Can web content make or break your business? Rick Sloboda, seasoned web content copywriter and strategist, who conducts content studies with the likes of Yale University, suggests it can. We recently spoke to him about the impact of good and bad content, and how to establish content that gets real results.
ST: You’ve been quoted in various publications, stating content should come before design. What’s the reasoning?
RS: People go to websites for content to complete tasks. When sites are designed with dummy text or blank boxes to be filled in later, it implies content is secondary. This approach is fundamentally flawed because it forms how things are communicated before deciding what needs to be communicated. Identifying and establishing key messages up front helps visitors get the specific info they want or need, quickly and with ease.
ST: What are common pitfalls when it comes to web content?
RS: Common culprits include self-centric, ‘we’-driven content. ‘We are great, we are amazing’ messaging doesn’t resonate with people. It’s like going into a store and the salesperson starts boasting about herself non-stop. I would politely leave the premises as soon as possible. Of course, online visitors can leave immediately with a single click or tap. Visitor-centric, ‘you’-driven web content is more engaging and much more effective.
Another frequent offender is long-winded, jargon-heavy content. We must be careful not communicate what we want to say and instead communicate what visitors want or need to read. We must always write for the intended audience. Business owners often fail here because they’re passionate about their business, get excited, and blab and blab and blab. A third-party can go in objectively and filter out unnecessary verbiage.
ST: Writers often discuss features versus benefits. Can you speak to that?
RS: An old-school editor taught me years ago that features tell, benefits sell. We must remember that we’re emotional beings — we make decisions emotionally and then rationalize them logically. Benefits get people to care and take action.
So, for instance, if you’re selling binoculars with an oversized lens — what’s in it for them? That’s just a feature, and we need to convey what it does for the customer. It provides low-light performance. Okay, we’re getting warmer. Keep going! They’ll capture bright, sharp images from dusk until dawn. Okay, now we’re really getting somewhere.
ST: What other tips can you provide to establish content that works?
RS: Don’t forget to ask for the sale. We might be working in the digital age with fast-moving technologies, but the good, old-fashioned ‘ask for the sale’ still applies. Online, we do this with a call to action, also known as a CTA. It can be to prompt a visitor to call, email, request a quote, subscribe, download a report, or some other desired action.
Business owners must keep in mind that people go online for products and services to accomplish specific goals. They don’t want to waste their time. So, to help visitors complete desired tasks efficiently and effectively, your web content needs to be organized logically and intuitively, and communicate key points clearly.
When you do the heavy lifting up front and organize and fine-tune all of your content, it makes it more enticing and easier to do business with you.
Rick is a Senior Web Copywriter and Content Strategist at Webcopyplus, which helps designers and businesses boost online traffic, leads and sales with opti-mized web content. His clients range from independent retailers to some of the world’s largest service providers, including AT&T, Bell Mobile, Tim Hortons and Scotia Bank. He advocates clear, concise and objective website content that promotes readability and usability, and conducts web content studies with organizations in Europe and the U.S., including Yale University. Rick speaks frequently at Web-related forums and seminars, and serves as a Web program committee advisor with various organizations, including Langara College and Vancouver Career College.
You can connect with Rick via his content blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.