WM Commentary: Dress for Website Success

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By Mike Phillips, Senior Editor

They say you should always dress for the job you want. It’s true — just ask the FreeCreditReport.com hipster. When it comes down to it, those who look the part usually get it. We live and work in a largely superficial world. As marketers, retailers and publishers, the perceptions others have of our websites and brands are inextricably linked to our ultimate success.

How is your website design holding up these days? Do you look amateurish next to your competitors? Are vital links easy to find — and do they all work? What about load time?

We do a lot of research around here. And while information abounds, trustworthy information is much harder to find. There are times when I might come across an interesting bit of information that warrants further investigation. But sometimes that nugget is buried in a pile of visual misery. Lime green backgrounds with yellow type, text that overruns the borders of the page, flashing ads all over the place ... it all adds up to lessen the value of the information on the page. It’s hard for me to trust what I’m being told when I feel like a sucker for looking at the website in the first place — not to mention terrified to click a link for more information. A site like Wikipedia isn’t exactly a beauty. But they have the luxury of being a valued, known resource. You don’t.

More and more, consumers expect to find your business in multiple places — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and so on. Is your Twitter background consistent with the appearance of your website? It should be. Take a quick look at every portal on which your company has a presence. Is your brand immediately recognizable, or do you have to look for similarities?

Appearances must be kept. Avoid that photo of you from college with the beer-can pyramid for your Twitter profile. Keep your personal Facebook profile far, far away from your business page. And set up separate YouTube channels — clients don’t need to see a trip to the family fishing hole along side “a message from the CEO.”

You’re a professional.

But its not just design; what about your website copy? Pay attention to every word published on your website and in your ads ... or anywhere else, for that matter. Take your time and read over everything you write. Use a spell checker. Did someone on your team major in English? Use them to proof your writing.

You don’t need to be a professional copy editor or possess the wit of Mark Twain. Let’s face it — writing about products and services isn’t exactly poetry. And, there are times when a casual or conversational tone is appropriate. But more often than not, that’s not the case. The point is, if it’s used to discuss your business make it business-worthy. You wouldn’t possibly hang a misspelled banner outside a brick-and-mortar store, would you?

You’re a professional.

And what about your company’s most valuable resource? In the end, you represent your company. We might be connected by cables and satellites these days, but most critical times in business occur in person. Just because you can optimize your SEO campaign in your underwear doesn’t mean you should carry that attitude to the next company meeting or industry conference. Jeans and loafers made you a forward-thinking maverick before the dot-com bust. Now it just looks like you’re another person with a getrich- quick idea and no real business experience. The same goes for your company’s physical, personal touch points. Go ahead and spend the extra $20 on the glossy business cards.

After all, you’re a professional.

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PatrickF 10-09-2009 3:40 PM

I was once told that perception is 98% of reality. The further I get into my life now almost 50 the more I understand where that phrase originated. I struggle with the fact that a large part of my story is a not-so-pleasant photograph taken by my daughter the day after my massive heart attack. Not exactly the image I would like to put front and center, but still a "must show" image.

JoyceB 10-09-2009 4:34 PM

Actually, good poetry and good product copy have a lot in common (every word has to count). Writing good copy is significantly more difficult. Waxing rhapsodic about your doe-eyed lover isn't so hard; romancing a concrete duck, on the other hand, is a challenge few can master.

Setting aside obvious typos and spelling errors, most online product copy is frankly cringe-worthy.

Try this on for size: "A charming presentation for hard boiled eggs may be accessorized by bacon and biscuits." Huh?

Or my current favorite: "Often times the begrudged handiwork of a young girl, such embroidery would plea good karma." Believe it or not, this was written by a native English speaker. Probably with an English degree.

Copywriting is an art completely unlike any other kind of writing. An English degree does not a copywriter make. Period. College English produces academic writers, specifically tasked with stringing together a specific number of words and using them in a grammatically correct manner; the info content is secondary - the very antithesis of copywriting.

Proofing your blog to academic English standards would most likely turn the compelling (and grammatically odd) "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country" into the sensible (and correct per 6th grade online reading level standards) "Don't ask what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." Which one sells you? Which is all to say, don't let your pet English major suck the life out of your marketing copy by making it "correct" -- you're trying to earn money, not a GPA.

Even better, if you want compelling online copy that will actually sell your product and boost conversion, do yourself a favor and hire a professional copywriter.

JackD 10-10-2009 5:06 AM

Very good advice, Mike! I like your points about design, photos and copy.

As far as copy, the biggest flaw I see in websites is that they tell what the company does, but not what it does for the consumer or whay they should choose you. After all, we all know that a plumber can fix my toliet, but why should I choose YOU over the other nine on the first page of Google?

AprillJ 10-11-2009 3:17 PM

I agree with Joyce B. A professional copywriter can make all the difference in any content realm. Don't delegate us to proofreader so quickly or so readily.

By the way, there is a typo in your first sentence about copy. The word should be 'it's" not "its." : )

Monique Schlosser 10-16-2009 10:23 AM

Great article.  I love what you said about the design of your website. How facebook, twitter, etc, the design should be consistent with your website.

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