As a messaging and business story consultant, I look at dozens of business websites every day. Only about once every two weeks I come across a business with website messaging that really resonates and which is unexpectedly different. So what is it that makes most website communications so ineffective?
Turning two seconds into two minutes
Psychologists agree that the average attention span of someone new visiting your website is between two and eight seconds. This is literally less than the attention span of a goldfish. Yet, many websites start by explaining in great length the processes they use to do what they do, or they keep it so generic that the website could either be that of a management consultancy or a funeral home.
Your website users are not interested in reading more about the ‘leading organisation with international synergies and a proven track record’. Bo-ring. Equally, the first thing visitors read on your website doesn’t need to cover every single aspect of your product or service. The only purpose of that first message on your website is grabbing people’s interest and buying yourself time to explain in more detail why someone should care about your business. In other words, you’re turning those two seconds into two minutes.
Respecting the customer journey
A user on your website or anyone just starting to engage with your brand isn’t interested in the details of what you do. They are interested in “why should I care?” and “why should I invest time finding out more about this brand?”. Address this first and be clear about why it is that your business exists and what problem you are solving.
Once a user understands that it’s probably wise to read more about your business, they’ll wonder why they should read more your business in particular. In other words “how are you different?” and “is that difference important?”.
If you’ve been able to convince a user that they should care about the problem that you’re solving and that your way of solving it is better than others’, you can now start going into the details of your processes or features.
Lastly, before a user considers buying your product or service they’ll want to know whether you’re trustworthy, whether you walk the walk beyond talking the talk. This is where credentials in the form of customer references and case studies come in, but not any sooner.
Flirting with your audience
A client of mine once described it perfectly. If you see an attractive person at a bar, don’t walk up to them and say “Hi, I’m Bram and on Saturdays I go fishing. On Sundays I usually go see a film. My favourite films are documentaries and films based on true stories…” This would scare off anyone.
Instead, you walk up to them and say “Hi, I’m Bram, what’s your name?” A much smoother conversation will ensue and throughout the evening you might tell them about your hobbies and the films you like. You’ve still said what you wanted to say but this time you’ve paced yourself and released one bit of information at a time. Not only is this a lot more digestible for the recipient but it also gradually hooks them in, one talking point at a time.
The analogy with business messaging couldn’t be more accurate. Don’t overload your users with information. Every message has just one goal: to get the users interested in reading more until they finally have enough information to make a buying decision.
This also means that if you’re not offering an online product, your website doesn’t need to contain every single detail of your product and service. The objective of your website communications in this instance is to make people want to find out more during a call or meeting, at which point you can provide more details. Take it one step at a time.
We all know people can remember only a few things at once. Some research suggests this could be as little as four things. Hence your messaging should be structured along the two to four things that you want to be famous for. These messages should be front and centre of your communications (i.e. your home page) and should be repeated wherever possible.
Not only will users arrive on your website via different pages, it also takes a while before information is turned into a memory. By repeating the message, using different phrasing and different angles to keep it interesting, you will increase the chances of your users remembering what you want them to remember.
When picking what you’d like to be famous for, keep in mind what it is that is so different about your business, and what is unexpectedly different. Those messages that stand out will more likely create a lasting impact.
Keeping it short, simple and specific
If you want your messaging to be memorable and effective, it’s not just important what you say and when you say it but also how you say it. Big words and complex sentences make it harder for people to understand what you’re about and to easily form a clear image of your differentiating position. Keeping it short and simple will help make sure your message is understood the way it was intended.
Many businesses tend to use words that are abstract and can mean many things, often because they don’t want to alienate potential customers by being too specific. But by being too abstract and generic you are not answering users’ questions, i.e. “why should I care?” and “how are you different?”. Don’t be afraid to be specific. It’s more important to be clear about what you do. Even if you don’t mention a certain scenario in your messaging, once users buy into your story and proposition, they will ask for more info.
It’s all about reeling them in one step at a time.