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.

24 Comments
  1. Marc French May 31, 2011 Reply

    Excellent article Jim, I love the examples too. There's nothing like showing what you mean rather than telling. Interestingly I could be accused of speaking about myself on my home page, then again I've tried to do it in terms that illustrate how I can help small businesses. Do you think there's ever a case for directness over scene setting?

  2. Noel June 1, 2011 Reply

    The thid last paragraph does not need the word of!!

  3. Jim June 1, 2011 Reply

    Hi Marc, thanks for positive feedback.

    Regarding the case for directness over scene setting. I find that in trying to keep my posts short there's a danger of oversimplifying and being too prescriptive. I think it's probably a case of striking a balance between being direct and scene setting.

    Your home page does this really well (and does exactly what I was suggesting in my post) because you immediately engage with the reader's emotions (the first words are "Don't worry"). Then you directly address a concern that's on their mind (that design is arty farty). Then you make it very warm and human with a photo of you that gives impression of you making that very point in an animated way.

    Copy that follows is about yourself but it's actually very focussed on "small businesses" and your "Have you ever noticed..." panel is very conversational.

    I'd say you have done exactly what I was proposing as best practice. I should have used your site as an example, rather than picking 3 of mine!

    Cheers,

    Jim

  4. Christopher Stokes June 2, 2011 Reply

    And once again you have written an article which makes compelling reading. And at the same time sells your services without selling your services. Very very clever. I can see that I shall have to employ you, (at an extraordinarily good rate of course!), to help me market products that actually sell themselves, if only people want them in the first place. Gotta find them first though.... Perhaps, if we know who we are approaching and we have email addresses, perhaps two or three clever words, expressions or sentences followed by a link to a web page is an answer?

  5. Jim June 2, 2011 Reply

    Hi Chris, thought you had dropped off the bottom of the planet (I nearly joined you last night - had a glass of Roger Wilkin's cider!).
    Glad you liked the post (and hope you also liked the T mobile one...I wrote it especially for you).
    Anyway, if you find a product that sells itself, I'm in.
    Wrote a post for Red Carnation Hotels the other day on the Garden Route, and another on top 10 diving spots off SA (ie where to get up close and personal with sharks...and discover adrenalin is brown)....thought of you guys.
    When are you coming to northern hemisphere?

  6. Graham Hall June 2, 2011 Reply

    Sod off O’Connor. I've got a busy day tomorrow but will now be fiddling around with my website making it more engaging. It starts off OK but quickly descends into ME ME ME! Fascinating though that is (to me) I concede that a little tweaking is now in order. Oh - and I'll also probably need to order "How to Make Friends' from Amazon - which'll set me back a tenner. Thanks a bunch...
    :-)

    • Jim June 2, 2011 Reply

      Hi Graham,
      Sorry about that, I think I've ruined a few people's tomorrows! Will be struck off a few Christmas card lists as a result....

      If you want "How to win friends..." I've got a copy. I also have have "How to lose friends and alienate people". I should have read it again before posting that article.

  7. Therese June 2, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jim,
    Fantastic blog post! Great examples (creative cocktail copy - loved it!)

    Exactly - don't ramble on and on about yourself. How can you solve their problems and make their life easier? Take your ego out of the equation.

    Cheers - great job.
    Therese

    • Jim June 2, 2011 Reply

      Hi Therese,

      Many thanks for the encouragement - and your help the other day.

      All the best,

      Jim

  8. Ronald Sieber June 2, 2011 Reply

    Jim:

    Well-written arguments about the need for compelling copy. Thanks for the tips, and

    Here's to your continued success!
    =Ronald Sieber

    • Jim June 2, 2011 Reply

      Hi Ronald,

      Thanks for the positive feedback, much appreciated.

      Kind regards,

      Jim

  9. Mike Garner June 2, 2011 Reply

    Jim,

    I'm sure we've already had this conversation but what about the "Welcome to my web site" headline? If there was a way of banning the word "welcome" from the H1 header in HTML I would.

    You know probably more than me how important a headline is and "welcome", whilst it's polite, is just so lame!

    Hope you are well

    Mike

    • Jim O'Connor June 5, 2011 Reply

      Hi Mike,
      Yes, totally agree.

      "Welcome" smacks of desperation...as in "At last! Someone has found our website. Come in, let me make you a cup of tea...we'll even do your ironing!"

      Hope you are keeping well,
      Cheers,
      Jim

  10. Mark Baines June 3, 2011 Reply

    The opening line of a website that really gets me going is: 'Welcome to (company name).' FAIL!

    • Jim O'Connor June 5, 2011 Reply

      Hi Mark,
      Fully agree...see my repy above to Mike Garner.
      Cheers,

      Jim

  11. sean humby June 3, 2011 Reply

    Excellent article - I am off to my website now to see what needs changing! The examples illustrated the point very well.

    looks like - from Mike's comment - that I'll be changing the word welcome!

    • Jim O'Connor June 5, 2011 Reply

      Hi Sean,

      Glad you liked article - yes, you probably need to remove the "W" word - the sentiment is right but people will feel more welcome if you immediately put the focus on them.

      Cheers, and good to meet you in Taunton.

      Jim

  12. Grant Holland June 3, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jim

    Thanks for the excellent post. It was a timely reminder, because I thought we had just finished testing our new website. Changes will have to be made....

    My contribution to the topic is unfortunately pragmatic - Google doesn't like good copy. We are now on the fifth set of 'Title Metatag/H1 headline' combinations in an effort just to get onto page 1 of the search engine. Results are improving, but it is an immensely frustrating experience - as a small business we need to be found to be read, but the competition is fierce.

    This doesn't just apply to the Home page - it's every page on the site. In the spirit of communal knowledge, I will give an example of how ugly it has to get to be successful. We occasionally produce videos to reinforce internal communication messages, but are by no means a major video production company. So, enter the search term 'video production employee communications' into Google and imagine me hanging my head in shame............

    Must catch up soon

    Grant

    • Jim O'Connor June 5, 2011 Reply

      Hi Grant,
      Good to "hear" from you - we must have that friday afternoon lunch...

      Yeah, there's good copy....and there's google! It's a real headache, but you are right about video helping with SEO, and communication in general - I see you at the top of page 1!!

      Cheers,

      Jim

  13. Jon Majeika June 6, 2011 Reply

    Hello Jim,

    An excellent article not just on Website copy but on networking in general.
    Would you say that the same applies for online profiles such as Ecademy?

    Cheers,

    Jon

  14. Chris Quenon June 24, 2011 Reply

    Excellent article Jim and one that I'll try and encourage new and old website owners to put into practice.

    Copy content often takes a back seat in some clients (and web designer's...) minds. Engaging copy content even more so. Its only several months down the line when the results aren't as they'd hoped that they'll start to question what the possible causes are.

    SEO is partly to blame for this. The first paragraph of website text in your example 2 is classic - get the locations in there and get the keywords in there. Job done, right? For the search engines maybe, but not for the reader.

    Is it possible to re-work your opening paragraph of text for the cocktail company to include the locations they serve and the word 'cocktail' naturally?

    I think the Hadden Business example is best as it shows how you can get the best of both worlds, you've created a dialogue and you've ticked all the SEO boxes.

    • Jim June 24, 2011 Reply

      Hi Chris,
      Glad you found it useful. I'll now have to take care to follow my own advice!
      Cheers,

      Jim

  15. Paul Barkley June 25, 2011 Reply

    Very interesting and I agree pretty much with everything. I think I would qualify "don't talk about yourself" by sugessting if you are, say a retail site, I agree people don't want your life history, but if your business is professional services I would suggest people do want to know something about your qualifications and experience.

    I also agree that should not be on the home page, I would suggest a separate "About Me" (and keep it succinct). To be honest, if I'm looking for a professional advisor I really am not interested in their hobbies or personal lives.

    Finally, again I agree with the "Welcome" comment. I did fall into that trap until advised to change it. I agree that what potential clients want to see on a home page is "What can this organisation do for me? Of course that's difficult because you don't know specifically what they want. Mind has the headline "Let me guide you through the Planning maze" (I'm a Town Planning consultant), and then goes on to address certain questions which many clients (I hope) will be interested in. Mine (and I'm not holding this up as good practice) has headings like "Why should I not just ask the Council?","Why should I seek independent professional advice?", "Why should I seek that advice from you?" (in other words, what's your unique selling point) etc.

  16. london branding agency July 6, 2011 Reply

    Appreciate what we have, that's what my mother always said to me.

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