sharon tanton portrait

Tag Archives: importance of design

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 content gets you found

illustration of man on top of a mountain

I’m doing some research for a new project – writing landing pages for a Pay Per Click web campaign – and I’ve been assessing my client’s competition.

The pages are for a legal practice, so it’s a very crowded market, yet one firm keep coming up top, again and again. And the thing that’s keeping them there is a very simple piece of valuable content.
This firm has created a straightforward and well written pdf document that answers all the ground level questions that I, (and I presume potential clients) will have on the subject. It’s not flashy, or particularly visual – nowhere near as comprehensive as an e-book – it simply lays out the key areas you need to understand.
Their expertise in the area isn’t explicitly referred to – but is implicit in the fact that they have created this ‘all you need to know’ document, and put their name to it.
For me, and potential clients at the information gathering stage of a project, resources like this are invaluable. We don’t want to ‘ring for a free appraisal’ – talking is something that comes a bit later, when you’ve orientated yourself in the area, and you know what you don’t know, and where you need help.
However their website would be the first I’d go to, if I wanted more information. And were I looking to pick up the phone to someone, they’d be top of my list, because they have already shown themselves to be understanding of my situation, authoritative, and ready to help.

Creating a valuable document to signpost people to your company

It’s not difficult to create this kind of valuable document, it just needs a clear understanding of your potential clients’ problems and a willingness to share your expertise. Here’s what you need to remember

1. Choose the right topic. What terms do people search for in your business? What are the most frequently asked questions from your newest clients? Build a document that addresses this, and get it up on your website as a simple download.
2. Don’t write the book. This law firm’s pdf worked because it answered the basic questions, and laid the ground rules. Going into too much detail would be a mistake here. Signposting documents aren’t the place to show off everything you know, rather they should answer clients first questions, and lead them to the next stage.
3. Think ‘quality’. Had this document been poorly written – stuffed with SEO filler words or simply not good to read – it would have had the opposite effect on me. Constantly being sent to a poor resource is irritating. If it’s going to surface again and again, make sure it stands up to all the attention.
4. Consider design. You don’t need to go overboard and invest in something too polished. Nor do you need images, it’s fine to produce something text only. However do think about typography –
a) pick a user friendly font.
b) consider judicious use of headlines to make your content easy to read on the web.
c) allow enough white space to give the words room to breathe.
d) break the text up into chunks. Potential clients are hungry for information, but they’ll still thank you for making it easy to digest.
e) Clear calls to action. This kind of document is the opposite of a hard sell sales piece, however you do want potential clients to know where you are once they’re ready to talk. Include some suggestions for further reading, and do include your contact details.

If you’d like my help putting together a valuable ‘signposting’ piece, call me on 07985 015300

Related posts:

How to stand out from the crowd

How great content gets you referrals – six rules to follow

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

How to stand out from the crowd

How to stand out from the crowd

Let’s face it, you’re probably not the only one in your field. There are other designers, consultants, suppliers all doing the same as you, give or take an inch or two.

You can niche all you like, but there’ll always be somebody else, with a similar offer, ready to snatch potential clients away.

So how do you stand out? How do you frame your offer to get them to pick you and not them?

Here’s a quick guide to using words to make you stand out from the crowd.

1. Be the clearest. Chances are your business is mired with jargon. Be the one who strips that away and writes about how you help in a way that your clients really understand. It’s refreshing to find someone who tells it like it is – so be that person.
2. Be the most understanding. Always write from the clients viewpoint. Put their problems before your solutions. (But don’t use the word ‘solutions’. It’s on my banned list.)
3. Be the boldest. Copy that’s written with attitude is invigorating to read, so inject some va-va-voom into your words. Active verbs, no conjunctives, short and snappy.
4. Be the brightest. Brightest doesn’t mean complicated – it can mean seeing things from a different angle – making connections that can surprise and inspire. Write thoughtfully and your words will rise above the crowd saying the same old thing.
5. Be the smartest. Invest in good design so that your words look as good as they can. Good design shows you care.
6. Be the most useful. Fill your website with content that’s valuable to your potential clients, so they’ll turn to you first for help.
7. Be the most in demand. People want to work with the best, and the best are likely to be busiest. Use your website and social media to let the world know what you’re up to. Write about the nuts and bolts of what you’re doing – it shows you know your stuff. Walking the walk and not just talking the talk – that’s what get results.
8. Be everywhere. Blog it, tweet it, comment on forums, ask questions, answer queries – spread your words around to raise the chances of being found.

What have I missed? I’d love to know your tips for standing out from the rest. And if you need help with making your copy unmissable, call me 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?