Tag Archives | websites

Writing your own home page

CopywritingHere’s an edited extract from my upcoming new book: ‘The Little Fish Guide to Writing your own Website':

Unwelcome

Don’t start ‘Welcome to my website’ – it’s dated and unnecessary. Instead, make your main heading keyword-rich to help your site get found on search.

In my view, your home page copy should be about your customers more than it is about you, so they know they’ve landed in the right place.

So, what should you make clear on your home page? At-a-glance, who it’s for. One technique is the question-and-answer approach i.e.

NO: ‘We are X, based in Y and we specialise in Z’.

YES: ‘Looking for A, B or C? You’ve come to the right place.’

Newsletters/Tipsheets

On your home page, the main objective might be to capture the email address of Continue Reading →

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Web design tips (part 2)

Here are five more ways to enhance your website. Part one of this article was published last month.

Choose your images carefully

Just because you can do a Google image search and find pictures doesn’t mean those images are copyright-free and available for you to use. You can source images from photo libraries such as Shutterstock.com or iStockPhoto.com for a small fee (although the latter’s prices have gone up since they were bought by Getty images), find something suitable on PhotoPin.com, or use your own images.

Top tip: Teams of lawyers scour the Internet for code that’s hidden within their images. They will find you and sue you if you use their images without permission.

Choose your colours carefully

Research colour psychology before you settle website colours (See Wikipedia for info). If you’re in financial services, for example, blue is a better colour to use as it means stability, whereas red means danger or debt (at least in the UK). The decisions you make about your brand identity should be consistent across all your marketing, not just online.

These days, a white background is considered more elegant than a coloured one. It’s also easier to read. Whatever colour scheme you use, there should be high contrast between the copy and the background to comply with current web standards.

Note that only certain colours are web-safe. They are defined with a six-digit code e.g. the shade of teal I use is called #0F4A61.

Online colours are made up of RGB (red, green and blue, like your television screen). You can’t use metallics or neons online, as you can with ink. You can’t match Pantone or CMYK colours either. As every monitor is calibrated differently, your site colours will look different to every viewer. There is nothing you can do about this.

Links

The default style for a hyperlink used to be blue and underlined, and purple when the link has been visited. That’s no longer the case, but it’s wise not to underline any text unless it is a link, to avoid confusing people. All your links should be the same format, and any text that’s not a link should not be in link format. People will try clicking it, and will just get annoyed when they find it goes nowhere.

Choose your fonts carefully

These are the only fonts that work consistently across all browsers:

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If you insist on using a particular house font, you can use it as graphic text for headlines (but note it will be a graphic and not readable by search engines). Keep your body copy in a web safe font.

Note that anyone viewing your site can change the font size at will, which may break your carefully constructed layout. You can’t control websites the way you can printed documents. You just have to accept that web layouts are flexible and live with it.

Typography tips for web copy:

– Ranged left, ragged right (NOT justified)
– Minimal italic
Bold for emphasis
– CAPITAL LETTERS = shouting!!!

Pull quotes / call-outs

You can use a technique inspired by newsprint, and highlight certain short snippets of the text by making the font larger, indented and perhaps a different colour.

I originally wrote this article for Fresh Business Thinking

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Where were all the web designers?

I was at an event that included seminars on various subjects. One seminar was about websites. After 30+ years as a copywriter, and 10+ years writing websites, I’ve written 100s of them! In fact, my next ebook and matching keynote speech is ‘How to write your own website’. You get the idea, I already know a lot about websites. I’m happy to share what I know about websites. I even give my own seminars about websites.

Q. Why would I want to go to someone else’s seminar about websites?

A. Because all the people in the audience are interested in knowing more about websites, of course!

In the Q&A session, a discussion arose about writing headlines and subject lines for email newsletters. After 30+ years as a copywriter, I’ve written 1000s of headlines. So I contributed one of my useful tips: “If you’re stuck for a headline, go to Cosmo Online, or the Daily Express, or whatever magazine or newspaper you and your target clients read. Look at their top ten headlines of the day and change one or two words to make them suit your product or service. Either that, or pay me and I’ll write it for you!”

The audience laughed, the presenter was kind enough to mention that I’m a web copywriter, and a couple of people asked for my card.

When I thanked the presenter afterwards, we were both amazed that there were no other web professionals in the room. What a missed opportunity for them.

Top tip: Next time you get the chance to attend a seminar on your key subject, go along, even if you think you know everything already. Your target audience is sitting right there in the room with you.

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The future of websites

It’s time to look into my crystal ball. Ooh, the mists are clearing. I see…I think I see something…yes, I can see what your next website will look like.

But first, let’s go back in time to when websites were a new concept. As well as predicting the future, I’ve identified three main phases in web marketing and picked out some recent developments that affect all web marketers. Read on to see whether you agree.

History of websites

Not so many years ago, businesses didn’t need to worry about having a website at all. Then they realised it was essential to be found on the Internet, and reproduced their brochures as static web pages.

The first web developers were mostly techie, and created sites that worked but maybe didn’t look very pretty. Then creative web designers got involved, and built sites that looked great but maybe weren’t as effective as they could be. For example, splash pages coded in Flash that can’t be read by search engines or on mobiles, and that meant one extra click for human visitors before they can even enter the site, which of course is an opportunity to lose them.

Current websites

Now, web marketers and SEO experts influence site design to ensure the structure is simple and easy to navigate, the code compliant, the layout clean and clear, and the copy informative, keyword-rich and with strong calls-to-action.

With the explosion of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn since 2009, businesses need to include ‘added value’ content as well as ‘salesy’ content, in the hope that it will be shared throughout the social media community.

So now it’s important to have a blog as well as, or even instead of, a website. This keeps the content fresh and helps with SEO, as well as demonstrating your brand personality and proving your expertise to human visitors.

What’s more, clients are increasingly demanding the right to do their own updates without paying professionals every time something changes, so Content Management Systems (CMS) and blog sites built on platforms such as WordPress or Joomla are increasingly popular.

But even that is changing.

Recent developments

As a business, you want to get found on search, and Google is still the number 1 search engine, with YouTube (owned by Google) as number 2.

Google launched Google+ in June 2011, with business pages from November 2011 and ‘Search Plus Your World’ in January 2012. This new personal search option means that Google will return different search results when you’re logged in, based on the +1s of you and your network. That’s why Google wants to know you you’re connected with, so it’s wise to open a Google+ account and start putting your friends into ‘circles’. And it’s why you need to be clicking the +1 button on all the web pages you like from now on.

With Pinterest hitting the mainstream in 2012, users started sharing images more than text. This trend is reflected in Facebook’s Timeline that favours pictures and video over words. Happily for professional copywriters like me, copy is still important, but these days you really should include pictures too.

So what’s coming next?

Future of websites

Small businesses should take a lesson from the world’s biggest brands. Their websites don’t even try to sell to new customers these days. Instead, they offer interaction to increase the loyalty of their existing customer base. For example, you can enter a code from the ring pull onto the Coca Cola website, you can play ‘tweet and grow’ on the Kew Gardens site, and Innocent Drinks has a whack-a-mole-style game where you smash fruit with a mallet to fill a juice carton.

Here are a few examples for smaller businesses:

• An expert in contracts has created a free glossary App, to add value and raise brand-awareness
• A security company is planning a game where site visitors have to place fire and burglar alarms on the floorplan of a warehouse, then press ‘go’. If they have protected the building properly, they win. If not, fires break out, burglars break in, and users get the message that perhaps the company knows more about security than they do
• Another client sells lighting for fish and reptiles, so is thinking of adding an online aquarium or viviarium, where people have to equip the tank with the right heating and lighting, and look after their virtual pet correctly to win points and discounts

Admittedly, this approach is not right for all businesses. But what do you think — wouldn’t you prefer to find a certain amount of entertainment on a website, as well as just information?

You can use ideas like this to inspire your own website. Express your unique brand personality to filter out anyone who’s not your target market, add video to keep site visitors engaged, and include games and added-value content for sharing.

I originally wrote this article for Fresh Business Thinking

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Web design tips (part 1)

Follow the F-pattern

Eye-tracking studies show that website visitors tend to glance along the top two lines of text, then scan down the left hand edge taking in only the first two words of each line, and perhaps look across the page once more. They spend very little time looking at the bottom right hand corner of the web page. The pattern looks like the shape of an F.

When you know about this, you can arrange your content to suit it. For example, write a powerful headline at the top of the page that answers ‘what’s in it for me’. Add a sub-heading mid-way down the page, especially if the first couple of words are significant ones. And avoid putting anything important in the bottom right hand corner.

Splash pages

Have you noticed those websites that start with an animation and – if you’re lucky – a ‘skip intro’ link? Have you ever watched the intro without skipping it? No. Me neither. This is called a ‘splash page’ but any extra click e.g. ‘enter site’ is a chance to lose site visitors. Please don’t do it. The only people who benefit from splash pages are the web designers who get paid to create them.

Navigation

Aim for a site that is no more than three clicks deep. Note that site navigation is not the same as print pagination. As pages can be read in any order, site visitors need to be able to get to anywhere, from anywhere. To do this, you can include a sitemap (this is good Google practice too) and/or breadcrumb trail, especially for complex sites with lots of pages.

A breadcrumb trail is a set of links that show where you are within the site e.g. Home > Services > Copywriting

New windows

It’s bad form to make site visitors open a new window or download a document without first warning them. In fact, you should only open a new window when taking them to another site. When you direct them to another page of the same site, it should open in the same window.

Standard positioning

Here’s a checklist of things that have become standard in web design:

• Logo top left, clickable link to your home page
• Phone/email top right, so people don’t have to look far to contact you
• Search box (if used) top right
• Social media icons small and bottom right, because the objective of your social media is to drive traffic to your site where you do your selling, not the other way around
• Main navigation top or left sidebar
• Newsletter/tipsheet signup top of right sidebar
• Calls to action bottom or right sidebar (above the fold)
• Video and /or image to catch the eye
• Main heading with H1 tag
• Body copy starts above the fold, include sub-headings and bullet points for skim-reading
• Pictures with captions beneath or to the right, and alt tags
• Sharing buttons on every added value page, to make it easy for people to link to your content throughout their social media networks (get the code from addthis.com or sharethis.com – it’s free and registration is optional)
• Sitemap / © Copyright information / T&Cs / Privacy policy / postal address in footer.

I originally wrote this article for Fresh Business Thinking

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The truth about the EU cookie law

You might have noticed corners or panels appearing on many websites recently, inviting you to accept or opt out of cookies. (Cookies are little bits of data that live on your hard drive).

Most websites use cookies, even if just to capture site statistics and analytics. The warnings have been added because the EU, in their infinite wisdom, decided that everyone had to proactively decide whether to allow websites to store cookies.

They warned of fines up to £500K for non-compliance with effect from May this year. They also said they would be unlikely to fine anyone who could prove they were working towards compliance (reading this article might count).

The trouble is, in order for a website to know whether its visitors want cookies or not, it has to store a cookie. The other problem is that simple web hosting packages would need a costly upgrade to include a database to store cookie preferences.

So, at the last minute, the EU changed the guidelines. Instead of site visitors having to opt in or out of cookies, site owners can now ‘presume consent’.

To be on the safe side you may wish to add a message on your site e.g. “This site uses cookies. All data collected is anonymous. If you’d prefer to opt out, you can change your browser settings. Find out more at allaboutcookies.org.”

That’s how the cookie (law) crumbles!

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The new wave of websites

I was talking to a prospective client last week about web design trends. We’ve gone from ‘selling’ where we simply promote our products and services online, to ‘telling’ where we share loads of information in the hope of getting found on search and convincing people we know what we’re talking about so they pay us some money.

So what’s next?

In my view, ‘gamification’ is the upcoming trend. Rather than a top-down communication, it’s more of an interaction through engagement and entertainment. Here are a few examples:

  • A client who works in contracts has created a free App, to add value and raise brand-awareness.
  • Kew Gardens has a ‘tweet and grow’ game where you choose a (virtual) plant, give it food, water and sunlight, and see whether it grows or dies. It’s a good fit with the brand and demonstrates their expertise while being a bit of fun.
  • A security company I spoke to thought they’d done all they could with their marketing. We discussed a game where site visitors have to place fire and burglar alarms on the floorplan of a warehouse, then press ‘go’. If they have protected the building properly, they win. If not, fires break out, burglars break in, and they get the message that perhaps the company knows more about security than they do.

Last week’s conversation ended with the suggestion of an online aquarium, where people have to equip the tank with the right heating and lighting, and look after their fish correctly to win points and discounts.

Admittedly, this approach is not right for all businesses (undertakers, for example). But what do you think – would you prefer to find a certain amount of entertainment on a website, as well as just information?

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What NOT To Write On Your About Us Page

With thanks to Doug Jenner who inspired part of this article, here are some typical examples of what NOT to write on your ‘About’ page, and my explanation of why it’s not helping your marketing effort if you do.

“We are passionate about what we do”

Who cares? Even when writing about yourself or your business, you have to answer ‘what’s in it for me’ from the client’s perspective. They don’t care about your passion or lack of it. I regularly pass a baker’s in my local High Street that claims to be ‘passionate about bread’. I don’t believe them! Nobody, but nobody, is passionate about bread. And, whatever they say, it doesn’t tempt me in to buy a loaf. In my view, ‘passion’ should be saved for the bedroom (or the kitchen table…). It is an overused and irrelevant word in business.

“We are highly respected”

Then prove it with testimonials and case studies. What other people say about you is more convincing than anything you can say yourself.

“We are proud that…”

Who cares how proud you are? We only care what you can do for us.

“We provide traditional and old-fashioned service”

Don’t be general; be specific. Give examples. And only ever state things that are important to your customers.

“We provide flexible, personal, tailor-made service”

Yes, that’s what service should be. Again, don’t just tell us; show us what you mean.

“Our clients have distinctly discerning and bespoke needs”

Of course they do, we all do. Do you have any clients that are exactly like me? What did you do for them? Were they happy with the results? Will you be able to do the same for me? That’s all customers care about.

“Our clients are small , medium and large”

You will never sell to ‘everybody’. It’s better to target a specific niche. Anyway, it’s better to give examples, list their names, show their logos.

“We work in partnership with you / as an integral part of the team”

Cliché alert. These over-used statements sound too greedy to include in upfront marketing communications. They don’t say anything except that you want to inveigle your way into my business so I can’t get you out. I want control of deciding how closely I work with my suppliers, or not.

“Only ever as good as our last job”

Cliché again. If that’s really what you want to say, then tell the story of your last job. Explain what happened before you got involved, what you did and what the results were. People buy results.

“No matter how big or small”

Another cliché. Say how big or how small. Use visuals. As big as an elephant or as small as a mouse. From John O’Groats to Land’s End. From a sole trader to a corporate. Paint stunning word pictures for us.

“We go that extra mile / We bend over backwards”

Meaningless puffery. Don’t just say it; prove it with examples.

“We would be happy to talk to you”

Of course you would. You want my money.

I originally wrote this article for Fresh Business Thinking

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