April 5, 2017

Your website isn’t about you. It’s about your visitors.

4 minute read, in Marketing / Method & Craft

Like a restaurant visit, a retail experience, or really any consumer touch-point, your job gets easier over time when you maintain the willing suspension of disbelief your prospects bring to their interactions with your brand.

You know how in your dreams wacky things can happen without striking you as such until something clues you in that the world you’re immersed in isn’t real? We’re trying to help your website visitors avoid that moment.

Of course reading a website is real, not a dream. So a better analogy might be going to a movie. As a patron, you know it’s not real because you walked in, bought popcorn, put on 3D glasses and turned down your phone before the lights went out.

But once the lights go out you flip a mental switch and give the movie a shot at driving your perceptions for a while. If the film makers do their job, they’ll avoid creating friction that distracts you from your reverie. If they do it really well, they’ll have seeded ideas for you to noodle on later.

A website works the same way. A visitor navigates to your site with a relatively open mind. It’s the brand’s responsibility to avoid creating friction that distracts visitors from their willingness to absorb the story you’re telling them.

There are many factors that can reinforce the strength of your visitors’ focus. And more that can make their attention go up in a puff of smoke. The worst part is that many of these distracting frictions are beyond your control–billions of websites they can navigate to, calendar and other notifications in their browsers pinging them back to reality, and plenty of distractions from outside the screen.

Our attention spans ain’t what they used to be.

So if we can all agree that the open mind visitors bring to their interaction with your website (or any of our communications for that matter) is a precious mindset we need to do everything we can to extend, here are a few writing tactics for keeping your website visitors mentally on your side

Keep making sense.
From the initial claim in the headline to the organization of the case you’re making to them, structure a good argument. Remember to answer two questions in everything you share: “What’s the point?” and “why should I care?”

Make it about them.
Say “you” more than “we”. In fact, question whether you need to say “we” anywhere that you’re referring to your brand. As opposed to the collective “we”, when you’re reinforcing that your brand is made up of humans, just like readers/we’re all in this together.

Be useful.
Actually informing people is a great way to not only keep them hooked, but to build the impression that you’re a credible, trustworthy organization. Maybe even an expert.

Be conversational.
Your brand’s personality can dictate how colloquial you get in your prose, but talking to readers instead of at them is critical. The most erudite scholars appreciate you keeping your language straightforward. Feel free to use jargon where appropriate for niche technical audiences, but avoid mistaking formal writing for professional writing.

Avoid obvious talk (the most common offender).
In a context where:

  • People are in a hurry and easily distracted
  • You’re trying to build trust/credibility
  • You’re trying to convince a reader you’re different and worth following up with, forwarding to someone else, or at least filing for later

Less is more.
And in your effort to define what can go, the first thing to jettison is the stuff that wakes people from their reverie. The stuff that reminds readers that you’re just another service provider, indistinguishable from your competitors.

The easiest way to figure out what’s obvious is to flip it around and state the opposite. If the opposite is absurd, then what you’re saying is probably a given. Obvious. Unnecessary.

“We strive for excellence in all our interactions”.

It may be true, but isn’t this really the bar for entry? Anyway, do the flip test and the opposite is clearly absurd: “We do not strive for excellence in all our interactions”.

Dump it and say something that speaks to your difference. Or better yet, something that speaks to the reader’s needs.

A friend of mine who used to take a week off work to catch as many films as humanly possible during the madness that is the Toronto International Film Festival once told me that a good film starts when you leave the theatre. When you get people thinking and talking. Branding, and arguably long sales funnels work the same way. As long as you don’t disturb your audience’s willing suspension of disbelief.

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