Thanks to Minna Corcuera, Blogger, Writer, Entrepreneur at minnacorcuera.com, Blogger, Homeon
A fascinating new study has found that winning trust on the internet has a lot to do with visual appeal. Compared to five years ago we are more trusting of attractive websites, less tolerant of websites that have irrelevant information and more likely to introduce ourselves to websites that are new.
An article in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday quotes lead author of the study, Brent Coker, as saying, 'Beautiful women make fantastic con people because they earn men's trust very quickly—we see a similar thing with websites. We form trust with people who are attractive ...'
It makes sense, intuitively: if you think of sites you have instinctively trusted, and the ones you think of as suspect, I'm willing to bet a good graphic designer was involved in the design of the ones you prefer.
But that's not all. 'The best way to stop defection to other websites and increase loyalty is to be interesting. Being pretty but with nothing to say is not enough', he says.'The biggest source of frustration for internet users is irrelevant information.'
In other words, focus your website copy on your target market, and not on your business. Use 'you' more than 'we'; answer what your audience wants to know, provide the information they are looking for--make it relevant.
A good copywriter can do all that and keep it brief—the other key to success in writing for the web.
Have you ever noticed that facebook always uses a lower case 'f' (facebook) in its own branding, and yet whenever people refer to it, they generally use the upper case (Facebook)?
I'm not sure why that is. Personally, I think whatever style the business itself uses is the right way to go, but I was once corrected by a client for using the lowercase 'f' when referring to the social media site.
I have noticed sometimes Goodscribble is written down (by others) as two words, 'Good Scribble'. Yet my business name has always been one word in my mind, and in my branding.
There's no way to control what people do with your business branding once it's out there, particularly in this age of social media engagement. And I don't suppose the people at facebook especially mind which case is used, so long as people are talking about it.
But consistency is worth striving for in everything you can control.
It might seem a sad acknowledgement from a person who makes her living from writing, but it's largely true. It's an interesting challenge. If people really don't read, what can I write that will make them pay attention? And is there a difference between what they won't read online and what they won't read in print?
Sometimes people genuinely don't read. How many times have you pushed vainly away at a door clearly marked 'Pull'?
But it's more often just that they don't read with close attention; if anything, people scan and skim. This is particularly true of anything that is going to be read on a computer screen. It is harder to read from a page that emits light at you than a page that has light bouncing off it. It takes more energy, more concentration. And because it is 25% slower, there is a time issue as well.
Keep it short
So brevity is most important when writing for a website, an email newsletter or a blog article (with some exceptions) rather than, say, a brochure, or a print article. Of all these examples, the only one that may really be wordy is the print article, and even then it depends on the context and the subject. Careful consideration must me made of what you say and how you say it.
Keep it relevant
When we're talking about marketing material, people not only won't have a lot of time or energy to read your copy, they are also unlikely to have a lot of motivation. This is why in writing for and about a business it is crucial, after hooking readers in with the opening line, to consider what is in it for them to continue reading.
When I give my clients a project brief to fill in, I ask all those difficult questions about target markets for a reason. For some reason those are the very questions that are most often left blank. But if you don't know the basics about your target market, you can't expect to be able to consistently interest them in what you have to offer.
Tips for different media
... we found that 79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word. (Update: a newer study found that users read email newsletters even more abruptly than they read websites.)
We found that credibility is important for Web users, since it is unclear who is behind information on the Web and whether a page can be trusted. Credibility can be increased by high-quality graphics, good writing, and use of outbound hypertext links. Links to other sites show that the authors have done their homework and are not afraid to let readers visit other sites.
Users detested "marketese"; the promotional writing style with boastful subjective claims ("hottest ever") that currently is prevalent on the Web. Web users are busy: they want to get the straight facts. Also, credibility suffers when users clearly see that the site exaggerates.
These are your chance to be more expansive; however you should still ensure everything you write is relevant and important to the whole.
Before chasing content you have to think what sort of content your customers want and what needs they have ... For example if you are running a website that sells tennis racquets then you should fill your site with quality articles on how to improve your tennis game.
If you can provide valuable free content then your traffic will increase but it's important to make sure it's the right kind of traffic. By providing content that attracts your target market you have the best chance of converting those prospects into customers.
Good writing always trumps bad
Although writing for different media asks for different things, the principles of good writing and writing good marketing copy hold true for any of the things we've looked at.
Everything included should be important to the piece; it should have good, logical structure; and it should be engaging and relevant to the intended audience.
Spelling, grammar, punctuation and syntax are all important: you must take care of the little details, or your audience will wonder what else in your business you can't be bothered to do.
And if it all just seems too difficult, hire a copywriter!
Recently, I was fortunate enough to have breakfast with a world champion. Darren LaCroix, the 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking, addressed us all at Olympic City Referrals on communications skills for solo business people. Specifically, he spoke about something many of us have to do on a regular basis, that is: giving a two-minute presentation to introduce our business to a networking group.
He was lively and energetic, as well as insightful and full of brilliant tips that we could all take away and put into practice for ourselves. In brief, these were:
• Make sure you prepare your presentations; this is your moment to entice your audience to want to know more about you. If you're prepared, you are less likely to fumble the opportunity.
• Make your message stick: start with something that will immediately catch the interest of your audience because it speaks to a desire or a pain that they are likely to have.
• Understand what the audience is thinking. Answer the questions that arise in their minds: 'So what? Who cares? What's in it for me?', and answer them quickly.
• Focus their minds with a few questions that go to the heart of a problem or frustration. Paint a picture of that problem or frustration and then one of a satisfied client. Use concrete examples from your business.
• Keep on the lookout for useful stories you can use as illustrations of how your business solves a problem or addresses a need; keep a story file of these to draw from.
• Always finish with something powerful: many people can throw away all their good work at the end. People will think about the very last words you say, so make sure they are right to the point.
Being from the US, and only in the country for a quick visit, Darren was also very 'American' in his style. So long as the message is valuable, nobody minds hearing an American being a bit 'out there' and extroverted, because it's part of the US culture. But Australians tend to feel less comfortable presenting ourselves in that way. I could feel, and hear, some of the people around me wondering how they could translate what he was saying to them into something that would be appropriate for an Australian, presenting in an Australian cultural setting.
My take on that issue is that Darren's messages were in fact spot on, and that the issue at hand was one of style, not substance. It's about using your own voice to deliver your own message, but doing that using the best ways to truly engage your audience and keep them interested. Using your own voice is not only easier to do, but it also reinforces your credibility.
Sometimes, corporate speak can take over from the message and confound the reader.
I edited some copy for a brochure recently that makes a fine example of how a good editor can transform dense copy full of corporate buzz words into clear, readable copy. A part of the original went like this:
'Our group headquarters are based in Sydney, with office locations based throughout Australia. Our clientele maintains a wide variety of specialised services across an extensive range of industry sectors we manage with a degree of professionalism that is second to none. Over the years [we have] invested profoundly in growing and maintaining our Quality Assured Management Practices which has allowed us to translate these gained efficiencies to directly benefit our clientele's bottom line.'
Phew! Are you still with me? It takes some effort to draw the meaning out of that paragraph. Below is my alternative. I have tried to keep the tone and voice of the original, while increasing ease of comprehension.
'Based in Sydney, we have office locations throughout Australia. Our clientele represent a wide variety of specialised services, across an extensive range of industry sectors. Despite this diversity, we manage all our clients' needs with a degree of professionalism that is second to none. Over the years, [we have] profoundly invested in growing and maintaining our Quality Assured Management Practices; these gained efficiencies translate directly to our clients' bottom line.'
There are some things here that I kept in, out of respect for the writer; while I may have put things differently myself, these were elements that were obviously important to the client. But I think that I have made the paragraph much more intelligible, while maintaining the company's style.
And that's just what a good editor does.
Kale & Beef Stir Fry
I fully expected kale to be a bit boring, like silver beet. But I tried some because it was supposed to be so incredibly good for you. Lo and behold! It tastes fabulous, especially cooked with soy sauce and lemon juice. The simple original recipe I tried seemed a good fit for some very finely sliced beef, and indeed it is, but you can also take the beef out and just serve the kale up as a side dish.
A generous slurp of vegetable oil
1 clove garlic
1 bird's eye chilli
1/2 to 1 bunch kale, washed and chopped roughly
500 g prime lean beef, sliced very thin
2 tbsp soy sauce
Juice from 1 lemon
In a wok, heat the oil and sauté the garlic and chilli. Add the beef and stir fry until browned. Add the kale and cover until it has wilted and cooked. Pour on the soy sauce and lemon juice and stir fry briefly.
Serve with steamed rice. (I like to use a large teacup as a mould for the rice to make it into a neat mound, Indonesian style. Sprinkle some fried shallots on top for real authenticity.)
A delicatessen in St Kilda, where I lived for many years, used to sell something very like this. It was quite expensive. As I was rather impecunious at the time, I decided I could probably work out what was in it and make it myself. I reckon I got it pretty right: it tastes fabulous. The squid ends up a dark golden colour and takes on all those flavours beautifully.
450 g squid tubes, cleaned and sliced into rings
a handful of fresh bean sprouts
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp grated or finely chopped ginger
2 red chillies
1-2 pieces lemongrass, white ends finely sliced
3/4 cup soy sauce
? cup fish sauce
juice of 2-3 limes
a handful of coriander, chopped
Boil a large pot of water. Drop the squid rings in and cook for 2-3 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
Combine all ingredients with the squid and toss well. Marinate in the fridge overnight (or at least three hours). Eat with a fork or on a picnic, just with your fingers, but watch out for the drips!
How editorial style guides help make your publications more professional.
If you are not familiar with the concept of editorial style guides, read on for an explanation of what they are, why you might want one, who uses them and what they cover. Also included is a simple way to go about developing a house style guide for your organisation.
What is an editorial style sheet, guide or manual?
Style, in this context, has nothing to do with graphic design, the font you choose or even the tone or type of language you use. An editorial style guide records decisions you have made about how to present certain things in the writing you produce. When you write anything new for your business, you can check the style guide for the styles used in previous publications. Examples are: idiosyncratic spellings; whether you use an em dash or an en dash (see below); or how to present numbers and dates. There is no right or wrong about style decisions, but once you have established a style, it is best to stick to it and be consistent. Otherwise, your writing could look unprofessional and sloppy.
Why should I care?
People judge by appearances. Most of us dress to demonstrate our professionalism to our clients, and keep any public areas in our offices tidy. Attention to detail can be even more important in the documents produced by a business. They must be spelt correctly, grammatical - and presented in a consistent style. You don't want potential clients wondering what other things you can't be bothered to get right. Additionally, when a business has a defined house style, staff and consultants can refer to it in order to produce material that is consistent with other house publications.
Who uses them?
Book editors have a separate style sheet for each book; publishers also have an overall house style. The Australian Government has a style guide: Style Manual for authors, editors and printers, currently in its thoroughly revised sixth edition, which covers all governmental publications. This manual is a useful reference for anyone producing publications of any type within Australia as the default style, for anything not covered in a specific style sheet or guide. Businesses, too, benefit from having a house style, recorded in a style guide. It can be anything from one page to a booklet, and will set the style for any publication made for the business, in print or electronic form.
What goes into a style guide?
Things that may be covered in a style guide include:
Developing a house style doesn't need to be complicated. A simple way is to start a guide while working on your next publication. Make a few preliminary decisions, and then add more to the guide as they come up with each new publication. This is much less overwhelming than trying to think of every eventuality all at once.
As a copywriter, I like to begin by asking the client for a style sheet or manual, if there is one. If not, I will create one for the publications I am working on. I present this early on, so the decisions I make can be approved. Then if required, I submit the end result with the final copy, so the client can use and build upon it in the future.
You can access the template that I use for a single publication style sheet below. Start adding your own style decisions, and you're on your way to having your own house style.
(c)Linnet Good 16 February 2009. Linnet Good, of Goodscribble, is a copywriter, editor and desktop publisher. You are welcome to reproduce this article, but please acknowledge the author. No editing/omissions/additions to the article text without prior approval. Linnet can be contacted at email@example.com.
If I read 'loose' for 'lose' one more time in a newsletter or blog post, I think I may scream.
Proofreading really should not be viewed as an optional extra when it comes to business communications. Your credibility and professionalism are called into question every time you produce an error of this kind. Once or twice in a blue moon can be forgiven-we all make mistakes-but more than that, it just looks sloppy.
Proofreading your own writing is difficult, because you are so close to the material. It is much better to have another person look over it, and ideally, that person should understand the rules of spelling, grammar and syntax. A professional proofreader doesn't have to cost a lot, and they bring expertise as well as fresh eyes to the job.
Failing that, print out the copy, take it and a pencil somewhere quiet, and go over it slowly. Proofreading requires concentration. Do it after a good break from the writing, preferably after a night's sleep.
Make several passes through the document to catch different things: spelling, extra/missing spaces, consistency of terms or headings, etc. A good trick for catching spelling errors is to go backwards through the text, looking at each word. To catch clumsy phrasing and other errors, read the whole thing through out loud. Check headings, links, names, phone numbers and addresses. Use a good dictionary and thesaurus for checking words, meanings and alternatives.
Publishing or posting well-checked copy is worth the effort, since it reflects on your business. Printed disasters can be pulped, but online communications stay on the web for a long, long time, and will turn up any time someone Googles you. It's good to keep that in mind every time you write something online, even if it's only a tiny comment.
(c)Linnet Good 30 June 2009. Linnet Good, of Goodscribble, is a copywriter, editor and desktop publisher. You are welcome to reproduce this article, but please acknowledge the author. No editing/omissions/additions to the article text without prior approval. Linnet can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Goodscribble was founded in 2008 by Linnet Good, a freelance copywriter, editor and desktop publisher. When she is not writing website copy, brochures, articles and the like, Linnet writes (here) about some of the things that have been going on around her. Her craft blog can be found at thecraftorialist.com.