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Category Archives: Your website

Does your website look like the result of panic Christmas buying?

house covered in Christmas lights

So, you’ve left it too late. The shops are closing soon and you haven’t even got half way down your list. What do you do – grab the nearest thing and hope it will do?

If the answer’s ‘yes’, then the chances are your loved ones are going to be a bit disappointed.

There are websites out there that look like they’ve been flung together in a panic too, and they’re a similar let down for users.

Here’s our seasonal guide to making sure your website’s a cracker, not a turkey.

Think about your audience. When you’re Christmas shopping, it’s a mistake to assume the same gift will do for everyone. Auntie May might like the lavender bath salts collection, but will your sister? And your brother-in-law? It’s the same with websites. Give serious thought to the people who will be using it. What content do your customers actually want to find? Take the time to find out, and give them that.

Think valuable, not just any old content. Wrapping something in expensive paper won’t distract from the fact it’s a rubbish present. A value pack of socks from Primark is still a value pack of socks from Primark, even if you wrap it up in the shiniest loveliest paper in the world. Paying for design and forgetting about the content has the same effect. It leaves people feeling a bit short changed.

Less is more. Covering everything with tinsel and fake snow and flashing lights doesn’t automatically make something better. Minimalism can be as effective when it comes to decorations, as it does with websites. Think of those web pages that cram everything in – they leave you with a headache rather than a feeling of goodwill to all men. Less can definitely be more when it comes to page design.

Music quickly becomes irritating on websites, just as Christmas carols played on a tinny loop in a shop make people want to scream. Slade’s Merry Christmas is fun once, okay twice, and any more than that and you’re pushing your luck. We feel that way about music on websites. Anything that blares out when you’re not expecting it is annoying, rather than jolly and fun.

Be surprising. Ever had the same gift, year after year? Does your heart sink at the sight of a hexagonal box? You didn’t even really like Turkish Delight eight years ago, and there it is again, lurking under the tree. Not updating your content can leave users with the same heart sink feeling. Keep your website supplied with new blogs, and they’ll look forward to finding out what you’re giving them this time.

So, the motto is think carefully, and be generous! (And if you were thinking of buying me a gift, steer clear of turkish delight.)

How to write a good enough article.

old fashioned type writer and blank page

You know that writing articles is a sound, cost effective way of building your reputation, and getting more inbound leads to your website. You’ve got a couple of ideas of things you could write, but still, there’s something holding you back. And it’s the big one. How do you actually do it?

This blog was originally going to be called ‘How to write a brilliant article,’ but I realised that  I’d be adding to the pressures holding you back if I threw being brilliant into the mix. So this is a guide to how to write a good enough article, because that’s all you need. Here’s everything you need to know to get you started – a quick checklist to structure your writing and keep it on track. All you need to do is roll your sleeves up, and get writing.
1. Know who you’re writing for.
It helps with relevance, tone and focus. Keep this real person in mind throughout the process – what questions do they have? What issues can you solve for them?
2. Be useful.
Choose a subject and angle that will help your readers with a real problem, and they’re more likely to want to read it.
3. Keep it focused.
The temptation when you start writing is to try and get everything into your article. All those ideas buzzing around suddenly pour out onto paper, and you find you’ve written something that dashes from A to B via L, Z, P and Q.  Tighten your focus, and write clearly about one thing. Save your other ideas for the next one.
4. Use simple words.
It’s not dumbing down to make your writing easy to read, it’s kind to your reader. Pick the shorter word over the more longer one. Make it easy to read, and easy for people to share with friends and colleagues.
5. Beginning, middle and end.
a) Start with a clear introduction – who are you writing for, and why? Set up the question you’re going to answer, or the problem you’re going to solve.
b) Answer it. Structure your thoughts, step by step. Imagine taking the reader with you – you’re guiding them on a journey. Changing track suddenly is like chucking them out of a moving car, so keep things moving smoothly
c) Sum it up. Readers like to know they’ve finished. And they all lived happily ever after isn’t necessary, but it’s a good idea to reiterate your main point again at the end. Add a call to action if you’d like your readers to get in touch. Add a question if you want to keep the conversation going.
6. Basic grammar and spelling matter.
I’m all for freedom of expression and playing with words, but the articles on your website need to demonstrate that you can communicate clearly. If your spelling is a bit wonky, ask a friend to read through and check before you press ‘publish’. Spell check will only pick up mis-spelt words, not mis-substituted ones. Even if you’re confident about your writing skills, getting a friend or colleague to check is still a good idea.
7. Think about headlines.
Your headline is your hook to pull readers in, so give it some thought. (Article on writing headlines for you here)
8. Break it down.
Busy web readers skim using headers to pull them through. Break your writing down with signposts that sum up your points throughout your article.
9. Size matters.
Around 500-700 words works for us as a good length for a website article – room for some useful detail, not so long it’s a chore to read. No longer than it takes to drink a cup of tea is a good rule of thumb.

And that’s all there is to it. It doesn’t have to be perfect, the important thing is to start. (It might make you feel better to know that Sonja and I are both a bit embarrassed about our early blogging efforts – I fell into the trap of trying to say too much, Sonja slipped up on trying to be too clever.) Once you start writing, it will get easier. The more you write the better you get. And once you start seeing results, it will become more rewarding.
So, now there’s no excuse. What are you waiting for?

You might like this too:

Stop, look and edit, five things to do before you press publish

Writing rules you should break

How to get the best results from your content writer


Content writers are greedy. We devour information. This is why.

The best and most valuable content distills your expertise, approach, and experience into copy that connects with readers. All the research, reading, talking and thinking goes into the distillation, so for the best results, give us lots to go on. To stretch the analogy probably one step too far, giving us a rich and varied diet leads to copy akin to the best malt whiskey – interesting, with depth, layers, heritage and a kick. With nothing to go on, the best we can manage is weak tea.

So to get the best from us you need to feed us a lot. Here’s what we like to eat.

1. Your current website. Why are you reworking the site? What don’t you like about it? Which elements are successful? Talk it through with us before you take it down.
2. Any marketing material you’ve produced in the past. We know it’s out of date, but it helps us get a feel for your business.
3. Blogs, articles in journals, anything you’ve already written around your subject. It will help orientate us in your area of expertise, and will also spark ideas and questions for future blogs. Content writers are always looking for connections – to clients, organisations, groups that we can make links with through the new website. The more we’ve got to go on, the better the results will be.
4. Sales letters, recruitment ads. Both useful for helping see how you define your proposition.
5. Back of an envelope stuff. You know that lunch you had, where you had that really brilliant idea about where the business was going, so you wrote it down and you were going to send that memo but something else happened and you didn’t get round to it…….well, dig it out and give it to us. Turning ideas and thoughts into concrete copy is what you’re paying us to do, so share your ideas, and we’ll be able to do it for you.
6. Minutes from meetings. Meetings where you discussed branding, marketing, or finding new customers are useful background. Don’t be shy, let us read them.
7. Conversations with your clients. Really important, this one. We always start content writing from the point of view of your client. How do you help them? How does your business solve their problems? Talking to your clients and customers is the best way of getting to the heart of this, so put us in touch and let us talk.

What if you don’t have any of the above? What if it’s a new business? Then just talk to us. Creating web content is a collaborative process so carve out some space in your diary. We’ll come to you, ask you lots of questions, record our conversation and get the information that way.

At Valuable Content we’ve put together a questionnaire to kick start web projects – lots of structured questions that help us shape your content and define your message. Call me if you’d like to know more.

Apostrophe catastrophes and how to avoid them

the wrong 'it's' sign

I saw this today, and it stopped me in my tracks.

I wondered how many people had okayed the copy before it got made into a sign, and how many people who walked past noticed. And does it even matter? I still understood not to walk down that path, so you could argue that the sign did its job just fine.

As a writer, I think it does matter. Getting it wrong muddles the meaning. This sign is confusing, and signs should be clear.

And I know there are bigger things going on right now than apostrophe catastrophes, but it’s just as easy to get it right as get it wrong, if you think about it like this.

The it’s/its rule

It’s is short for ‘it is,’ while its is possessive. Its is just like his or her or their or your – think of them as a family. Reading your sentence aloud should make it clear to you which it’s/its you need. In this case ‘it will seriously damage it is health’ doesn’t make any sense, so it must be the other one. To check, try substituting another of the possessive family of words, and read it aloud again. ‘it will seriously damage his health,’ is a clear sentence, so that’s the one you need.

And the you’re/your rule

Another one it’s easy to get wrong is your and you’re. I see it a lot in blogs, and on websites that you would have thought would have known better. And it’s such a silly mistake to make. Your means it belongs to you, while you’re is short for you are. Again, if you’re not sure, say the sentence out loud. Test ‘your gorgeous, darling,’ by substituting a different possessive word. ‘Her gorgeous, darling’ won’t get you the girl, while ‘you are gorgeous, darling’ just might do it.

Of course, even people who know this get it wrong. I get it wrong in first drafts. We type faster than we think. So always check, and re-check before sending something off to print, pressing publish on your blog, or whizzing off that email.

How great content gets you referrals – six rules to follow

We all want to be remembered and recommended. The best leads come via our contacts, because the ground work is already done; you’ll already have been talked up, so there’s less explaining to do. Lucky sixes die

Your website should fill this role of referrer too, it should be full of useful content – tangible examples of how you help, so it’s easy for potential clients to remember you as ‘the people who….’

Writing memorable copy is what copywriters are paid to do – we create those catchy little phrases that hook brands and products into customers minds. But there’s more to it than that. You don’t need to be a copywriter to create unforgettable content, you just need to pay attention to the following rules.

Six rules for memorable content

Rule 1. Get to the point fast.  You know the way it is when someone asks for directions. ‘Left at the Queen Victoria pub, straight on, right at the second lights, third exit at mini roundabout, second on the right.’ All we remember is the ‘left at the Queen Vic’ bit. When you’re writing about what you do, be succinct. Don’t add too many layers to what you’re saying.  Say the most important bit, clearly, and deal with the rest separately. 

Rule 2. Shine a light on interesting details. There are hundreds of IT consultancies that deliver better systems and an abundance of leadership consultancies that help businesses develop their management teams. So how do you stand out?
a) Who do you work for? We met a Financial Advisor recently whose clients included many premiership footballers.  That kind of detail is great for referrals – he’s the man who advises top footballers.
b) What campaigns are you proudest of?  Be known as the people who got deliveries to customers in the harshest winter Britain has ever known.
c) What’s unique about your service? Is there anything you do very differently to your competitors that will improve the lives of your clients?  

Create content on your site that breathes life into these details, so that readers can quickly understand them and relate them to their own situations, and those of their friends and acquaintances. I mean content like case studies, Q and A’s, blogs – well written information that roots your offer in the real world. It’s show not tell, again.

Rule 3. Think heart not head when constructing your messages.
We remember things that pack an emotional punch more easily than those that are purely rational.  Do your potential clients care most about implementing their HR strategy, or do they just want a day when the phone isn’t ringing off the hook?  Consider how your services connect to your clients on a human level, and give these messages top billing on your website. Use these emotional hooks as the basis for strong home page messages with clear calls to action, and people will remember them. 

Rule 4. Engage, don’t preach. Back up your messages with content that demonstrates how your service makes their working lives easier – think about creating an ‘is this you?’ quiz, ‘service health checks’ video blogs as well as more traditional testimonials from happy clients. Engaging content will make your message stick.

Rule 5. Use memorable analogies.  Analogies and metaphors are great for bridging the gap between head and heart quickly.  They’re useful when you’re thinking about your key messages, and also when writing blogs that develop and deepen your theme. A word of warning though, similes and metaphors are powerful stuff. If you compare your help desk to a box of cats, no one’s going to forget it, so do think of comparisons that are useful as well as memorable.

Rule 6. Make people smile. Humour can be a tricky one on websites, and we wouldn’t advocate filling your site with a stream of ‘have you heard the one about the…..’ and Youtube viral funnies. But using wit in headlines and body copy,  and creating engaging content that surprises is a great way to get people to want to share your site with others.

Content is key to getting referrals. It’s the proof you need to show what you do, and it’s memorable material for your contacts to spread the message for you.

We help our clients create unforgettable messaging, and work with them to develop creative content that makes it come alive. Call us on 07985 01530

Drop the goldfish

goldfish shoal

As cliches go, it’s top of our list. We’ve got nothing against goldfish, (in fact, we used to like them) but they make pretty boring pets and equally dull pictures on your website.

Over recent years they’ve come to represent ‘we’re different’ in a very samey way, particularly in the consultancy space where we have lots of clients. Now, whenever we see goldfish on a website, we don’t think, ‘they’re refreshingly original,’ we think, ‘zzzzzzzz.’

Goldfish aren’t the only offenders. Other visual snooze buttons include:

Jigsaw pieces to represent ‘we make connections/we’re a crucial part of a bigger whole.’

Molecules to represent ‘what we do is technical/scientific/so complicated to explain that we won’t even try.’

Chain
to represent ‘we’re the missing link between x and y’

Handshake to represent ‘we are as good as our word.’

Stock shots of offices that aren’t your own to represent ‘we work in an office.’

Magnifying glasses on newspapers
to represent ‘we pay attention to detail/your news page.’

Hands on a computer keyboard to represent ‘we work on computers/we’re up to date technology-wise.’

This list goes on. We’re sure you’ve got your own un-favourites, please do share them below.

The serious point to this is that design and content need to work together. The right words can explain exactly how you are original and different far better than a hackneyed visual cliche. Clever design engages and makes connections so you really can drop the goldfish.

And just like a good writer has an extended vocabulary, good designers look beyond page one of the stock shots to find arresting and relevant ways to illustrate your message. It means a longer thinking phase, with writer and designer working together to find new metaphors to illustrate your proposition, but that’s good news for you and your business. Thought and collaboration creates stronger brands and smarter websites – and that’s got to be good.

At Valuable Content we work closely with excellent designers. If you’d like us to help with your web project, call me on 07985 015300

More articles to help you with your website:

Seven signs you website needs spring cleaning

How to make your homepage a hit

Five ways to make me leave your website immediately

How to write your About Us page

Make your offer crystal clear

ice cube or make your offer crystal clear

It’s the one thing that holds so many companies back, and it comes up time and time again. It seems obvious yet it ties people in knots. We’re talking about the question of clarity.

This month at Valuable Content we’ve been working on several projects distilling the messages of new clients, and working on masses of content creation for existing ones. We’ve been wrestling with the importance of getting those most basic messages clear, so we thought we’d share our thoughts with you.
Before you think about starting your marketing, get your story absolutely straight. If you want to get really good results out of marketing, put time and effort into making sure your proposition is crystal clear.
No amount money on your website, no amount of tweeting, blogging, or public speaking will get you the results you really want if people don’t really know what you do. Want to get more referrals and leads? Be clear on what you do and who you do it for. Let people know what you want to be famous for, and then spread the word.
We know it’s difficult. Many business owners fear closing the door on potential opportunities, and see being pigeonholed as a recipe for lost sales. The temptation is to want to be all things to all people, but this leads to nebulous positioning. Dilute your message and it becomes weaker. The result?  No one truly understands what you do. So what can you do?

5 ways to get clear on your message

It’s all very well saying you need to get your offer clear, but how do you achieve this clarity? Here are 5 ways we help our clients to get to the heart of their business message:
1. Look at what you do from your clients’ perspective, not from your own. Your clients don’t care about your products or services, they want to know what’s in it for them. Put yourself in their shoes.
2. Talk to your clients. Everyone talks about knowing what your customers want, and listening to them, but if you want real clarity you should ask them directly.
3. Think like a book author. We find that the clients we help to produce a business book have a blinding moment of clarity on their business proposition too. So, think like a book author. If you were going to distill all your knowledge into a book for your client base, what would it be about? What would it say?
4. Get some emotion into your offer. People respond to emotion, not logic when they’re buying, so appeal to hearts as well as minds.
5. Get some outside help. This is really, really hard to do by yourself.  Get a view from the outside. Hire a copywriter like me to help you here.  Helping businesses get to the valuable heart of what they do, and creating the voice to tell their story, is what I like to do most.
So what are you waiting for? Get thinking, asking, and talking. Cut out the waffle surrounding what it is you do, polish up the jewel at the centre, and shine!

And if you need help getting your proposition clear, give me a call on 07985 015300

More articles to help you get your proposition straight:

Be the expert

How to stand out from the crowd

Know your audience

The 7 deadly word sins

apple with 'sin' written on it

(Or 7 words you won’t find on Valuable Content websites, and which shouldn’t be on yours.)

We write lead generating websites for businesses, so we get through a lot of words – thousands of the things. There are some we try not to use any more – either because they’re overused, or because they’re not clear, or because we just don’t like them.

1. Solutions. Offering solutions to a clients problem is a hackneyed way of saying you can help. Next time you’re sitting in a traffic jam count the number of vans with ‘solutions’ written on them. Dry rot solutions, office furniture solutions, decorating solutions. Be more specific about exactly how what you do will improve your client’s situation.
2. Facilitate. Don’t use it if you mean ‘set up,’ or ‘organise.’ It’s a bit of a prissy word, sounds like you’re trying to make something simple sound more important.
3. Orientated as a suffix, like results-orientated, or worse, solutions-orientated. Of course you work towards resolving the client’s problem. Just bunging ‘orientated’ on the end of a word doesn’t help show your method or describe your USP. Say how you do it, specifically.
4. Focused as a suffix. Or worse, focussed. See above. Results-focused, solutions-focused, we don’t like it.
5. Dynamic. Maybe we’re getting old, but we don’t really like dynamic agencies. For a start it’s a bit of a cliche, a lazy way of saying you’re not lazy. Plus, if you say you’re dynamic we imagine you wearing patterned socks and running round screaming into your Blackberry like an Apprentice wannabe. We’d rather see examples of original thought and genuinely helpful content.
6. Passionate. Being passionate about customer service makes you look a bit silly. No one believes it, so don’t say it. Caring is good, so is attention to detail, but passion? Save it for your lovers.
7. Synergy. Paradigm. Proactive. Just stop it.

If you want help writing the right stuff, let me know on 07985 015300

Our perfect couple – design and content

royal wedding tea towel

We haven’t quite decked Valuable Content Towers in bunting, but we’re getting into the Royal Wedding spirit by celebrating the perfect couple.

And while we wish Kate and William all the luck in the world, our perfect couple is something quite different. At Valuable Content, the marriage made in heaven is ‘content and design.’

As wordsmiths, you might expect Sonja and I to argue for the supremacy of the written word. But the deeper we get into the world of brilliant content, the more strongly we realise the inseparable link between what we do and design. The greatest words in the world won’t get read if the design’s all over the place. The smoothest design in the world will trip up if the words don’t make good sense.

As Lizzie Everard, one of our favourite graphic designers puts it,

“Flashy, superfluous and self-indulgent design that exists for itself is like having a Prada handbag filled with Superdrug costmetics.

but…

Brilliant, well-crafted words and insights that are not dressed for the party will miss all the fun.”

People won’t take your words seriously if they’re not professionally presented. And they will be equally disappointed if your design makes empty promises.

Iain Claridge, the Valuable Content web designer agrees.

“First Impressions are lasting impressions.

The visual design of a company’s logo, its products, its website, printed matter, etc should not be optional concerns. In a split-second someone can look at a shoddily designed website and decide “This company doesn’t look professional enough.” There is a critical period in the very first moments a potential customer sees a logo, product or marketing material that informs the rest of their relationship with that customer. There is always the danger that without an appealing aesthetic front, a potential client will have written you off mentally before you ever make it to delivering the meat of your pitch. Oh… and consistency is key.

Strong visual design generally promotes a clear, consistent identity, which in turn reinforces trust.”

So, to inspire trust and instill confidence and to give your content the very best chance of being loved, you need both; the great words and strong design.

All our projects start design and content simultaneously – and we run the two together – design and content, back and forward. It means we’re not just thinking of the message, but of the way the words work on the page. We favour clarity and simplicity of both text and visuals, always approaching both with ‘what does the reader/user want here?’

Get the marriage right, and your content will live happily ever after.

Five things to bear in mind when designing your content:

1. Readability. Can your reader quickly find the information they need? Pay attention to the layout and look of your copy. A clear structure and hierarchy, carefully selected typography, use of headers, bullets and call outs all help.
2. Images for interest. Give your words a focus and your readers pause for thought with graphical interest – helping you tell your story and hold their attention.
3. Consistency. As Iain Claridge says, a consistent theme or a thread to your content design will give you a recognisable identity and means the reader knows what to expect. Keep it neat and tidy and make your content more usable.
4. Space. It’s a busy, crowded world. Give your readers some thinking space by not over-stuffing your content.
5. Attractive content works better. Look professional. Show your readers that you care.

That’s our view from the content perspective. We’d be fascinated to know what the design fraternity thinks. What do we all need to consider when designing great content?

How to write less, (and say more.)

tower blockYou know that sinking feeling you get when you click on a web page, and the text is far too long? Pulled in by a great headline, but confronted by a dense slab of over-wordy words, the chances are you’ll just click elsewhere to find what you wanted more quickly.

So how do you stop that happening? It’s easy. Follow these copy rules to keep users happy.

How to write less (and say more.)

1. Be very clear about the purpose of each section. Knowing exactly what your readers want to find on makes it easier to start shaping the content.

2. Don’t try to make too many points on each page. Focus on getting one message across strongly, rather than showering the page with weaker points. You can always add more pages. An engaged reader will be eager explore further, and drip feeding little by little works better than a huge wall of text.

3. Work on your sentence structure. Rid your lines of slow-you-down conjunctives. So no ‘however’s, or ‘moreover’s, or ‘hereby’s.

4. Using active verbs in the present tense gives the impression of purpose – just what you want to make readers feel they’re getting somewhere fast.

5. Short sentences make for an easy read.

6. Metaphors condense ideas and feelings succinctly, so weave some in and cut straight to the heart. Pick ones with an emotional resonance to pull readers in and make them more receptive to your message.

7. Focus on the first words of each sentence. If you’ve written a succession of ‘the’s, you need to think again. Starting with the subject of the sentence gives your writing impact and purpose.

8. Can the ‘can’s. Don’t say ‘we can deliver x,’ say ‘we deliver x.’

9. White space helps your readers breathe. Overloaded webpages make me feel like I’m stuck in a tube train during rush hour. You might be telling me something interesting, but all I can think about is getting out. Give your carefully crafted text some space and people will want to read on.

10. Make it scannable. Use headlines as scaffolding to sum up your main points and give your content structure. Signposting with headlines is a great way to make web pages fast rewarding reads.

And finally,

11. Embrace editing. Write it, leave it, come back with new eyes and cut out anything that isn’t absolutely necessary.

If you need help sharpening the content for your website, call me on 07985 015300