Archive for February, 2009

Writing for the Web

I’ve been writing professionally for 35 years – everything from ad copy to video scripts to novels (3 with 1 published). More to the point, I’ve been writing content for websites since 1997. So what makes writing for the web unique?

Let’s start with the similarities:

  • All effective writing, regardless of the medium, is storytelling.
  • A clear, concise style with an emphasis on short sentences is most effective.
  • Headlines matter.

Website Requirements:

  • Write straight forward headlines- unlike advertising copywriting, which relies on clever to “breakthrough” the clutter, there is no time for clever headlines on a website. Visitors will not take the time to figure out what point you’re making. Instead, your main headline should clearly state what the website is all about and sub-heads should introduce new thoughts or sections.
  • Layer your content – Most everyone first skims a web page. So if you all you’re presenting is a long narrative, people won’t be able to make up their minds quickly enough. And when that happens online, they go elsewhere. So use headlines, sub-heads and bullet points liberally. Bold key messages and also be generous with your use of links.
  • Plan your keywords and phrases – sounds ominous but it’s really just common sense. In school we were taught to outline our thoughts before starting our narrative. Formulating keywords is no different. Each page of your website should have a focus (preferably just one). Before you begin to write for that page, jot down the words that best describe what you’re about to write, then make sure to use those words in your narrative.
  • Tell a whole story on each page
  • – this is the toughest thing to learn about developing web content. Unlike a book or a movie or even a 60-second ad, the web is a non-linear medium. In other words, the visitor controls the visit and can visit pages in whatever sequence he or she prefers. This means each page needs it’s own beginning, middle and end.

Of course there are other differences, but if you can master these, your website will have a better chance of meeting your objectives.


Bad Economy and Internet Marketing

I’m in the website business so naturally I’m going to tell you that now is a great time to be dumping your marketing dollars online.

I can’t do it. I can’t jump up and down and say that the web is best positioned to extend or maintain your reach with a shrinking budget. In the past, sure… But I’m guessing this is more than a bad economy – by which I mean typical recession.

If you listen to any talk radio, you might come away thinking that this is just a cyclical downturn made worse by the president’s and press corps’ doom and gloom mantra. This, I believe, is a combination of wishful thinking, partisan posturing, real-world-disconnect and, unfortunately, lack of candor. A radio host might say “why, my advertising has never been better.” Now there’s proof!

So what does all this blather mean for web marketing? It means that in the short run spending more marketing dollars, no matter the medium, probably doesn’t make much financial sense. Not when buyers have deserted the marketplace. I know the old adage that “market consolidation” is a time to increase market share. I guess that might be true if you’re sitting on a pile of cash that has to be spent. But right now you have to think about preserving cash and getting the most bang for whatever bucks you can afford to spend.

I say spend your time and money on your existing customers and your existing business. I had a guy approach me recently about venturing onto the web for the first time. He’s in the virtual tire business. A client says he needs a certain kind of tire and this guy (tire guy) finds it online and takes delivery in less than 24 hours. No inventory. Virtually no overhead. One of tire guy’s ideas was to open an online store. We talked about focusing on “hard-to-find” and “special deal tires.” We also talked about just running a special request “find-it” service – no store. Finally, we discussed using a website as a communication and promotional tool to broaden his local business.

I don’t know which way he’s going to go, but the more I watch this economic drama unfold, the more I think you have to take care of your existing client base. Reach out. Become pro-active. Use the web to ease communication bottlenecks. Grow concentrically and organically (sorry I couldn’t resist).

If you don’t have a website begin modestly. Build it for your existing customers. If they like it so will new customers. If you have a website make sure it works properly and has up to date content. Make sure you clearly explain to your visitors what you do, how you do it and why they should care. Ask for feedback from your customers – not your family and friends. Always work to reduce the business friction so that you’re easier to approach and work with than they guy down the street.