Web Content That Sells

Sooner or later, those who want their Web sites to produce must recognize that it's not all about code and algorithms -- it's about persuasive, targeted content.

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Location: Cocoa, Fl, United States

U. of Miami grad, journalism, NCAA basketball scholarship, advanced studies at MIT and Boston University Graduate School of Mass Communications, right brain creative, love to explore the human condition, 10 years as senior staff writer, hi-tech Fortune 500's, 5 years marketing communications manager, 7 years freelance copywriter, former reporter in Germany, sailing instructor in the British West Indies, professional jazz/classical guitarist, articles/essays published in national magazines, currently specializing in optimized content for Web sites. Email me at woods.lee1@gmail.com

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bogart: Alive and Well on the Internet

There are those who believe that product information can be delivered creatively, as long as the information is delivered. Such is the Web page example below. The site owner, selling a variety of gift items including whisky flasks, women's compacts, keychains, and cigarette holders, asked the copywriter to create an atmosphere reminiscent of a time when speakeasys, Al Capone, and the impending war in Europe dominated headlines. For copywriters and Web developers who practice search engine optimization techniques, the following page includes a two-percent keyword density.

Her Search for a Quality Whisky Flask Brought Her Straight to Me

I knew she was trouble the moment she walked through the door. Anybody who can walk through a door without opening it first deserves my undivided attention.

“Can I help you?” I asked, studying the enticing figure before me. Watching her barge into my world made me suddenly aware of two obvious truths: she meant business, and I should have gotten those hinges fixed. Wearing a black sheath, a pair of pink Air-Jordans, a gardenia over her ear, and a cologne that filled the room, she strolled toward me and leaned over, her palms flat on my desk.

“I’m looking for a whisky flask for my fiancée. No tacky stuff. Total quality at a reasonable price, ok? And if you come through, there just might be a bonus.” I couldn’t help doubting her sincerity, but decided to take a chance.

“You came to the right place,” I said. “Pull up a chair.” Papers flew as she swiped her hand across a corner of my desk.

“Never mind,” she said, sliding onto the corner. “I’ll sit here.”

“Suit yourself,” I said. I slid my laptop between us and opened my Web site. I told her the best way to show her what I had was to peruse my site.

“Ok,” she said, “Let’s see what ya got.” I moved the mouse pointer to the upper left, then down the list of flask styles. “We’ve got all kinds of flasks. We got a flask that looks like a cell phone. All ya gotta do is click there on Cell Phone and you’ll go right to it. Same for engravable flasks, hip flasks, personalized flasks, gift sets, novelty flasks, and leather flasks, including one just for dames – uh, ladies.”

I told her that when one of my customers saw our selection and prices, she said, ‘You scratched an itch.’” “Don’t get any ideas, Buster,” she said, grinning. “My fiancée scratches all my…itches.”

I let the symbolism pass while I clicked on the comments from all the happy customers, then on the link to all the gift sets.

“We’ve got money clips, key chains, funnels, Zippo lighters, cigar cutters, business card cases, desktop accessories, compact mirrors, letter openers, travel mugs, shot glasses, lots of things that make perfect gifts, like for the people in your wedding party.”

In the distance, a sultry saxophone moaned the refrain from that song about set ‘em up Joe, I’ve got a little story you ought’a know.

“I have friends who are looking for different kinds of flasks and accessories,” she said, sliding off the corner of my desk. “You’ve been a good boy, so maybe I’ll send them to you, ok”?

“Sure,” I said, “I’ll help from start to finish, like selection, engraving, purchase, shipping, the works. And don’t forget to tell them about the free priority shipping on orders over ninety nine dollars and the ninety day guarantee. If there’s a problem we’ll solve it or refund the money.”

She nodded an approval and picked up her handbag. She seemed somehow familiar, like one of those faces you see in a dream. “What’s your name?” I said. “Ingrid,” she said.

For the first time I noticed a slight European accent. She turned to walk out when I remembered her teaser. “Oh, by the way,” I said…”how ‘bout that bonus you mentioned?”

She stopped and looked back at me, her mouth curling into a Mona Lisa smile. She reached into her bag, opened her compact and powdered her nose.
“Oh yes,” she said, studying her reflection. “Tell ya what…I’ll send you some new hinges.”



Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No Strategy? No Sale

Your competitors are cooking up ways to beat you. You can count on that. So don't make the common mistake of thinking that a simple description of your product or service will be enough to sell it. You've got to have a "sell" strategy, one that will showcase your product or service in a light that will keep customers clicking again and again on that "Order Now" button.

One way to create a working strategy is to challenge your thinking with a marketing communications strategy checklist, one like this:

1. What is the purpose of this product/service/Web site?

To convey information?
To sell a product, service, or philosophy?
To establish your company name or brand?

2. Who is your audience(s)?

Do you have more than one?
Are they local, national, international, or all three?

(a) What professionals, by job title, do you want to reach?

(b) What do they want? Keep in mind the story of the man who walks into a hardware store, looking for a quarter-inch drill bit. Does he in fact want a drill bit? No. He needs a quarter-inch drill bit because he wants a quarter-inch hole.

(c) What do you think their underlying fears or worries might be as they search for a supplier?

(d) Do you think they are biased in any way? If so, how?

(e) Do they have a problem they want someone to solve?
(f) What is their core concern, need?

3. Any specialized terms or concepts that need to be defined or explained for your audience?

4. What is your primary message in one sentence? (This statement may be similar to your mission statement.)

5. Do you have competitors?

(a) Who are they?

(b) Do you know their strengths and weaknesses?

(c) What are your strengths and weaknesses?

(d) Who is dominant in this market?

6. Can you offset your competitors' strengths with those of your own?

7. Features vs. Benefits

The fact that a marina has a boat-lift is a feature. The fact that the lift can extract a boat 60 feet in length is a benefit.

(a) What are your features?

(b) What benefits do your features create?

8. What is your company history?

9. What related experience do you have?

(a) Number of years in business?

(b) Can you list relevant specific projects or contracts that you have completed? Any case histories that would amplify your capabilities?

10. What personnel, credentials, awards, equipment, or facilities do you have that will lend weight to your qualifications?

Finally, make every effort to establish your niche in your chosen market. Set yourself apart from your competitors by creating and promoting the unique features and benefits of your product or service.

(C) Lighthouse Communications 2006

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Making Words Work in the Marketplace

I go to workshops. I talk to people. I listen. I make notes. And every time I do I walk away with the same belief: far too many professionals do not realize how important good writing is to their image and success. Rushing through emails, memos, and correspondence, they haphazardly throw words together with little or no thought to the outcome.

They unknowingly fill the page with abstractions, jargon, cliches, gobbledygook, faulty composition, and poorly chosen words -- each and every one a highly visible soiling of the writer's image. In a way, it's like the fellow who doesn't see the mustard stain on the lapel of his $800 suit. Everyone else sees it, but he doesn't.

The point is....Bad writing makes smart people look dumb.

"I hadn't learned yet what I know now -- that the ability to communicate is everything." Lee Iacocca, former Chairman, Chrysler Corp.

But should we indict the professional who has not yet acquired the skills of a professional communicator? Should we scold someone who has not yet studied and practiced the craft of effective communication? Probably not. After all, rarely did teachers of long ago shake their fingers in our faces and bellow: "You had better become good writers if you want to succeed in your field." We had a steady diet of Shakespeare and Mark Twain, but did anyone teach us how to write for the many demands of the business world? No...no they didn't.

So, do we live with it? Do we live with the flaws, the goofs and the gaffes? Also probably not. If we can, we should work toward becoming better speakers, better writers, better communicators.

In this blog, I hope to pass on a few things I've learned through the years about writing in the workplace -- especially the marketing/sales workplace. You see, I belong to the "snake oil" crowd. I'm the one who says, "Step right up, have I got a deal for you!" Well, maybe not that corny, but you know what I mean. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, "Everyone is trying to sell something." Stick around, or come back when you've got a moment. It might even be fun.

Email me at LBW10@gnc.net , and don't forget to stop by my blog on general business writing strategies at: www.smartpeoplewrite1.blogspot.com

Thursday, February 15, 2007

It's All About Content That Sells

Take a look at the writing below, in blue. It was created by a company that produces video messages for customer Web sites. Notice how the writing keeps pointing out benefits, benefits, benefits, or what the video will do for the customer, including the proven fact that information conveyed in motion helps a person remember.

Also notice the continual emphasis on content that underscores the reader's point of view. When readers can identify with the writing, they will join you in your message. If you spend all your time talking about yourself, they'll feel left out and leave. Notice also how the headline tells visitors that a video presentation will heip them make money.

Add a Video Presentation to Your Web Site
and Watch Your Revenues Take Off

Try this.
Go to any Web site. What do you see? Chances are you see a screen filled with static words and graphics. Now go to
http://www.webvideo.com/. What do you see? Motion, movement, action. More impressive, yes? And more memorable. With a video presentation on your site, your customers will remember your product or service first.

Why is that important?

If they don't remember your offer, they won't act on it.

Memory experts tell us that information presented in motion is easier to recall than information given in static form. Notice that we’re talking about information. Not flash. Not bobble-head happy faces or dancing icons, but detailed, factual, beneficial information

Chances are your target audience will visit other sites – and if a competitor’s site is more memorable than yours, guess whose product or service those readers will recall when it comes time to buy.

“When we added a video to our site,
our call center saw a twenty five percent
increase in calls in the first week.”
R. K. Miller, GM, Tropical Lawn Furniture

At WebVideo, Inc. – where Web site video technology was created -- we can help you design a Web site that features a video presentation or we can help you incorporate a video interface for your existing site.

We’re so sure that a Web site video will increase your sales, we will refund your cost and remove the video if you do not see rapid, measurable increases in your revenues.

Your product demonstrations, your testimonials, your message from a president or CEO – these and other messages can capture your customers’ attention and help them remember your product or service when they’re ready to buy. To see a portfolio of samples, go to http://www.webvideo1.com/.

Call our customer service hotline today and let’s get busy helping your business grow with your own Web site video. 1-800-535-8976.

WebSiteVideo, Inc.
2134 Victory Lane
Miami, FL 32547

One way to help yourself discover what it is your audience wants to hear is to find a friend or co-worker who can realistically play the role of the reader. Ask them to put you to the test. Ask them what they need to know about you and your product or service. Finally, once again, the most common failing among writers in the business world is their failure to analyze the wants and needs of their readers.

The late advertising great, David Ogilvy, put it this way:
"If you're trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Audience, Audience, Audience

When you want your site to persuade visitors to buy your product or service, don't think about what you want to tell them. Think about what they want to hear. That's the key to writing content that will spark the interest of people who click into your world of goods or services.

The realtor's catch phrase has always been "location, location, location."

For us, as writers trying to persuade a world of people to sign up, the catch phrase is "audience, audience, audience." A writer's failure to recognize this crucial step in the communiccations process is perhaps THE most common lacking in attempts to capture a reader's interest.

Begin by enlisting the help of a friend or co-worker. Sit down with them and ask them to bring up your Web site. Brief them on your purpose and audience, then ask them to play the part of a visitor. Ask them what they want? Ask them what benefits they are looking for? Do they have a central issue or problem that they want your product or service to solve? Can they navigate the site easily? Is there a "buy" or "order" link on every page -- above the fold?

One effective way to measure how well you are playing to your audience is to perform a simple "we versus you" analysis. First search your content for "you," then again for "we" and "our." You should always have twice as many "you" or "your." Look at the following example, written for the American Bronze Foundry in Orlando, FL. Sixteen "you" or "your" and four "we" and two "us."

Watch Your Sculpture Come to Life in Beautiful Bronze

You have a vision…a vision that you want recreated exactly as you created it. And at an affordable price from a creative organization that listens to exactly what you want.

At American Bronze Fine Art Foundry, we base our total approach on giving you just that – your vision faithfully rendered exactly the way you want it rendered, be it a sculpture for you, the artist, or for a private business or government entity. Not a similar version. Not something close or approximate, but an exact finished piece of beautiful art in a bronze sculpture that will live on year after year.

To do that, we bring the skills of highly qualified bronze specialists with 15 years experience in the business of blending art and craft to create stunning bronze sculptures that capture the eye and the imagination. These same specialists will carry out a tested, highly refined process that bears your stamp from start to finish.

You can count on that because we invite you to take part in the process every step of the way. Take a moment and visit our Past Projects page for the visual proof of beauty created by artist and foundry working in harmony.

If you can imagine it, or if you have an existing design in mind, we can bring it to life in bronze, silver, or other precious metal. Call today so we can share ideas on how to make your sculpture or statue a reality.

Never forget: it doesn't take much for a visitor to click away in frustration. Too much flash, too much flair? Too hard to navigate? Don't be afraid to make your site simple, compelling, and easy to understand. Don't let the intoxicating world of glamour technology lure you into creating complicated pages that only confound or confuse visitors.

How Your Organization's Social and Political Realities Affect What You Write

On the job, your reason for writing letters, memos and proposals can get caught up in a variety of social and political forces, causing your readers to react emotionally. People may try to look at office issues objectively, rationally, but they often make decisions based on fear, jealousy, bias, anger, revenge, envy, ego clashes, power struggles, charter battles, hidden agendas, sacred cows, office romances, and other emotional factors. Think about your purpose and your readers. Are you lighting a fuse?

Office politics and personal relationships can undermine your purpose, no matter how justified or promising it may be. Such forces can rarely be detected ahead of time, but to charge headlong without at least trying to assess your situation is like skipping nonchalantly through a minefield:

A Checklist

Are you sending an appropriate message to an appropriate audience at an appropriate time?

Will your purpose ignite any smoldering issues between you, management, supervision, peers, subordinates?

Will you be aggravating any existing personality or ego clashes among friends, enemies, supporters, neutrals?

Ear to the Ground

Is your purpose consistent with your organization's culture and climate"?

Is anything at stake? Recent or pending promotions? Favors due, debts owed? Pride, image, recognition on the line? Sacred cows in jeopardy? Territorial disputes, charter squabbles, responsibility issues?

Is the air foul on this subject? If something goes sour, could you defend your position?

What is your credibility with this audience? Should you first get preliminary approvals, opinions, advice, support?

Are there any pressures or priorities that could block your purpose? Do any laws, policies, or regulations apply?

What objections or resistances could your purpose create? Are you putting anyone, including your boss, on the spot?

Are you reacting emotionally? Emotions subside, but the printed word remains.

REMEMBER: Once you let go of what you've written, it could end up
anywhere — even on the evening news. And, finally, don't forget the wise words of Net etiquette expert Judith Kallos: "You never put anything in an e-mail that you wouldn't want your mother to read." Or your boss.

Finally, to thine own self be true.

Don't Be Aftaid to Comment

The business world continues to spawn new ideas, new processes and new techniques at an astounding rate. The significance or meaning of it all, however, is seldom obvious to readers whose minds are occupied with other matters. When you plan your writing, see if you have any new information or raw data that needs a bit of explanation, or commentary.

Objectivity on the job is usually considered a virtue, but it became totally unwarranted several years ago during an incident at a Chrysler assembly plant. An ABC television correspondent, interviewing a worker responsible for driving new cars off the assembly line, registered more than mild shock when the man said:

"One day a steering wheel came off in my hand.”

"What did you do?" the correspondent asked.

"I jammed it back on the column and parked it with the others."

"Did you tell anybody?"

"No," the man said, "That's not my responsibility."

Total, unwavering objectivity — the refusal to add helpful information when it is called for — is at least irresponsible and can be, as this case demonstrates, downright dangerous.

A lab technician writes:

"During the experiment, the temperature rose to 750 degrees Fahrenheit."

He also believes the reading to be unusually high under the circumstances, but says nothing because he is sworn to the facts of the matter, no more, no less. In this case, he is letting objectivity rule his better judgment. Fortunately, such circumstances are rare.

Most business writing situations are based on ordinary, day-to-day events, where an appropriate comment seldom poses a threat to those who regard opinion as an act of treason. In a day-to-day example, a writer possessed by objectivity will say:

"The letters were sent yesterday, as you requested."

A communicator would add, "They will arrive later than usual, however, due to the recent postal workers' strike."

Have you ever listened intently to a specialist (doctor, lawyer, tax advisor. car mechanic), wishing that he or she would translate all those technical terms into something meaningful to you, something you could understand?

A classic example is the exchange between a detective and the medical examiner on any one of many TV and movie dramas. When the detective asks the "ME" how the person died, the doctor launches into a complicated explanation dominated by med-school jargon. The detective replies: "In English, doc."

Such moments demonstrate that there are times when an explanatory comment or two is needed — not only to convey information, but also to communicate.

Finally, when you do choose to include explanatory comments, make sure you are motivated by a desire to help your reader comprehend the significance of your information, and not by a momentary desire to inject inappropriate opinion or bias.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Above All, Don't Lose Your Reader's Trust

Careless or wishful statements will destroy a reader's trust in your judgment and in your ability to present your information honestly and objectively. Scan what you write and eliminate or revise any statements that imply bias or irrational arguments. Once lost, credibility is seldom regained.

Avoid Careless Statements

If you check your writing carefully, you’ll avoid the kind of blunder that happened when a senior executive wrote to a potential client. The letter opened with the client's name, John Doolen, his address, and then began, "Dear Bill...." Readers rarely forgive us for even the smallest mistake, concluding that if we are careless on paper we must also be careless
on the job.

An insurance company letter began this way: "Rental car collision insurance is in excess of other coverage, and reimburses you for losses not covered by the." The sentence stopped there, leaving readers adrift. An attorney's letter to a client included the statement, "We are to be paid only in the event a recovery in made and your are not responsible for recovery costs."

The most damaging form of carelessness is the careless thought, thrown down quickly with little or no regard for what is being said: "Our business processes must be both business wise, sound. and have ownership of the employees." I don't know about you, but I don't want to be owned by somebody's business processes. The writer probably meant …"and have ownership BY the employees."

One writer set out to congratulate the mothers of the world, but got a laugh instead: "We have moms with babies who get up at night to care for them." Mothers should be so lucky. The mayor who wrote the following opinion ended up apologizing to a lot of teenagers. "There are still problems in our community that need solutions: speeders, vagrants and juveniles, for example." There is no crime in being a juvenile. He meant to say "juvenile offenders," but that's not what he wrote.

Don’t Let Wishful Statements Spoil Your Credibility

Wishful statements end up on paper because we have either lost control of our objectivity or we have failed to apply the test of reason to what we are saying. The writer who says "The only way to improve customer relations is to start a public relations program" is overlooking any other possibility.

Another writer assumes far too much when she says, "If the researchers at Bell Labs had not gotten lucky, the transistor would never have been invented." A graphic designer's brochure talks about his "top-notch staff...award- winning specialists...masters of their craft...sought-after designer...has no limitations." He forgot to add, walks on water.

Most readers become immediately suspicious when they see absolutes such as "never, always, only," etc. Look carefully at what you have written. Have you called a situation "disastrous" when you really mean "undesirable"? Is something "impossible" or just "difficult"? Don't let your writing control you. Choose words carefully, and keep your writing in touch with reality.

Finally, don't try to nudge readers into drawing conclusions that you have not properly established. Be careful when you make assertions such as "obviously, therefore, as you can see, as a result, and needless to say." It may be needless to you, but your readers may disagree.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Few Samples

For a list of Web sites, print ads, slogans, trade press articles, and other marketing communications copywriting, please email me at lbw10@gnc.net.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Give the Spiders What They Want

You have a business, or you work for an organization that wants its Web site to gain a higher position in search engine rankings. Understood. Don't we all. But how? One way depends on how you decide to optimize your site. You can spend all your time chasing the magic algorithms of Google, Yahoo, and MSN, among others, or you can turn to what those tricky little "spiders" are really looking for-- relevant content.

Don't Be Such a Digital Diehard

Those who think only in digital terms will spend all their time working code, tweaking algorithms, and continually trying to outsmart the engines. And they will lose, because that's not how a Web site gains its position in the rankings. The key phrase here, again, is relevant content. That's what the search engines are looking for. If you write content aimed at your target audience -- content that is designed to capture and hold their attention based on their search terms -- then you will have gone a long way toward keeping those spiders coming back again and again.

Once you've based your content on that premise, then you can go back and add key words and phrases. Just don't go crazy with it. Stick with about a two percent keyword/phrase density, with one key topic per Web page. Remember, the spiders are smart, smart, smart. They know when you're trying to spam them.

Write content for your target market -- the people who want to buy now-- not for the search engines. They're never going to buy a thing from you. After all, you've already got the left-brain digital stuff down. Stretch your horizons a little and let that right side -- the analog language side -- talk to both your audience AND the search engines.

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