those robo-phone calls with recorded political VIPs urging you to go to the polls (not to mention the pure annoyance factor). Personal calls by real campaign workers and door-to-door stumping, when strategically targeted, are the most effective ways to get your won-over voters to vote.

Which brings us to a common-sense conclusion—market research is essential, targeted messaging is good strategy, but nothing beats the personal touch of one person speaking honestly to another about why your candidate or product or service is worth her time, effort and resources.

And above all, of course, your marketing efforts should promote something or someone of true substance that lives up to your message. Imagine if that were always the case in politics.

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

How to Be Yourself and Stop Hiding Behind Your Website Content

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

I read a lot of websites. Market research for clients, competitor analysis, my own information search—it all adds up to a lot of words on screen. And quite frankly, much of it is, well, garbage, to be polite.

It’s not that the content isn’t informative. It’s not that it doesn’t answer my questions. It’s just hard to read. And I’m not talking about lack of good grammar, though there’s plenty of reason to gripe about that.

Don’t Sound Like a Robot
What bothers me most about many web sites, especially sites for professional services, is that they seem to be written by automatons. The language is stiff, formal, like content you’d find in a term paper. In an effort to sound professional, the writer comes off sounding aloof—not someone I’d want to spend time with.

It’s a pitfall in all forms of business writing—using complicated sentences and big words to sound intelligent. But really, what we all want is to deal with a warm-blooded person on the other end of the website, someone we can identify with, someone we’d enjoy meeting over a cup of coffee for a good conversation and help solving a problem.

Keep It Conversational
I know how hard it is just to be yourself online. It’s natural to feel vulnerable when you put yourself out there. We all need boundaries to protect our privacy, especially on the Internet.

At the same time, to connect with your ideal client, you really need to push past any urge to spiff up your web content with lots of long phrases, fancy terms and—please, no—business jargon. No one really talks like that unless she’s trying too hard to impress. And it shows.

So here are a few ways to keep your web content down-to-earth and personal:

  1. Choose strong nouns and active verbs. They always beat overwrought vocabulary and circuitous sentence structure, no matter what the genre. It’s fine to use unusual, interesting words—as long as your target audience speaks that way, too.
  2. Use the second person, you, to speak directly to your audience, as you would in a conversation. Don’t feel you need to use third person he/she/they to be polite or more appropriate. That will only distance you from your reader.
  3. Capture your natural voice in your writing. How would you explain this topic to a good friend? That’s the tone you want to emulate online. The best way to test your content for conversational tone is to read it out loud when you’re through writing. If you hesitate because the sentences are confusing, get stuck on pronouncing big words or get bored listening to yourself, it’s time to revise.
  4. Anticipate your reader’s questions and answer them in a logical sequence. This achieves two goals: Your copy will be easy to read, and your reader will feel understood and keep reading.
  5. Avoid foul language. This is an exception to the point about capturing your natural voice—if you tend to curse a lot, that’s your business, but it doesn’t belong on your professional website. Even today when just about anything goes, many readers will be turned off by words that get bleeped on most TV shows. Occasionally, cursing in context can be very effective, but it should be used with full intention, not carelessly.

For more suggestions on how to write web copy that works, check out this post: Five Reasons Why Your Website Content Isn’t Working—and How to Fix It.

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.