When you’re trying to grow your business, do bookkeeping, handle the latest supply chain issues, answer phones, file tax returns, and manage employees– not to mention actually doing the actual work of providing services or products– the LAST thing you may want to take on is writing the content for your own website.
You’re not alone in that. A blank page and a note from your web developer that they need ‘the content for your about page’ can be overwhelming.
As a web developer, I make the process easier than that by providing “stubbed-out” content and personalized thought-starting questions designed to help you get over that blank-page obstacle and make some content as easy as fill in the blanks. But in the end, no one knows your business better than you.
You don’t have to enjoy writing to end up with great content for your site. Your expertise in your business and a little brainstorming about your customers is all you need to bring to the table. Along with that, though, here’s some pitfalls to avoid and practical tips that can help you come up with the perfect words.
Tip #1: Speak as if you’re talking directly to an individual customer, and remember the problem they want to solve.
Speak the customer’s language. A common issue I see with small business website content (copy) is the use of elevated, corporate-sounding language. This really puts up a block between the business and its customers, even though it’s meant to give the impression of professionalism and trustworthiness.
A good way to combat this is to read your copy out loud. This can highlight words or phrases that sound awkward coming out of your own mouth– if it’s not something you’d normally say, it probably doesn’t belong on your website.
Probably the most important bit of copy to get right on your website is the main headline on your front page. This is usually a short statement that can be seen without scrolling, in the section right below your logo and main navigation. This is the first thing that customers will see, often when they are not at all familiar with your business– they may have searched for a keyword and have clicked several of the results on the search engine results page and you’re one of the results.
It’s critical that this headline be short and clear. How clear? If you were to explain what you do in your business to a ten-year-old, that’s the level of clarity that your headline should aim for. That doesn’t mean your headline should actually be what you’d say to that ten year old, but it should be that clear.
In fact, the rest of your copy should aim for a maximum of an 8th grade reading level. There are tools online, like the Hemingway writing app, which can evaluate your writing and give you a grade level.
It is widely agreed that Google uses the reading level difficulty of the text on your website as a ranking signal, ie, a factor in where you stand in the search engine results pages. This is understandable since most people are consuming the content on your website by skipping and scanning for the parts that are important to them– not reading it like it’s a novel or a textbook.
In other words, they’re only half paying attention, so make it easy to follow.
(It’s true that this doesn’t apply to literally everyone, but it’s the only safe assumption. Kind of like how road signs are designed to give you the safe maximum speed in a low-traction scenario like wet roads or old tires.)
Again, I want to make it clear that great website copy doesn’t mean writing for 8th graders. Your audience is unique and you should write for them. But if you aim for that 8th-grade reading level, you’ll tend to write punchier, more readable copy for a potentially distracted audience.
For more tips on writing clearly for your audience, a great resource is this US government backed website: https://www.plainlanguage.gov/guidelines/audience/. Check it out!
Every piece of content on your website is really, in the end, about the customer and their problem, the problem you hope to solve for them.
That even includes the “About Us” page. Mentioning how long you’ve been in business is fine, but make it a part of a larger story of why you’re in business. For example, “Plumbing service with 45 years’ experience,” becomes “Keeping everything flushing and flowing at your home or business for 45 years,” with thanks to Mr. Rooter Plumbing for that turn of phrase. The first is a bit of self-praise, and the second is a promise of how you can solve the customer’s problem!
If you are stumped for how to speak to your customer’s problems and show how you can solve them, read your customer reviews. If you don’t have any yet, read your competitor’s reviews. These are a goldmine of information on how your customers are talking and thinking about their problems and how they were solved.
Tip #2: Answer the most common questions related to your business.
For many businesses, the number one most common question is “How much will it cost?” That’s why so many websites have “pricing” pages prominently linked in their primary navigation menus.
It’s good to address the question of “how much,” even if the answer is “it depends.” A lot of business owners don’t like to give this info because they feel more comfortable selling it over the phone– but you may miss out on those who are just hitting that back button because they are looking for that number, or at least the ballpark idea. So if there’s variables to your pricing, just describe what those variables are.
Make it as detailed as possible. Sometimes, especially for high-ticket items, the question of “How much is it?” is really “Is it worth it?” If you answer the real question, even if they don’t come away with a number, they are likely to be satisfied.
Tip #3: Educate your customer on the number one drawback to your service or product.
This might sound bad when I say it so bluntly, but you don’t have to put it in so many words. The fact is, your customers are already comparing the pros and cons, so lean into it, acknowledge the drawback, and tell them why you are (or your product is) the right choice after all. Who would you rather they hear it from– you, or your competition?
As an example, one of my longtime customers does tree, lawn and landscape management. Their number one tool is careful chemical treatment. In the beginning days of their business, they really tried to emphasize the non-chemical treatments they used, the mechanical methods of keeping unwanted vegetation down (like weedwhackers).
But in reality, for the types of jobs they take on, using the appropriate chemicals is the best way to do the job. It’s more effective, it’s relatively safe, it results in healthier trees and shrubs, and it is a better buy for their customers’ money– if they were simply cutting the weeds down, they’d have to return much more often. So for all these reasons and more, they’d built a successful business using chemical spraying.
Their website did not reflect this, because that word “chemical” seemed a little bit too controversial.
It seemed easier to just talk about it in person or on the phone– it’s easier to have a conversation that way. It’s easier to talk about the “hard parts” of our business, like how much it costs or the pros and cons of our methods, when we can “read the room” and know the customer is receptive or not.
But if we shy away from these things, it just leads to frustration from customers, or frustration on our part when we find we’re chasing business that really just isn’t into us.
On the other hand, if we address the elephant in the room, we’ll be gaining the trust of our customers and showing we really want to answer their questions transparently, that we value informing and educating over selling.
That’s the only way to sell without being sales-y and feeling gross: really care, and really tell them the truth.
As a side effect, in the case of the chemical landscape managers, they found that when their website’s content reflected the actual conversations that they usually only had in person, their organic search traffic drastically increased. Because they were finally writing to their actual customers: people who were open to and actively looking for experts to care for their landscape using chemical spraying.
You can get these results too– by speaking as if directly to your customer, addressing their needs and problems, answering the questions they ask before they ask them, and educating them in a transparent and authentic way.