Tuesday, March 22, 2016

4 Things Your Business Website Content Should Never Include

"What's wrong with my website content?" In my many years of fielding this question and many variations of it, I've gotten pretty good at pinpointing certain traps that business owners tend to fall into when they write their own online content. Here are four errors you want to avoid.

1. The Endless Home Page

This is a mistake that I encounter from time to time when I'm asked to redo the content for a commercial website. The client is mystified because visitors are bouncing off the home page without exploring the rest of site, "even though we give them tons of great information right from the beginning." It usually turns out that those tons of information are exactly what's wrong with the home page -- because they don't belong there.

Website visitors don't want to hack their way through a jungle of words, paragraph after endless paragraph, just to figure out where they stuff they actually care about is located on the site. I had to rewrite a home page once that read like an "About the Doctor" page -- and by "about," I mean "about 5,000 words." At first I thought the physician had accidentally pasted the content from her bio page onto her home page. But no, I found a separate, even longer description of the good doctor's life story on that page!

The home page is the front entrance to your site. Dress it with content the way you might dress the front of a brick-and-mortar store: with just enough sizzle to make visitors want to explore the aisles. Nobody buys anything while standing in the doorway.

2. "We We We" All the Way Home

Another recent website writing job posed a different kind of problem. This business owner was in the health and beauty industry and wanted his web content refreshed and updated. Once I took a look at it, I realized that it needed more than that -- it needed a change of perspective. Every sentence, it seemed, was about the company's services, the owner's expertise, the staff's training, "our this" and "my that" and "we provide" the other.

I call this problem "We We We Syndrome" because it's all about the business, when of course it should be all about the visitor. It should recognize the visitor's pain points and describe the products and services in terms of what they mean for the visitor's quality of life. Let's face it, the only question most prospective customers have when they read any kind of pitch is, "What's in it for me?" Focus on that.

3. Keyword Soup

Remember the alphabet soup of your childhood? As fun as it may have been to spell words with your lunch, a some point you probably realized that the stuff was nothing more than a thin, watery broth with lots of letter-shaped noodles in it -- at which point you could be forgiven for moving on to more nutritious fare. Well, lots of website content reads like a bowl of keyword soup, featuring unsubtle, often ungrammatical piles of keyword phrases surrounded by empty words.

This practice is called keyword stuffing. Nobody likes it, least of all Google, who penalizes site owners for the obvious repetition of city names, phone numbers and other key phrases that don't have much to do with the main body of the text. I've had some serious disagreements with web developers over the use of incorrect, stupid-sounding phrases for the sake of SEO. Yes, you'll get more people viewing your content (assuming you escape Google's watchful eye). But do you really want to leave all those extra viewers with the impression that your marketing is written by morons?

4. Double Trouble

Duplicate content is generally looked on as a no-no in the world of online marketing, but I've seen countless instances of it. Some businesses think nothing of simply lifting entire pages of web content from another organization and pasting them, intact and without attribution, on their own sites. This is a dumb move, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think.

There are those who claim that Google will penalize your duplicate content and others who maintain that it won't hurt your search rankings. But there's another, arguably more serious problem with it. If someone is searching for what you do, chances are that he or she will browse through a pile of search results, including yours. If your content is an exact copy of someone else's, then who's the author? Who's the real expert, and who's the copycat too lazy or unqualified to post an original spin on the subject? Keep in mind, too, that as long as your content is as good as everybody else's, then it's better than nobody else's. Keep it unique!

Step away from these four potential pitfalls and you'll be a step ahead of many of your competitors. And if you want to gain leaps and bounds on them, take one more step -- hire a professional copywriter who can get that web content just right the first time!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

4 Ways to Build Trust Through Your Marketing Content

Which brands you trust in the "Wild West" of the Internet, and why? Which businesses automatically make you feel like you're in the right place, dealing with the right folks? These are the questions you must answer for your own business if you want to have the same effect on customers, prospects, your industry and the public at large. Of course, even the most established brand didn't suddenly win the trust of the world overnight -- these winners worked hard to present an image that makes people turn to them every time for answers to specific needs. And if they can do it, so can you. Here are four marketing content strategies you can start employing right now to inspire trust in your business.

1. Be Human

Remember the image of the traveling snake oil salesman hawking his Miracle Potion as the cure for everything from head colds to insanity? There's a reason those guys got out of town as soon as they made a few quick bucks off a gullible public. "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," goes the popular saying. Don't let them say it about your brand!

The bigger the claims a person makes, the harder they are to believe -- especially if all the news is good news. Some companies fill their websites with bold proclamations about they're the best or only solution to every possible problem their target audience may have -- exuding a whiff of Ye Olde Snake Oil in the process. That's why admitting your limitations can actually serve as a strong trust-building measure. Point out that you're not perfect, but add that you listen to your customers in an ongoing effort to refine your products and services, no matter how terrific your offerings already are. A few human imperfections can go a long way toward humanizing your image.

2. Display Endorsements

Nothing beats word of mouth for sheer marketing power. A staggering 89 percent of customers regard testimonials as the most persuasive marketing strategy of all, and 70 percent of them look for customer reviews before they'll even consider a given brand. You've guessed the next logical step -- post positive reviews and testimonials! It's a simple matter to post text excerpts or links to longer testimonials on your website and social media channels. (It might even be possible to talk a few of them into giving video testimonials for posting on YouTube.)

If your business has a presence on Yelp or some other high-profile business review channel, be aware that you may attract both positive and negative statements. But don't let those critical comments just lie there and fester -- respond to them with the appropriate mix of genuine concern, professional courtesy and (where applicable) gentle rebuttal. The company that seems to care about what its customers say will gain more trust than one that apparently doesn't.

3. Stay in Touch

What are your own trusted advisors currently up to? Chances are that you know because they routinely check in with you to brief you on their newest service, answer any questions you've put to them and generally keep the information pipeline running smoothly. That's part of the reason they've earned your trust -- and it's something you should do to cultivate trust in others. You can present a more transparent, public-oriented image by issuing press releases, publishing white papers, uploading case studies and blogging regularly on all the latest doings in your company and industry. This gives the impression of an organization that genuinely wants to stay in touch with the world around it and keep its clientele as informed as possible.

Of course you can also reach out and touch your customers and prospects even more directly through the use of targeted emails and print marketing pieces. The smartest, most precise way to do this is by creating a "drip" campaign that automatically sends specific pieces based on a recipient's previous action (purchase, web page visit, abandoning a shopping cart, etc.) If you don't have that mechanism in place just yet, consider sending out periodic tidbits such as monthly email tips or quarterly postcard reminders to keep you top of mind and in communication.

4. Offer Added Value

How much easier is it to place your trust in someone who delivers even more than promised? Going above and beyond the call of duty is a great way to build trust, and your business can achieve that goal by added value in the form of extra content marketing goodies. Maybe you can send a thank-you discount coupon for every X amount of dollars spent, for example, or offer a helpful e-book or white paper absolutely free to anyone who fills out a simple contact form. Sending thank-you and holiday cards is another great way to give your customers something extra to smile about -- and those smiles are worth their weight in trust.

Take these ideas to heart and put your content marketing to work to raise your brand's trust factor. It's easier than you might think -- and more powerful than you can imagine.