Is Self-Centered Web Copy Hurting Your Websites?

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April 15, 2009
web_copyWeb developers frequently launch websites with self-absorbed web copy, which turns off visitors and kills conversions. Who’s to blame? Self-absorbed copywriters and business owners. To engage prospects and turn them into customers, web copy needs to appeal to the visitor’s self-interest. Most would say that’s brain-dead obvious. Yet, it seems 90% of websites miss the mark completely. Who is your clients’ web copy written for – the target audience, the business, or the writer?

The Ugly: The Ego-Driven Web Copy

This is where you or your client hires a copywriter for a website and the pages overflow with cleverly crafted, delightfully delectable prose that oh-so-playfully sing and dance. An example from a training company’s website: “When You succeed we succeed with You. When You dazzle Your CLIENTS, we dazzle ours.” The writer is screaming: “Look at me! I’m brilliant!” The online visitor is screaming: “What the hell do these guys do? Can they help me!?” Another snippet from a florist’s website: “Pinkly pulchritudinous and amazingly delightful, infinitely charming and sensationally fascinating.” They’re selling pink roses, and it’s probably safe to say words like "pulchritudinous" alienate most of their market. Beautiful or lovely would work just fine, forget about the fact that freshness isn’t even mentioned, likely one of the consumer’s key concerns. Web content riddled with abstract language and clichés might inflate a writer’s pride or score a marketing agency some awards, but it’ll do little for your client’s business. Even if the copywriter does induce a few “ooohs” and “ahhhs,” a website that doesn’t convey the right key messages provides you little or no value. Consider those witty TV commercials that get discussed the next day at the office – but no one has any idea what the costly 30-second spot was promoting.

The Bad: The Company-Centric Web Copy

Company-centric content is rampant on the Web. Whether a copywriter is forced down this path, or a business owner prefers to focus on what he or she wants to say versus what the audience needs to know, the results are the same: low engagement and poor conversion rates. An example of company-centric content from an IT website: “There are about a million IT companies floating around, then why us? Reasonable question! The answer is simple... because, WE ARE THE BEST! Best in Quality, Service and Post Service Relations…” Self-absorbed and indistinguishable. Web writing would be easy if prospects and customers thought the way business owners do. But that’s not the case. Consumers are not necessarily interested in your client’s business. They are, however, extremely interested in what your client’s business can do for them. Common issues with internally developed web content also include: Expert Paralysis: When a business owner gains considerable knowledge and experience on a specific area, it’s difficult to recreate a prospect’s less informed state of mind. Consequently, it makes it difficult to effectively introduce this knowledge to others. Information Overload: Business owners have a knack for wanting to share everything. But just because they’re passionate about something, it doesn’t mean their audience is. The website ends up with information creep, where the web content gets progressively complicated, to the point the important and relevant information gets lost in the mix. Three compelling, relevant points are better than 10 that prospects don’t actually care about.

The Good: Web Copy that’s Written for the Audience

Properly developed web copy entices audiences to take desired actions. But to get online visitors to request quotes or invest in your client’s offerings, someone needs to assess the target audience’s motivational appeals, and get their self-interest working for your client. So what makes people care? Not a 20,000-square-foot X3TC data storage facility, or a ultra-slim-line dental x-ray machine. It’s about the safety of critical business data in the event of an earthquake, and the fact that the new x-ray technology reduces radiation exposure by 90%. It comes down to benefits. Take a page from psychologist Abraham Maslow, who spent his life researching and compiling the human hierarchy of needs. Here’s a breakdown of the needs and desires people try to fulfill, as compiled neatly in the New York Times bestseller Made to Stick:
  • Transcendence: help others realize their potential
  • Self-actualization: realize your own potential, self-fulfillment, peak experiences
  • Aesthetic: symmetry, order, beauty, balance
  • Learning: know, understand, mentally connect
  • Esteem: achieve, be competent, gain approval, independence, status
  • Belonging: love, family, friends, affection
  • Security: protection, safety, stability
  • Physical: hunger, thirst, bodily comfort
To engage visitors and turn them into customers, your client’s web content must tap into these basic human needs and appeal to people’s emotions. Benefits can do that. Consider, for instance, web content promoting law enforcement binoculars. A web writer could focus on certain technical features, such as oversized lenses, rubber coating and ergonomic design. That can score points with consumers in terms of credibility, but the web content must call attention to the benefits: low-light performance; bright, crisp and clear images from dusk until dawn; and toughness and easy handling. We’re now addressing the prospect’s fundamental needs, including safety and security. For consumers to take action, they need to care. Benefits tell online visitors why they should care. Benefits engage. Benefits inspire. Benefits get people to act. Benefits appeal to the audience’s self-interest. So should your client’s web content.

WDD Staff

WDD staff are proud to be able to bring you this daily blog about web design and development. If there's something you think we should be talking about let us know @DesignerDepot.

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