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Tag Archives: web design

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

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

7 signs your website needs spring cleaning

fifties housewife

If you’re running your business on Valuable Content principles, then your website is the powerhouse. It’s the engine that drives everything, and most of the time – if you keep the content coming – it all runs smoothly, refining your niche and generating leads. 

 
Every once in a while though, you need to stand back, and ask yourself whether it’s working as well as it should. Peer into those neglected corners, scour the pages you usually skim over, and take a hard look at the way it’s arranged.
 We’re calling it our Valuable Content spring clean – and here are the seven signs that show your website needs one. 

1. You can’t update it yourself.

The best sites are really easy to manage – if you can’t make changes, add pages, and post the kind of information your clients are looking for without a phone call, then you need to do something about it. We recommend WordPress sites, but any content managed system that puts you in control will work.

2. You don’t know how many hits it gets, or how long people stick around.

How will you measure the impact of your valuable content if you don’t know who’s reading it? Get your analytics sorted, and use them to market yourself smarter.

3. You’ve still got too much text on the home page or a really long Flash intro.

We know it looked so good a few years ago, but now the world’s moved on. Your customers want information fast. Cut the distractions and get to the good stuff quicker.

4. It doesn’t make the right first impression.

Your content is static or out of date, or perhaps you have a blog but it is hidden out of sight. High performing websites lead with their content. One glance is enough to tell you that business is buzzing, and that these people can help you with your problem.

5. Your users don’t know where to go next.

Websites designed with users in mind work smoothly with the content on one page leading you to another. If the web copy sparks a question, the next step is a natural click away. Is this the way it happens on your website?

6. It’s not obvious how to get in touch.

Put addresses, phone numbers, email and Twitter details somewhere easy to find.

7. No calls to action.

Be bold about it. What do you want people to do once they’ve read your stuff. Sign up for your newsletter? Download your guide? Call you? So say it, clearly.

So, what are you waiting for?  Roll up your sleeves and get stuck in.  If you’d like an independent view of the way your website’s working, we’d be happy to help. And if you’d like to know more about Valuable Content’s high performing websites, give us a call.

The really Valuable guide to ‘Things to give up for Lent’

chocolate coated strawberry

Chocolate, wine, and cake – just three of the things that aren’t on Valuable Content’s list of things to give up for Lent.

We hope you’ll find our real selection more useful. Read on for a quick-fire list of the things we’d like to kiss goodbye today.

1. Jargon.
There’s always a better way of saying it. Make your content clear and accessible to all your clients. An independent view on what you’re writing can be handy to make sure you’re not slipping in phrases in that will alienate your readers.
2. Flash websites with no function.
There are still a few about, and we’d like to see them gone. Design your website with your user in mind. We guarantee they’ll want useful information that helps them solve a problem over something gimmicky any day.
3. Spamming people with messages, over and over again.
If you’re not getting results, you need to try something else. Search your content toolkit for a different approach.
4. Websites you can’t update yourself.
Your website should be the hub of your marketing – the living breathing centre of your business – bursting with relevant news, blogs, and information that potential clients will love. If every change demands a phone call to your designer, the chances are you won’t make them. Switch to a blog based site, we’re sure you’ll thank us for it!
5. Tweeting without listening and engaging.
As more and more businesses wise up to the marketing potential of Twitter, the good Tweeters are becoming clearer, and rarer. They’re the ones that talk as well as promote. Good Tweeters retweet others’ links, and say ‘thank you’ when you retweet theirs. Twitter’s not a free listings page, it’s a conversation that can engage and entertain as well as inform. Join in and play nicely, that’s the Valuable Content way.

What’s on your list? We’d love to know. And if we can help you with social media, new websites, or content for your business, please get in touch.

Five ways to make your home page a hit

estate agent board

When you’re trying to sell your home, estate agents recommend clearing out the clutter to show off your best features. I think the same applies to your home page. It’s the first place new visitors land, so you want to make a good impression.

Here are my five tips for a winning home page.

1. Clarity of purpose

Your home page should tell me very clearly and simply how you and your services can help me, so share your mission in a few well chosen words. I’m talking a paragraph at most. About Us will go into more detail about you and your ethos, so you don’t need to say lots here. Keep this page very clear and straightforward.

2. Navigation

I want to know exactly where to go next. Your home page should set the agenda, so your choice of words and destinations is important. Being too clever here can be a mistake. I see an awful lot of websites, and am a fan of the ones with the easiest navigation. The home page isn’t the place to surprise me, or to be oblique. Help me find my way around.

3. Call to action

What do you want me to do now I’m here? Call you? Read more? Look at this? Think about that? Don’t go overboard with your demands, but do try and get me to engage. The right words can pull me further into your site.

4. Evidence of life

Empty houses are harder to sell, and so are empty websites. I’d like to know you’re around, hard at work, helping people like me. Twitter feeds, blogs, video content. Have something on the home page that shows me you’re in business, right now. We’re talking tasters – headlines, logos, boxes – not the whole thing. Use your up-to-date content to lead me deeper into your website, and to reinforce your expertise.

5. Room to breathe

Sometimes I use the home page as a reference point, somewhere to go back to and orientate myself. In a large website, packed with valuable content, it’s good to have somewhere clear and simple to take a breath. (It’s a bit like returning to the blurb on the back of a book you’re reading. That concise reminder of the story that grabbed your attention is useful.) So don’t overload it. Less is more.

If you want Home page help, get in touch.

Five ways to make me leave your website immediately.

tumble weed

There’s lots of great advice out there about how to make a good first impression with your website, so I thought it would be interesting to look at how to make a really bad one.

Here’s how to turn people off your website instantly.

Turn off 1
Pop up ads

My biggest pet hate. In your face and in the way – pop up ads obscure your message. They’re as subtle as white stilettos and orange fake tan …..like being seduced by Kat Slater in Ann Summers or Peter Stringfellow in Spandex.

However much they’re paying you to put them there, it’s not worth it. They don’t make you look good.

Customer surveys can be offputting too. The experience is akin to being asked round for tea by a new neighbour who opens the door and asks for help unblocking the sink before you’ve even taken off your coat. Obviously I wouldn’t mind helping a friend, but we don’t even know each other yet! It feels wrong to ask for something before a relationship exists.

Turn off 2
Tumbleweed sites

You know the ones. Christmas pics in June. News page last updated 6 month ago.
Your website is often the first and best chance you’ll get to promote your business. If it’s like a ghost town -peopled by ex-employees showcasing lost clients it won’t do you justice.

Keep your website at the heart of your marketing strategy – feed it regularly with valuable content, and people like me will be happy to stay and look around.

Turn off 3
Primark at 5 pm on a Saturday sites

Chaotic websites. Everything’s all over the place, falling off the rails and in heaps on the floor. Lots of offers but you don’t know where to start looking. The sheer amount of it makes you doubt the value, and you can just tell the customer service is going to be bad.

See your website from your customer’s point of view. Is it in order? Can you get around it easily? What exactly are you offering?

Turn off 4
Bedroom websites

Not as exciting as they sound, I mean the kind that have obviously been designed by your neighbour’s son on work experience.

Professionalism shows – in the design, the layout, the use of headlines, the quality of the copy. You can see if it’s not there, without even reading the page.

Turn off 5
Woolly sites

Your home page should tell me how you can help. I shouldn’t have to look hard to find the essence of your offer, and it should be obvious where to look next. Don’t make it hard for me, I don’t want to burrow through fuzzy layers before finding out if you’re what I’m after.

So what do you have to do if you want me to stick around? Clean looking sites appeal. Clarity is important. Demonstrate value, show you’re alive and buzzing, be relevant, engage with me.

First impressions are important. If you want help with getting your website content and copy right, call on 07985 015300.

How to write your ‘About Us’ page.

Picture of Kermit the Frog

Chances are the most viewed pages on your website are About Us and your client list. Who are you, and who trusts you with their business ? Two key things that potential clients want to know before getting in touch.

Client lists are self explanatory – names, logos, testimonials, and soundbites all linked to case studies add credibility to your business.

But what about About Us? The section is a chance to let potential clients see the real you, and to show a bit of personality. But what bit of you, and how much personality? There are infinite ways of doing it, and we thought it would be useful to outline an approach we like.

So here it is, some Valuable Content tips to creating a powerful About Us page.

Do see the page from your potential client’s point of view. Your golfing prowess might be awesome, but how does that help them? Write about your approach to the business, not your hobbies.

Do think about the page as part of your business story. Write about how your role fits and contributes to that story. ‘Before joining x I worked as a sales consultant for fifteen years. My understandings of what can make or break a sale help my clients succeed’.

Do share your mission. What do you believe, and why? Define your audience – what kind of people can your business help?

Do interpret your data with your offer clearly in mind. So don’t just say ‘I worked as an accountant for 20 years before starting my payroll business,’ write ’20 years in accountancy showed me how crucial payroll services are to business success.’ Keep asking yourself ‘why is this relevant?’

Don’t write too much. Remember the rules of good web writing. Short and to the point is good. Strong headlines will draw people in, so link to further pages if there’s more to say.

Do make sure the whole page links well to the rest of your site. Relevant About Us copy will make natural links to your clients and services and approach, so embed them in the site. Fire enthusiasm, and lead people seamlessly to the rest of your content.

Do use good professional pictures of you and your team. People like to see who they will be working with.

Don’t be too obscure. You might feel that you’re best represented by a picture of a lovely smooth pebble, or a snap of Kermit the frog, but not everyone will get it. (However if you do want to go down an alternative visual representation route, make sure your explanation is easy to find and written with wit.)

Don’t be boring but…….

Don’tbe ‘wacky’ or ‘zany’ or anything that could be remotely interpreted as something Timmy Mallet might do. Nothing along the ‘you don’t have to be crazy to work here…..’ lines, please.

Do ask for help. An independent view can be really valuable in helping you see what’s most relevant and most compelling for a potential client. If you’d like us to help you create an About Us page that gets your message across, please get in touch.

My five marketing lessons

It’s been a year since I started in business on my own – a good time to reflect on the marketing lessons I’ve learnt in 2010.
I haven’t done any formal networking, or cold calling, and I haven’t even got round to sorting out my business cards. But I have managed to build up a network of clients that keep coming back, and who I really enjoy working with. Here’s how it’s working for me.

1. A good website is crucial.

While I loved the design of my first site (thanks Daniel Penfold), I outgrew it quite quickly. A WordPress site (more thanks DP) gave me something I could update myself with writing that would be useful for potential clients and that could stay up to date and relevant to the kinds of people I want to work with. Redoing the site after only 10 months was a great exercise in redefining my offer. Keeping my website valuable is top of my marketing list.

2. Twitter works.

I’m steadily building up a Twitter network that is both useful and entertaining. You make your own community on social networking sites, and I find Twitter a really friendly and supportive place. I know I sometimes cross the boundaries of personal/professional when I’m Tweeting – but I like Tweets from people that come from real life – being funny, or exasperated, or unsure is okay by me. I accept that this isn’t right for anyone, but Twitter is a great showcase for writers, and creating readable tweets is a fab exercise in making the most of a few words. Be useful, supportive and interesting – that’s my approach.

3. Newsletters raise your game.

Both the discipline of creating something valuable, useful and readable once a month, and the credibility it gives you as an authority on your subject is priceless. I picked up a lovely new client after only 2 newsletters, and expect to find more next year. Demonstrate your knowledge in an accessible and useful way.

4. Collaborate.

Working with Sonja to develop Valuable Content has been incredibly good fun, and professionally useful. We’ve pushed each other to achieve things, shared ideas, been each other’s sounding boards, spell checkers and friends. We’ve got big plans for next year, so watch the Valuable Content space. Work should be happy, so surround yourself with good people.

5. Be yourself.

I get on with my clients, and find them really easy to work with and it is more than a happy coincidence, I believe it comes from creating an on-line presence that reflects who I am. People will have checked me out on the website, maybe read my Tweets and newsletter, and decided whether they like my style and approach. People who don’t like the sound of me, won’t get in touch. I’m happy about this – it saves us both time. Be true and the right people will find you.
(I’m basing this theory on the one difficult client I’ve had this year, who came via a contact of a contact of a contact. He hadn’t been through the web/twitter filter – maybe if he had he would have chosen a different writer.)

So for next year? I”m going to do more of the same. More blogging, more writing about how to write, more newsletters, more collaboration, more Tweeting. But I’m going to try my hand at networking too, and I am, I promise, going to get those business cards sorted.

Six steps to great web writing

A funny thing comes over some businesses when they start putting together their web copy. Rather like having a posh ‘telephone voice’, they write about themselves in an artificially ‘proper’ way.

Instead of saying ‘we run coaching workshops for new businesses’, they’ll write ‘we facilitate training sessions to leverage success for business.’ It’s a bit like having Hyacinth Bouquet answering your office phone. More than a little off putting.

When I’m writing web copy, I imagine I’m telling someone in the same room. My tone is conversational. I use the same words to explain something that I’d use if you were sitting next to me. Good web copy makes a connection with its reader. Lacing your sentences with unnecessarily long words puts your readers at a distance, and that’s not where you want them.

Sometimes I think it’s a confidence thing. People don’t feel they’ll be taken seriously if they talk in everyday language. Big words are good for hiding behind. My advice would be to take a deep breath, and just tell it how it is.

Top six web writing tips

1. Be clear. Say it out loud before you write it down.
2. Use short sentences. They’re easier to understand.
3. Keep technical language to a minimum. Of course some pages demand it – especially if your offer is a technical one. But your Home page and About Us copy should certainly be straightforward.
4. Be accurate. A conversational tone doesn’t mean you can forget your grammar. Good grammar makes your writing make sense.
5. Get to the point. There’s no room for rambling digressions in web copy. Users want information fast, so cut anything superfluous and give important stuff room to breathe.
6. Be yourself. Connect with your reader.