Why Copywriters Should Think Like a Librarian
Learn about the overlapping skills that support excellence in information science and copywriting.
There are two common misconceptions about the internet. In my experience, people pendulum swing between these polarities:
The reality is... YES.
The problem is, these misconceptions result in a lot of missteps. From the moment you GoDaddy that domain to the moment you press Publish, you craft a website based on what you believe it should do for you. That standard by which you intend to measure all future success could be faulty. And every step along the way, you could be unintentionally diminishing your website's potential.
As I work with businesses and brands to develop copy for their web presence, I've found there are 10 common reasons why your website doesn't work. The good news is that, even if you have to strip it to the studs, it's all fixable. Yes, your mistakes are indexed somewhere out there. But the barren wasteland of your naked-school-presentation-embarrassment isn't going to show up for your customers. So, your secret mistakes are safe. But they can't be buried or fixed until you know what they are. So, here they are. (Yes, I realize the last four sentences matched).
This is a similar question to: why can't I get leads on my website? Or, why doesn't my website get visitors? Most of the "reasons" are traceable. Fundamental mistakes you've made along the way. Here they are, in no particular order or degree of offense.
This is especially relevant if you wrote your site a while ago or before you knew SEO was a thing. Having no SEO keywords on your site means that your site will not get organic traffic. Reminder, organic traffic just means UNPAID. So, if you aren't running PPC ads and you have no SEO content that can deliver your website to people on a search engine results page, then you're fresh outta luck.
HOW do you know if you have SEO keywords on your site? Well, did you put them there? If not, probably not. However, sometimes you have them there by accident. You can find out what SEO keywords or SEO phrases are on your website by using Spyfu or Google itself.
When I do content consulting, one of the first things I do is go through a website and click every button, follow every rabbit hole (at the end sometimes I feel very inclined to "Drink Me!"... as it has been a wild ride). You may have not set up your website with user experience in mind, but that is the primary function of your site. See, the website isn't really about you. It's not a commercial. It's an invitation. If it's clunky to get around, hard to understand and complicated to find answers, people won't stick around for long. Don't believe me? Check your bounce rate. Additional mistakes in this realm include:
At the end of the day, your website is supposed to convey information and convert leads. That's the point of it. There are so many cool things it can do and neat design options. It's easy to get caught up in that. I've worked with brands like this: agonizing over every single spacer and the orientation of images and the addition of video and animations (I hate breaking it to them that it all shifts on mobile anyway).
Hear me loud and clear: the best way to disabuse yourself of the notion that people see your site as art is to audit the view time. Unless you are an online encyclopedia or have a huge blog with tons of useful info, people are bippity-boppity-bouncing on and off your site within seconds. Sometimes less.
Yes, your site should make an impression. It should clearly represent your brand, not just in words but also in style. But you are having yourself a money fire if you obsess and spend hours creating the style of your site instead of focusing on what it is intended to do. If someone doesn't find what they're looking for (namely, who you are and how what you offer helps them) then they are out, goodbye.
Nav is a big pet peeve of mind. I have a colleague who actually says nav shouldn't have more than three items in it. Whether you have a philosophical opinion about maxing out at three or five, most of us in this field recommend no more than five. Here are some other common mistakes you may be making that decrease people's ability to navigate your site:
This one has to do with site health. There are numerous factors that can adversely impact your site's load time. For my part, if I try to go to a site and it takes more than... let's say three seconds to load, I'm out. Sounds harsh? I'm not alone. 40% of site visitors will bail if your site takes more than those three ticking secs. Don't you do that, too, though? Try your site on multiple devices at multiple times a day. Encounter issues? You may need to contact your web developer and get to the root of the issue. This will be a HUGE deterrent to people and will cost you traffic.
I get it. Your website is a HUGE task and it's a significant part of your brand identity, especially at the start. It's an opportunity to show off. Plus, you probably paid a developer and designer and maybe copywriter money to make it awesome. I get that you're proud of it. But it really isn't about you. You don't go on a date and talk about yourself the whole time, right? (Please don't.) If your website isn't customer-oriented, then customers don't care. Just like you, they're egomaniacs. You've gotta cater.
A huge issue I see in a lot of modern, minimalist sites is a painful lack of CTAs.
Call to action. Call them to action. Scream at them in plain letters:
It is an absurd and romantic notion to overestimate your website visitor. People are distracted. They're on their phones for a million reasons. By the time they get to your site, they may not remember what they're there for. Tell them. They're at your door: INVITE. THEM. IN. Remember your manners. Invitational, persuasive and crystal clear. That's the goal of CTAs.
In addition to the CTAs themselves being super clear is the issue of conversion paths. Especially if you have a broad offering or a variety of goods, it's easy to get confused about the ultimate interaction your site is offering. You can pull this off even if you are an Ecomm site. There are a few resolutions for this, one of which is the home page menu look where you ask visitors what they're coming for. For example, presenting two options from the get-go:
If you have resources for both, it might be most useful to funnel it that way. The issues arise when you have a million things a visitor can do: sign this form for a free newsletter, follow the blog, visit me on social, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum. What's the point of this site? What is really the most valuable transaction a customer can make?
Keep in mind that the average email address is worth about $10. Getting your hands on that may be the most valuable thing a visitor can give (or trade) you. Whatever your ultimate goal is, create a conversion path that is clearly marked and has an ultimate destination. Too many options disseminate the impact and dissolve your ROI.
Your website shouldn't just be optimized for SEO and conversion, it needs to have value. Value is a bit subjective. At the heart, this is about your UVP (Unique Value Proposition). In what way is your brand, your offering, something totally new and different? How are you unmissable? This is part of developing your marketing but is also something that should be thematically woven throughout your site. In other words, if people are leaving your site quickly, they're not finding anything compelling to keep them there. If you had a successful UVP, they might. Let your website very clearly and concisely answer the question: "This will bring value to your life because..."
There are a ton of ways that your site has developed bad health. There are chronic illnesses and acute illnesses that could seriously impair someone's ability to find or use your website. These include things like:
If your site gets hit with some no-nos, Google is going to bankrupt your rank. Not to mention, your site could become infested. Get a check-up. Update plug-ins. Throw some Vitamin C in the pipeline. Not really.
Through some of these points, I've added recommendations for improving your website. At the end of the day, though, it will depend on which of these fatal flaws you have. You may need coding fixes, copy fixes or design fixes. I suggest you do a full-scale audit of your site. Have multiple people go through and read every word, follow every link, tap every CTA. Fill out the forms and make sure they go where you think they're going. Use software like SEMRush to audit and find out more details. Hire a writer or a content specialist if you need one. You can improve. If you want to grow, you'll have to.
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