Articles Tagged with Web sites & online

Make it easy for readers to find and understand messages

Running a business is a complex challenge. Whatever the size of organisation, many processes need to run smoothly, while a number of statutory bodies require tax, accounting, health and safety and many more regulations to be observed.

How do you get your people to know this and recognise the importance of compliance?

Many organisations create manuals and intranets outlining important procedures, but do people read them?

Making information accessible is important if employees are to use materials in the course of their work. People need to know they can find the information they need fast.

Easy-to-use indexes and navigation

Readers will find a manual more useful if it is structured so that they can find what they need fast in contents or index pages or flick through the main body and see what they want in a heading.

An easy-to-navigate intranet or web site will also be more useful if viewers can find what they’re looking for fast.

Clear explanations

Once a reader has found the information they want, they have to be able to understand it. People tend to consult reference material when they don’t understand something and need an explanation. To provide what they want, manuals and web sites need to provide clear explanations without using jargon and without waffle.

If people can’t find what they’re looking for once or twice, they probably won’t bother trying a third time. And if they can’t understand explanations when they do find the right section, they’ll think the material is a waste of their time.

More importantly, if staff cannot understand important processes or regulations, what impact will it have on your business? Could it reduce productivity or, worse, prevent the business from meeting legal requirements?

Useful resources improve business

If you are going to the expense of creating reference material for employees, you’ll get the best value if they find it easy to use and it helps them do their jobs. It’ll also help maintain productivity and ensure your business meets any legal obligations.

Does your writing sell your products and services online?

So you have a web site and a blog, but why? What do they do for you?

Most businesses have a web site as a brochure to showcase their products, as a shop to sell their products or as the actual product itself (eg entertainment or other content).

Apart from personal web sites which could have any purpose, most business web sites are created to sell products or services. They can do this using hard sell or very softly, building relationships, which the blog approach is well suited to help.

The test of whether a business web site is successful is not how much traffic it attracts, how many page views or even how long a visitor spends on the site, but whether it leads a target group of potential customers to take a specific step to buy. This could be sending an email or making a phone call. These are the actions we aim to achieve, as we are selling services which we tailor to each specific client’s needs.

In the past weeks we have received such contact from potential clients precisely matching our target profile, which has led to meetings, quotations and ultimately, we hope, actual business.

What sells us to these clients? The words on our web sites. They persuade the client that we are credible and lead to that all important contact so that they approach us rather than thousands of other suppliers also promoting themselves online.

Taking the process forward, meeting, negotiating and quoting depend on our inter-personal skills, but without that initial contact we wouldn’t have these leads.

Preparing your web site so that it not only persuades potential customers to contact you, but ensures they are the customers you want to attract (and not time-wasters) is critical to selling products and services successfully online.

But you have to know what you are setting out to achieve before you start.

Managing long documents effectively

When commissioned to proofread magazines, newsletters, reports, manuals and web sites before they are sent to print or published on the internet, often we find major inconsistencies throughout the document, which require considerable rewriting or editing. Sometimes there isn’t enough time to do this and the document is produced with only the worst errors and typos corrected.

Anyone producing a long document can avoid this by assuming the role of editor and managing production from start to finish. By using style guides for both the visual and written content, you can ensure consistency through contributions from many writers, illustrators and designers. 

And because you’re monitoring progress all the time, you won’t be faced by the need to make impossible changes just before going to print or publication. 

It’ll save you time, money and hassle, and also result in a better publication.

Download our free prompt sheet on managing long documents effectively or if you want someone to edit your long document for you, call us on 0845 200 7830 or email us.

Avoid the credit crunch!

There’s quite a bit of doom and gloom in the press and media about the credit crunch, house price falls, consumer confidence and all manner of economic disaster.

As a business, what do you do? Bury your head in the sand and hope it doesn’t happen? Or panic?

Well, there is another way. Make sure your business is fit to compete in a toughening marketplace.

One of the ways to do this is to increase your marketing efforts when others are cutting them. How? Assess all your marketing material: brochures, web sites, sales letters and all customer communications to make sure that every one is up-to-date and promotes your current products and services.

Will it increase your costs at a time when you want to reduce them? A freelance copywriter, proofreader or other specialist should be able to help you revitalise your material at a reasonable cost. And if they help you to increase sales, it won’t be a cost at all.

On the other hand, there are many things you can do yourself and we offer a range of useful free prompts and checklists to guide you through these.

So don’t panic – strengthen your marketing armoury and win more business.

Robert Zarywacz

That’s a very long page – yawn!

One of the main uses of web sites is to sell – everything from expensive property and high cost business services to things you want to get rid of on an auction site.

There are many different approaches to writing sales copy and, as a copywriter, I prefer the concise approach. Yet I have to concede that single-page web sites filled with text that seems to extend for many fathoms under my computer screen must be effective or businesses would not use them.

This doesn’t mean that I like or approve of them. Personally, when I am looking to buy something, I don’t like being treated like an idiot. I look for specific information, e.g. details of the product’s specification, price, delivery options. I do not want to be told 20 times that the product is “fantastic”. After all, I write marketing copy and I wouldn’t describe anything as fantastic, because the term has been over-used.

When I come across these long single-page web sites, I leave them unread. Perhaps the product is good, perhaps it isn’t, but the selling message has turned me away.

What does this mean? That different writing formats work for different people, so it’s important to address your target audience in a way to which they will respond. The wrong approach could alienate them.

I still won’t write text for long single-page web sites. At least, there are plenty of other formats I am happy to write and which keep me busy.

Robert Zarywacz

O is for original. Content is satisfaction

While there are considerable arguments for recycling natural resources where viable, I’m not so keen when this is applied to writing. Too much of the content of web sites, newspapers and magazines is recycled.

How much value to visitors is there from a bought-in or free newsfeed on a web site? If I am looking for detailed information on a specific topic or am shopping for a particular item, I don’t want to be distracted by international news stories. If I want news, I get it from a news site. In fact, I usually ignore much of the rubbish at the periphery of web pages and when I do notice it I wonder why it is there before moving on.

If sites add this type of content to earn money from affiliate schemes and other paid incentives, it’s understandable why they do it, although it still doesn’t enrich the visitor experience.

As a writer, I’m biased: I want to see original content every time. But even I realise that I can’t write it all and I don’t want to. On many occasions, I’ve read about the ‘democracy’ created by the internet and this is one instance where there’s an opportunity for all web site owners, whether professional writers or not, to make their own voices heard.

So let’s cut the recycling and see more original content. I’m sure it will satisfy a lot more people.

Robert Zarywacz

Why is copywriting important?

No business can function without words. Whenever you draw up a contract, give an instruction to an employee or answer the phone, you use words to communicate.

But you can’t use any old words.

Often, a few, well-chosen words will convey a message more effectively than pages and pages of text.

Appropriate communications

Just imagine the shopfloor of a department store. You probably won’t see a sign saying: “Please select the goods you wish to buy, place them in your shopping basket, then go to the checkout next to the fire exit where our staff will scan them, take payment and wrap your purchases.”

But you probably will see a sign saying:

“PAY HERE”

The first sign is more accurate, but when you’re scanning the horizon for a checkout it’s unlikely to catch your attention, whereas the shorter, less comprehensive statement actually tells you all you need to know at that stage.

The “pay here” message works because it is appropriate. This is important, because there are so many ways we can use language to communicate and in each case the writing must suit the purpose.

Adopting a suitable style

For example, a business producing two newsletters – one for its customers and another for its employees – will probably use different styles for each audience. It is likely to adopt a more serious tone for its customers, to ensure it appears professional, while the employee newsletter will tend to feature more light-hearted, even irreverent articles to entertain staff.

But that does not mean that customer newsletters shouldn’t include light-hearted content or that employee newsletters should not include serious articles about the company. Generally, each newsletter will adopt a tone finely tuned to its specific audience. And this is where the skill of the copywriter comes into play. Understanding the message that needs to be communicated and the style most likely to succeed with the target audience is crucial.

After all, a brochure aimed at selling music to a teenage audience is unlikely to succeed if it is crammed with long paragraphs of text, while a magazine aimed at readers of epic literature is unlikely to be filled with jokes and gags.

Targeting

So knowing your audience – or your market – and the best way of communicating with them is very important.

In business, people like to receive their information in different ways – from business magazines to web sites, text messages, brochures and detailed technical documents. If we are trying to communicate with a specific group of people, we’ll have more chance of succeeding if we use the method of communicating that they find works best for them.

Can I write it myself?

Yes. Why not?

Some people are perfectly capable of writing good copy. Others may find it more difficult or not have the confidence. If you can write good copy yourself, there’s no reason why you should not write your own text for your brochures, web site or press releases, other than whether it is the best use of your time. Do you do your own accounts, your own legal advice, selling or IT support? Probably not, because you don’t have the time to do them all. You’ve got to run your business.

Tips for good writing

• Develop your own style. See how other people write, by all means, but the best writing comes from ourselves.

• Don’t use jargon. Assume everyone reading your copy knows nothing about the subject.

• Keep it short. People are bombarded with so much information these days that many will not even bother to read something that looks long-winded. Length does not guarantee quality.

• Check your spelling: it does make a difference. Use a dictionary rather than a spell-checker.

• If you’re unsure of your grammar and punctuation, start writing in a simple style and develop it as you become more confident.

• Sometimes grammatically correct writing does not sound right. It’s nearly always better for your writing to sound natural, so learn the rules, but know when to break them to avoid clumsy-sounding text.

• Check your writing by reading it aloud. Does it sound natural? Or ask a colleague or friend to read it. It’s better that someone close to you spots any mistakes before you send it out to the rest of the world.

Words are a powerful tool

Always remember that words are a very powerful business tool. Whether you’re writing text for a brochure or a presentation or speech, words can achieve a lot – often at little cost to yourself.

Although you may not have a big budget, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to communicate more effectively than your competitors, and many small businesses are better at communicating than bigger ones.

• You can find more practical advice and prompt sheets at www.editorialresources.co.uk

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