During the Brexit referendum debate in 2016 Michael Gove MP famously declared that “Britain has had enough of experts” and like so much rhetoric to come from that debate it was nonsense.
Gove at that time was the Minister for Justice so it’s reasonable to assume he’d appreciate the expertise of the specialist lawyers, judges, police, clerks, expert witnesses and the many other professionals charged with ensuring justice is dispensed fairly and hence the success of his department.
If you’ve had the privilege of reading the The Secret Barrister's book, you’ll know that Mr. Gove’s department was not a success as the criminal justice system was devastated under his watch. Experts with years of experience, knowledge and understanding were shed, meaning the justice system is now in chaos. Justice for both victims and perpetrators of crime is now a lottery.
This may be an extreme example but one which I believe exemplifies the need for experts. A specialist professional knows how to perform a task or facilitate a project, so it happens successfully and in a timely fashion.
For a vivid example of the difference between experts and amateurs you only have to look at the difference in skill levels between the professional dancers and the enthusiastic celebrities on Strictly Come Dancing.
On a personal level I wouldn’t attempt to fit a carpet, rewire my house, plumb in a shower, deliver a baby, pilot an airliner or dance a foxtrot. In fact, there are many specialist jobs I wouldn’t attempt to do, I’d leave them to the people who know best how to perform them.
At a business level we leave it to experts all the time, web site designers, graphic designers, IT consultants, software developers, commercial lawyers, accountants, book keepers, architects, mechanics, printers, engineers…the list could go on, but you get the point. All these specialists facilitate a piece of work effectively because they are experts at it.
If you think of all your touch points with specialists you quickly realise there are many roles and tasks, even in a small business you can’t perform yourself, because you don’t have the expertise.
The business of writing, or writing for business is no different, yet it’s one of those areas that many people think they can do themselves, after all most of us know how to write. But do we all have the skill to write for business, conveying often complex messages with clarity?
I look at it this way, if I need a well composed, properly lit, sharply focused photograph for my business website, I don’t put something up I’ve just snapped on my smartphone I engage a professional photographer.
Written content is no different, if you want well composed, sharply focused, grammatically correct content engage the expert, use a writer.
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” Albert Einstein
Writing content for your website shouldn’t be a chore, but should be a reflection of your business and the problems you solve for your customers.
It’s not all about keywords either; search engines pick up great site content much more than endless repetition of keywords.
So what should you consider when writing site content, here are my top 10 rules to follow:
1. Have a plan
Think about what you want to write, in what order and in what context.
Most writers spend on average 50% of their time planning, it makes the writing process much quicker. In fact writing should only be 20% of the process, with editing the final 30%
Plan your content in advance, think about who you are addressing and what you want them to learn:
Planning will help shape your thoughts and make the writing process so much easier!
2. Write about the most important point first
There’s a technique journalists use called the inverted triangle, which basically means: put the most important information at the top of the page, before drilling down into more detail.
Think of it as front-loading your content so a reader can get a great idea of what you offer first up, before you tell them how or why later on.
I’ll talk more about this in my next blog.
3. Explain what it is you do as a business on your home page
It still amazes me that business owners make assumptions that site visitors know what they do.
A better rule is to assume visitors don’t know what you do, so write as though the visitor is meeting you for the first time.
4. Write in shorter sentences, not long paragraphs
I’m often asked, how long should a sentence be? Ideally I’d suggest no more than 30 words, preferably fewer than 20. And each paragraph should be no more than 2 sentences long.
Remember you’re writing for the web here, so paragraphs need to be compelling and easily digestible for visitors who may just scan the page.
5. Be clear and concise
Don’t use complicated language or over elaborate sentences. Simplicity is the key.
To quote the writer C.S. Lewis;
“Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.”
Many web writers’ manuals suggest writing as though you’re addressing a 14-15 year old. So keep it simple.
6. Write for your ideal customer
Most businesses know who their best customers are, they know why they buy from them and what they like.
Write your content to reflect these customers – they’re the ones you want more of.
7. Use headlines, sub-headlines and bullets
Dividing up your content, giving way markers and, making the next bit sound exciting keeps visitors interested and reading.
8. Don’t be afraid to edit
I’ve always found it useful in whatever context, to write in long form, then walk away and do something else for a while, before coming back and editing the text until it says exactly what I want it to say.
Then I repeat the process – your third or forth draft is always much better than your first.
9. Print it out
If like me you spend lots of time at your screen, you don’t always see something obvious staring out at you. Whether it’s a typo, poor grammar or awkward phraseology I tend to see them only when I’ve printed the piece.
Believe me it’s so much easier to edit when you can scribble on the paper and rewrite different ideas by hand.
10. Read it
Make sure you read your finished work after you’ve edited it.
You need to check:
There’s a lot more than can be said about writing for the web. In my next blog I’ll look in more detail about the concept of the inverted triangle and how it can help you with writing compelling content.
Writing with clarity is the best thing you can do for your website.
It shouldn't be a big surprise but for many people, experienced marketers included, writing clear, concise online content as the number one way of improving SEO, sales and customer retention is a real shock.
We have a theory at What Are Words Worth, that it's because we've all become slaves to the algorithm. We believe to get on top of search must be complicated, therefore there has to be a trick to it.
Surprise, surprise the trick is to write it well, using simple language, explaining what you do and who you do it for.
By making your site or blog lively, readable and engaging you make it sticky, and only when you have the viewer's interest do you need to start explaining how you do it.
If you've ever found a site and wondered what on earth it is the company does, they have failed!
A major sporting event we were involved with worked hard to win a new title sponsor; for the entirety of their 5 year sponsorship we couldn't work out, no matter how often we read their website and literature, what they actually did.
Ask yourself, are you that organisation? Is your content over complicated? Do you inform site visitors in simple terms what it is you do?
Or does your site use jargon and acronyms? Does it make assumptions about visitors levels of knowledge about you? Does it actually make them click away - probably to a competitor?
The key to retaining site visitors, and ultimately turning them into customers, is to write content using simple, natural language, easily readable and understandable by a visitor.
We're trained as content creators to write prose that can be easily understood by a 12 year old, which may not be a bad rule of thumb.
We prefer though to think of our readers as busy people, fellow human beings, seeking to discover valuable information as quickly and as easily as possible.
In the next What Are Words Worth blog we'll look at the Top 10 Rules for writing great web content.
Without a doubt the online world is an ever changing space and gaining traction for your website is increasingly difficult. If the guru's at SEO organsiations struggle to keep up with the changing nature of search algorithms, what hope have the rest of us?
I was therefore reassured to read in a recent post on Databox, that amongst the 31 actions you can take to keep your site top of the page rankings, two of the most important are:
Write clear, concise content - telling people what it is you actually do.
Blogs are important - it's an easy way to keep your site refreshed.
Reading the full post here, shows just how difficult it is to keep up in the online world, however taking simple steps with great content and relevant blogs is an easy shortcut to keeping skin in the game.
One of the questions I often get asked is why do I need a blog on my website? It probably ranks right up with, what is SEO? And believe it or not the two are related. In a nutshell the number one reason for having a blog on your website is that it drives search engine traffic.
How does it do that? Well, for one it enriches your content, but secondly and of equal importance it keeps your site updated.
If you think about the way Google and other search engines work, they constantly look for indexed pages. So every time you put up a blog it’s one more indexed page on your website, which means there is a greater opportunity for it to show up in search engines.
Blogging also shows search engines that your site is active and they should be checking back regularly for new content, even better it puts more keywords on your site, all of which help it rise up the page rankings; in the trade it’s known as organic SEO!
But it’s not all about SEO, blogging is one of your best sales tools helping increase leads and improving conversion rates.
I don't know many people who advocate using a blog for a direct sales message, but it is your big chance to really tell your organisation’s stories, to show your credibility and to prove your authority in your marketplace. In many ways blogging is your chance to show off, to really convey that you are an expert.
If you have a new product or service, you can talk about it, but don't tell us what it is, tell why you've created it, tell us about the journey it's been on, tell us about the challenges and frustrations. That's way more interesting than a pure sales message.
I always get a real buzz when reading a blog that teaches me something new, written by someone passionate about their subject, it’s such a great opportunity to get inside the personality of a business; to hear its human voice..
Don’t make it too long though (around 500 words is optimum), but tell compelling stories in your voice, which help customers and potential customers understand something about what you do, how you work, your industry or what you’ve learned on the way.
Your blog therefore is the enrichment you put into your site, the thing you do to change it from a showroom into a friendly business.
The big benefit of this rich content is that readers love to share new, fun and interesting material they’ve learned from. Which means that not only do you have something to put up on your social media channels every time you blog, but so do your clients and potential clients.
Think about it, if a potential client has read your blog and has even linked to it on social media, how much more likely are they to buy from you than if all they’d seen were the static “services” or “about us” pages on your website?
And you know I said its not all about SEO, well actually those social media links are great for creating inbound links to your website, something search engines absolutely love.
Of course it's no good just posting the occasional blog. To keep your site active; to keep enriching your content; to keep those pages being indexed, and to keep crawling your way up the search engine rankings - you need to keep posting regularly.
Write a list of the interesting things you want to talk about then plan into your diary when you're going to write and post each blog. Once a month is OK, fortnightly is better.
This is my first blog on this site so I'm trying to practice what I preach!