(originally published in Kitsap Business Journal)
If you’ve ever been turned off by a weak handshake or a person’s business attire, you understand the power of first impressions.
In business, that power is often held by your company’s website and other customer-facing materials. Sloppy or poorly executed marketing content is like having a tattered welcome mat at your door or peeling paint in your lobby — it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
One of the many hats small-business owners often wear is copywriting. And if you’re not a writer, creating content for your site, blog and other collateral materials could be a painful process. Below are a few basic tips that will get your creative juices flowing and help you avoid some common mistakes.
First of all, forget sales. Yes, the point of the content is to bring in customers, but you are not doing yourself any favors by hitting them on the head with salesy copy.
Business owners are so passionate about their products and services, they can get carried away with hype, flowery language and unsubstantiated claims (how many No. 1 burger joints can there really be in one town?). This can also spill over into press releases (which will never be published if they read like an advertisement) and social media posts (which will simply be ignored).
Thanks to social networking, customers expect to have personal relationships with the businesses they patronize. They expect a conversational language, not a bunch of corporate-speak, when they visit you online. It’s challenging, if not impossible, to have a friendly website if you’re cramming it with SEO (search-engine optimization) keywords and forgetting to sound human. In fact, SEO marketing these days is being replaced by “content marketing” — whose building blocks consist of writing interesting, compelling content. Good content has become the best currency for company branding and attracting new customers.
Other building blocks of compelling content:
Good storytelling — tell your story like you’re talking to a friend and try to connect with you customers. And don’t forget they are busy people, so the best way to get attention is to entertain, provide useful information, or tug at the heartstrings (yes, emotion still sells).
Scanable chunks — information snacking is the new normal. Customers are not only overwhelmed with information, they often consume it on more than one screen. This media ADHD means they’re scanning through your text, whether it’s a site or a brochure, to find the important stuff. Write short paragraphs, highlight the key points, and don’t write a novel where a poem will do.
Grammatical errors — this one is a big challenge if English is not your friend. But having sloppy grammar is like sporting a big coffee stain on your suit. Even professional writers can’t always effectively edit themselves, so recruit a second pair of eyes — even if it’s just your best friend. Watch out for biggies like using excessive capitalization (this one gets people every time), commonly misused words (their/there/they’re), misplaced apostrophes (for possessive vs. plural) and stray punctuation.
Consistency — find your company’s voice and keep it consistent, along with your style. Whether you use a light tone or serious, whether you capitalize every word in the headline or not, whether you use first person or third, make sure you do it consistently.
Use good visuals (a picture is still worth a thousand words, and perhaps more), hang out where your customers are, engage them instead of talking at them, write from the heart — and you may find out that writing good content is no longer a chore. You have the main requirement, a passion for your business, so all you have to do is give your content a little makeover.