Want people to stick around on your website? Then resist the temptation to tell them all about yourself.

by
May 29, 2011

I meet people at networking events who, once I’ve explained what I do, sometimes say “could you cast an eye over the copy on my website and tell me what you think?”

I can guess what’s wrong with it without even looking.  Am I telepathic?  No.  It’s just that the copy on most home pages falls into the same trap.  The mistake is really basic, and really fatal.  Like not looking right and left before stepping off the kerb and under a bus.

Trap, what trap?

The trap of thinking that your website is an opportunity to tell people all about yourself.  You can think like that – but it’s an expensive ego trip.

People are not interested in you

Everyone has heard of “How to win friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie.  Mention it and you can almost see them smile to themselves (“I don’t need a book like that!”).  But how many people, despite the fact it sold millions of copies, have actually read it?

Here’s the message.  People are more interested in themselves than they are in you.  So, if you want to win friends and influence people, show an interest in other people.  Talk about them, not yourself.  They will love you for it, and eventually take an interest in you (which is what you wanted all along….right?).

Enough about me…but as I was saying

You know when you go to a business event and meet an individual who talks about nothing but themselves for several minutes without pausing for breath?  We’ve all been there – praying for someone to come and rescue us.

When you return from the toilet (the only way you could get away) you meet a character who asks you a question.  They listen intently (not glancing over your shoulder every few seconds, or occasionally stifling a yawn).  They then pick up on something you say and make a comment, adding in a little story from their own experience, before asking you another question.  Eventually, when they have got to know a little bit about your business, they may say something like “that’s an interesting challenge you’ve got there…I might be able to help.”

Telling is a turn-off

OK, that was just an example, and stilted, but did you notice the difference?

One person talked at you, while the other listened to you, drawing you into a conversation with a series of questions and comments.  The second one put the focus on you, built up a rapport, demonstrated an interest in a few things you were struggling with, then offered some appropriate help.  Who are you most likely to do business with?

Monologue or dialogue?

It’s kind of obvious which approach works best.  But go to the home page of your website and what do you read?  Does it start off talking about you, and what you do?  Does it then go on, and on, in the same vein, without showing any awareness of why this visitor came to your home page in the first place (hint – they probably had a problem, and were looking for an answer.  But hey, now they’re gone…).  That’s telling.

Or does it start by acknowledging the existence of the reader, and make a stab at tuning in to their concerns and issues, hopes and fears, before explaining how you might be able to help?  That’s selling.

It’s tough to achieve in a face-to-face conversation (because your default setting is to talk about yourself).  It’s even harder in a piece of copy (because you are also conversing with someone you can’t see).  However, difficult or not, it’s what you need to do if you want to create engagement.

Let me give you some examples.

Example 1 

Do I practice what i preach?   I try my best, not just on my home page but in face to face meetings too.

Everyone needs a business card (still). And it is pretty important because it determines whether the person you’ve just met will bother to visit your website, or not.  Most business cards simply provide the name of the company and contact details.  They tell, but they don’t sell.  They talk about you, but fail to engage the person who is now reading it.  I think that’s a huge missed opportunity.

How can you rectify that?  By asking a question that draws the reader in.   That’s why my business card leads with a question before giving details of my service and where I can be contacted.

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If they do visit the home page of my website they won’t find me kicking off with guff about yours truly.  I lead with a benefit, so they instantly know what our services can do for themsee for yourself here.

Example 2

I was approached by a chap called Nigel to help write the website for his mobile cocktail company, www.themobilecocktailcompany.co.uk.   When we met up I had flu.  Despite feeling awful it was obvious that he was amazingly enthusiastic about making cocktails and organising great parties for people – but this passion, and his sense of fun, didn’t really come across in his copy.  The home page started off:

Based between Bristol and Bournemouth, The Mobile Cocktail Company offers a flexible, portable bar hire service, guaranteed to add impact to your event.”  That’s telling.

I changed it to “The secret of a great party, one that people rave about for years, is simple – get a bunch of your favourite characters, shake them up with some drinks, and watch as the stories, the laughter and the friendships flow.  But achieving that with a portable bar takes a bit of careful preparation.”

A few barrels of beer and some cases of wine will do the trick when you’re eighteen. But those with a few more hangovers behind them thirst for something a little more imaginative and exciting. The Mobile Cocktail Company, after years of dedicated practice and thorough research, has perfected the recipe.” 

That’s selling, because it attempts to get into the head and heart of the reader.  I’m guessing they don’t just want someone who will “do cocktails” while they, the host,  chats to guests – they want someone who will really get the party going and who makes sure everyone has a great time.

Example 3

Hadden Business Services offer specialist accountancy services to contractors.  But so do a lot of other companies.

That why, when I rewrote http://www.haddenbusiness.co.uk I started talking about the reader, and their emotions.  This copy includes a ton of key words, but it immediately empathised with the audience, establishes rapport, and flags up the benefits in a way that addressed their frustrations.

If you’re new to contracting, or have been operating your own Limited Company for a while, then the words book keeping, management accounts, final accounts, year-end reporting, Corporation Tax returns, self-assessment tax returns and payroll probably make your heart sink.

Why? Because none of them earn you any money. Even worse, they all take you away from doing the stuff that does.  That’s the reason so many people in your position use us.”

Selling, telling – does it really make that much difference?

When someone lands on your home page how long have you got to grab their attention and hold it?  A couple of seconds – so those first few of sentences are crucial.

Tell them about yourself and chances are they’ll be gone.  But instantly prove that you understand what they are thinking and feeling at that very moment and you’ve dramatically improved the odds on them sticking around.

Is it easy to do this.? No – especially if you are writing it yourself.  Because what are you most interested in?  You.  And what do they want to hear about?  Them.