Are you annoyed by people who immediately point out flaws? So am I. This is especially true when someone creates a numbered list of flaws, as if there were a lot more to mention but they were sparing me by shortening the list.
That said, here’s a list of six mistakes a lot of people make with the written content on their websites.
Reprinting your brochures: I have nothing against brochures. I write them. I read them, especially at the dentist’s office before I skim the outdated magazines. Brochures have a friend in me. But people relate to words differently online than on paper. Think about it. When was the last time you went to flip your monitor to the next web page? Therefore, do not paste your brochures’ content into your website and call it a day, especially if your printed collateral hasn’t been updated in a couple years. Your website content needs to be dynamic to engage your audience, clarify the main call to action, complement your design and imagery, and reveal your personality because users demand a different experience online. Yes, you should create continuity between your printed and online materials, but each channel provides opportunities to be creative in different ways. It’s like a jazz quartet. Encourage your drummer to explore within the construct of the song; you don’t want the drummer’s solo to mimic the pianist’s but all should work together while retaining their individual, unique sounds.
Allowing content to get moldy: What’s that smell? Neglect. It’s that blog that hasn’t been updated in several months. It’s that page that refers to product details and user instructions that are no longer accurate. It’s that bio and email link to the woman who was promoted a while back but still receives requests tied her previous role because the information is old. My colleague Michelle has mentioned this before, but it bears repeating that your website requires regular attention to maintain relevancy and portray your brand attributes accurately. How often you review your site depends on your specific situation: number of pages, the types of information they include, blog, news/announcement page, etc. But it’s good practice to view your site with a critical eye and identify areas where updates are necessary. This could be something as obvious as an internal promotion. Or it could be something more subjective, such as that witty pop culture reference you made on a product page six months ago that might feel a bit played out now.
Publishing typos: There are some surefire ways to undermine your credibility. One, you can go out for a skinny-mocha-chitté-frothy-soy milk-flambé-drizzled-with-liquid-gold-but-hold-the-sugar at your favorite coffee salon right after telling me how you like to keep things simple. Two, you can publish web content riddled with typos. Hey, we all make mistakes and sometimes they end up in public. It happens occasionally, and it’s infuriating. So you need an internal system where, at the very least, one other person is proofreading content before it hits your site because you can damage your brand otherwise. You don’t want to end up like the minister who found some unsavory characters at his doorstep looking for Zumba classes because his website guaranteed the best results when “exercising demons.”
Ignoring your audience: Good listeners are endearing. You can see the impact on people when you remember a small detail about their lives that they told you in a previous conversation. Being a good listener online means using your analytics tools to research the topics people are searching through your site search tool and through search engine referrals and then writing more content about those topics. Treat your website and blog as you would an interesting conversation at a party. You certainly will be able to discuss topics that interest you, but make the effort to dig below the surface on topics that appeal to the other person, too. Your ability to engage on your audience’s terms and deliver good insight will reveal you to be thoughtful, helpful and informative.
Unclear action: Think of yourself giving an impassioned speech to a large group of people. You’re saying all the right words. Your delivery is flawless. You have the crowd’s full attention. People start shouting, “Yeah! That’s right!” And just as you build up your audience’s energy and emotions, you walk away suddenly and silently. People will do one of two things: They will follow through on the emotional build-up and figure out what you wanted them to do next. Or they’ll stand around looking at each other, shrug their shoulders and move on. This is what happens when you engage people with your content but fail to tell them where to go or what to do. Be clear and lead the way with your words. Then provide a trackable mechanism (e.g., contact form) to learn more about your products and services.
Dismissing punctuation: Tiny marks. Huge impact. Enough said.
Being fearful: I’m convinced some people were traumatized in school when their English teachers forced them to diagram sentences. Or maybe it happened when a professionally frustrated professor spilled red ink all over your thesis because he was having a bad day. Whatever the case, writing freaks out some people. By extension, these people avoid writing any more words than absolutely necessary, and this angst makes them want to hurryupandwritethissentencesoIcanbedonewithitalready! That’s not a good approach because it leads to some of these mistakes that repel your audience. Slow down. Relax. Take your time. Words are your friends. But like any good relationship, you need to spend a lot of time with them so you can feel comfortable and understand each other better. Consider hiring a professional writer to make that connection for you and put words to work on your website.
Words and I go way back. If you’re a little nervous about words or you’re not sure why your relationship with them isn’t clicking, allow me to smooth things over on your behalf. I’ll help you overcome these common web content mistakes with my experience writing for websites and additional offline outlets. Just contact ZAG Interactive and we can discuss your projects.
Doug Malan is senior writer at ZAG Interactive, a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT. To discuss your writing needs with ZAG, call 860.633.4818 or send an email.