How to plan and write website language

Whether you’re developing a new website or revamping your existing site, spend some time writing effective text. Powerful language will complement the design and technological features of your website to give the viewer a more lasting impression.

Preparation

To begin, think about your viewers. Who are they and what else are they reading? This will help you write your website copy so that it stands out from online competition. Think about what you want viewers to know or believe about your company. This is your elevator speech put into written text. Then, decide what one action step you’d like viewers to take. You might want them to call you, send an e-mail or recommend your company to others. Choose which action step is most important to your business because you’ll want to remind viewers to do this multiple times across your website. Finally, decide on a tone of voice for your website copy. What makes sense for your industry and your individual personality?

Landing/home page

Visuals are important on your landing page so the copy needs to be short and sweet. Just one or two sentences describing your offering will be the most effective. Your logo and branding colours should be prominent. Less is more on this page. Viewers can click through to other sections to read further information about your company.

About

In this section, include background about your company including its origins and mission. Explain why you started the business and why you are qualified to provide what you’re selling. Establish your credibility by describing your qualifications and experience. This could be a place to describe how your company is different from competitors, if the differences relate to your background. Include your call to action (call, e-mail, etc) and relate it to finding out more about your experience.

Services/offering

This is where you show the reader exactly what you’re selling. Use lists, columns, buttons or other interesting formats to break up long text. If your list of services is very long, break it up into sub-sections with smaller components listed underneath. Make sure your offering is understandable to people outside of your specific industry; it’s ok to use simple language followed by a more specific product definition.  This section is another area where you can describe how your product is different from competitors. Again, include your call to action and relate it to the viewer’s need for what you’re selling.

What others say

Testimonials and quotes from existing clients make great selling points. These could be sprinkled throughout the other sections of the website, or you could gather them into their own area. Include photos of clients if you can. Don’t forget your call to action on this page as well.

Work samples/portfolio

Depending on what you’re selling, show viewers in this section some of the previous work you’ve done or other clients you’ve supported. Case studies work well as brief stories about how your product helped a client solve a problem or challenge. If appropriate, professional photos or images of your offering should be included. This is the place to demonstrate how your product or service has benefitted other clients. Make viewers want to join your impressive roster of clients. And remind them to get in touch through your call to action.

News/blog

While not essential, you might want to consider a section where you can post regular blogs, articles or other news pieces. This is your opportunity to show interest in industry trends, demonstrate your expertise and showcase your point of view. Despite my advice to clients, I took ages to commit to a blog! But I’ve learned that it needn’t be time-consuming or rigidly scheduled. If you’re unsure, ask your website designer to include a tab in the design but you don’t need to activate it until you’re ready. Your call to action belongs in this section as well.

Contact

Include your location, telephone number and e-mail address. My designer recommended a link to my Twitter account on this page so the website is regularly updating.

Remember that your website is your ‘shopfront’ so make it personable and welcoming. Try to be yourself in your copy. After all, the language is representing your company so it needs to be authentic. Finally, work with a website designer to really make the most of the latest technology and graphics. I’ve posted a few recommendations for friendly and professional designers here.

Happy writing and do let me know if you need help with your website copy!

Knowing the audience in 2015

One of my most interesting writing projects in 2015 was developing a new brochure for parents of children with epilepsy. The marketing goal was to educate this group of parents about the benefits of Vagus Nerve Stimulation Therapy (VNS) as an option to help reduce the occurrence and severity of seizures. But I appreciated the opportunity to ‘know the audience’ before beginning to write the new promotional piece.

I visited Great Ormond Street Hospital, Southampton Children’s Hospital and the Neville Childhood Epilepsy Centre to meet with nurses, parents and children with epilepsy who were using VNS therapy. Through surveys and interviews, I learned what it’s like to care for children with epilepsy and how treatment decisions are made. Some of the insights gained were new to the client, so valuable in and of themselves. Most importantly, I was able to write the new brochure in a way that reflected the target audience’s specific situations and addressed their concerns.

‘Know your audience’ is a theme for me because I believe it’s critical for effective communication. Sometimes there is no budget or time for hearing first-hand from a target audience, but the marketing results are usually poorer for it. I was pleased this client understood the importance of finding out what the target customers already knew and where knowledge gaps existed. And I’m happy to say the new brochure copy hits the mark.

curare bambini

Recipe #6: Massaman beef patties

Snipped from Sainsbury’s magazine, I had high hopes for this recipe because it looked like it could be made in one dish, featured plenty of fresh veg and included some new flavors. I was curious about ‘massaman curry paste’ and the rice vermicelli noodles made it gluten-free; a necessity for my coeliac husband. Finally, it was hard to resist a recipe that used the word ‘zesty’ in its description.

From the top, I found the promotion of this recipe as ‘burgers without the buns’ misleading as these don’t resemble traditional burgers at all. But I was pleased to make the vegetable mixture and beef patties in advance. While the recipe instructed me to slice the sugar snap peas in half, this only made the tiny half peas on the inside fall out, so I left my sugar snaps whole. The beef patties and veg could be stored in the fridge all day until they needed to be grilled just before dinner.

I hadn’t really cooked with instant rice vermicelli noodles before so I was thrilled at how quick and easy they are to use. I’ll definitely keep a supply of these in the cupboard for the future. As usual, I kept the dressing on the side so my little ones could add or not to taste. After everything was assembled in the roasting dish, the Asian aromas that came from the oven were enticing. Colorful and tasty, we all enjoyed the taste of the beef patties and the crunch of the fresh veg and peanuts in the dish.

With recipes written like this one, I find myself re-ordering the steps in my head, especially if I’m preparing part of the dish in advance. For example, I didn’t want to mix the dressing into the rest of the ingredients in advance, so I didn’t find it helpful when the instructions told me to use a particular bowl for the dressing and add other components. For me, this recipe didn’t quite achieve the right balance between too much instruction and not enough.

So, it’s a difficult Hungry Games call to make on Massaman beef patties: should it stay or go? Because the result was so tasty, I’m going to let this recipe stay in my kitchen. But I’ll probably make notes in the margin for next time.

Massaman beef patties

massaman beef patties COOKED

Recipe #5: Salmon, curly kale and sweet potato mash

This recipe was part of a newspaper supplement featuring healthy dishes. It appealed because I’m always trying to get my kids to enjoy fish rather than eat it under duress. One of them refuses salmon so I had to substitute with one piece of cod.

Ingredients were easy to find and I was pleased to use sweet potato for mash for some lovely autumn color. Similar to Recipe #4 with baked eggs, the tomato ratatouille could be made in advance and used over other dishes as well. The fish cooked quickly so the veg could be steamed while that was in the oven. Our kale didn’t look nearly as soft as the recipe photo so I’ll continue searching for a better way to prepare that super food.

Overall, this full-meal recipe was clearly written and simple to put together. The tomato ratatouille components combined well and helped my children enjoy eating fish. I added carrot and swede for even more color on the plate, but I’ll probably substitute the kale next time with a different green veg. Hungry Games verdict: this recipe can stay in my kitchen!

Salmon curly kale and sweet potato mash

salmon curly kale and sweet potato mash COOKED

Recipe #3: Roasted red pepper, ginger and prawn rice

After quite a long summer hiatus, The Hungry Games are back! I’ve held out and not purchased any new cookbooks as I’m trying to get through my pile of clipped recipes first. But Christmas is coming and I know I’ll want to put some cookbooks on my list for Santa … So I’ve been using my clipped recipes a lot in an effort to clear out some of the mess. Now it’s time to share the verdicts on whether these recipes will stay in my kitchen or be sent to the recycle bin.

Starting with Roasted red pepper, ginger and prawn rice –

This recipe looked colourful and I’m always eager to try meat-free meals as healthy alternatives. The idea of cooking everything in one dish also appealed to me to shorten cleaning time after dinner.

Ingredients for this dish were straightforward and easily found in the grocery store. I didn’t, however, read the rice item closely enough. The recipe actually calls for pre-cooked rice and quinoa but I don’t usually use this, so I had to quickly steam some rice and boil some quinoa before adding to the dish. Other than that, I enjoyed roasting the vegetables and did some of this in advance. After that, combining and cooking the rest of the dish took very little time. I kept the dressing on the side to suit my little one’s palate.

The prawns became a bit dry but the combination of roasted vegetables, onions, coriander and chilli made the dish robust and flavoursome. Hungry Games verdict: this recipe can stay!

roasted red pepper ginger and prawns

roasted red pepper ginger and prawns COOKED

Recipe #2: Sardines on toast

What makes a good recipe? We probably all have different answers to this, depending on whether we are cooking or just eating. For me, a good recipe should have:

-          Clear, sensible language

-          A short list of ingredients, all of which can be easily purchased

-          Realistic time estimates

-          A lovely photo

These criteria are strictly based on my own cooking style and limitations. My end results need to be within a rather narrow range of flavors to please two small children and a non-adventurous husband. I seem to like having an image of the dish to aim for, so I can see if I’ve ‘done it right’ at the end. At other points in my life, I may have added criteria such as ‘beautiful presentation’ but it’s not as important now. And I’m clearly not going to shop for exotic ingredients at specialist markets either. I predict that The Hungry Games will turn up some quite simple recipes because if they looked too complicated, I probably wouldn’t have clipped them in the first place.

So, here is a very straightforward lunch recipe for sardines on toast.

Because I work from a home office, I have the opportunity to make fresh lunches for myself. This one looked tasty, healthy and relatively easy. I omitted the red chillies because I’m a wimp when it comes to spice. But otherwise, my end result looked pleasingly similar to the recipe photo. The sardines added a hearty flavour that wasn’t too overpowering, as anchovies might have been. But I think that I should have added at least a bit of chili or another spice because my version lacked a fun kick without it.

Overall though, this recipe was a tiny treat that provided me with a quick but wholesome lunch. The Hungry Games verdict: it can stay in my kitchen!

Sardines on toast recipe

 

Sardines on toast finished

Recipe #1: Chicken tagine with lemon, honey, olives and fresh vegetables

I received a tagine as a Christmas gift and was excited to try it. It’s a beautiful object, which somehow made me optimistic that the food it cooked would be beautiful too.

The instruction booklet from Emile Henry included a few recipes so I thought it would be safe to start with one of those. The ingredients were straightforward and I used preserved lemon for the first time.

The cooking process started similarly to other stew recipes. I fried onions, garlic and the chicken right in the tagine on the stove top. Then I tried to bring the chicken pieces into a pyramid as instructed – harder than it sounds. The vegetables were then squeezed around the outside of the sagging pyramid. Much less liquid was added than when making a stew in a casserole dish with a lid.

Then the tagine went in the oven. That was it, pretty simple. Not far into the cooking time, I realized that I should have placed a baking sheet under the tagine because a lot of the liquid was bubbling up around the edges of the lid and dripping on to the bottom of the oven. About an hour and a half later, we sat down with the beautiful tagine in the centre of the table. Taking the lid off was quite dramatic as a plume of steam puffed out.

I’m disappointed to report an anti-climactic ending to this recipe. The chicken was very bland and my children asked if we could please try a different recipe next time – at least they were diplomatic! The turmeric in the sauce stained our tablecloth. I’ll beware of that hazard next time I use that spice. So between the burnt-smelling oven, the stained tablecloth and the unsatisfied family, The Hungry Games verdict is that this recipe will be going to the recycling bin.

I’m not giving up on the tagine, though. Another family member with a tagine has recommended a cookbook called Easy Tagine by Ghillie Basan. Maybe I’ll give that a go next time.

tagine

 

Chicken tagine with lemon, honey, olives and fresh vegetables

Effective communication: Know your audience

Previously, I wrote a few tips for effective communication including ‘know your audience.’ This is so important for making sure your written and verbal business communication makes a difference. When you put time and effort into developing a particular message or story, you’ll want to make sure it resonates with the right people. But how can you learn more about your target audience?

  • Ask questions

You probably have good business relationships with people similar to those you are trying to reach. Ask them how they make decisions about purchasing your type of product or service. What sources of information do they find credible? Who are their influencers? What do they look for when shopping and what factors tip them toward one provider over another? Try using LinkedIn to survey your contacts about a new message. While not scientific, the responses will give you insights about how your potential customer will receive your communication.

  • Read what they read

Find out what your audience cares about by reading their trade publications, looking at industry websites and scanning social media. What are the values of your target’s industry? What issues are your targets concerned about and what are their business challenges? Learn what type of corporate language your audience uses. You don’t need to mimic this in your communication, but make sure your style fits in. You could also attend conferences and events about your audience’s industry to hear about trends and align your messages.

  • Observe your own responses

Be a focus group of one by paying attention to your responses to persuasive messages. Are there particular stories that resonate with you? Think about why that communication broke through and made you want to take action. The messages may be completely unrelated to your business, but noting your responses will give you useful information. Why did a particular radio story make you visit a website? Why did you share a newspaper article you read? What was it about a blog post that prompted you to comment? What made you keep reading a particular website? Apply what you learn to your messages so they persuade your target audience to take action.

This audience research may take place over time. The important thing is to start somewhere with a bit of learning about your target. Don’t worry if you need to come back to it periodically.

All of this research about your target audience will increase your credibility. When you sit down to write your messages, all that you’ve learned will come through and demonstrate that you understand your target’s situation. Your communication will be meaningful to your audience and more likely to prompt action.

Best wishes for insightful audience research and effective business communication!

who

The Hungry Games – will the recipe stay or go?

One of my 2015 goals for Cristina Benson Communications is to provide marketing support to a food client. Partly because many independent restaurants and bakeries here in London are working hard to provide great food and I’d like to help them grow. But also because I love both the science and the art of food. I enjoy serving satisfying meals to my family and learning why a recipe did or didn’t work. So I’d like to combine my enjoyment of food with my copywriting day job.

I have a potential challenge in that I haven’t done much food writing outside of taking Guardian Masterclasses with Jay Rayner and Felicity Cloake. So, here, as part of this blog, I’m going to develop some experience writing about food.

It wasn’t hard to come up with a structure for The Hungry Games. Over the years, I’ve clipped, snipped and ripped so many recipes and shoved them in cookbooks in the hopes that someday I would try them.  Well, someday is here. I’m going to try all of these loose recipes and decide which ones can stay in my kitchen and which must go to the recycling bin. This isn’t District 12 so no one will go hungry. But all of my ragged recipes will compete as tributes so see which ones survive.

And at least my cookbooks will be a lot tidier in the end. Happy Hungry Games! And may the odds be ever in the best recipe’s favor . . .

pile of recipes

It’s what you say AND how you say it

The saying goes ‘It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.’ But I think we can do better. In business communication, I believe that both aspects matter:  what you say and how you say it.

What good would it do to write persuasive copy for a brochure about your product or service, then send the piece out with shoddy graphic design? What impact would an internal email about extra holiday time have on employees if it was written with convoluted phrases and jargon?

Unless we get both content and delivery right, we are unlikely to have the intended effect on our audiences. Focusing on only one half of the process is like leaving the job only half done. Smart businesses communicate powerful messages through effective messengers. For example, business leaders carefully choose every word of their speeches, and then deliver them with confidence and influence. The best websites offer compelling stories with appealing visuals.

Review your marketing content to ensure the explanation of what you offer is clear and persuasive. Limit your messages to hold the attention of your readers and motivate them to take action. Are you using language that resonates with your specific targets? Can your potential customers recognize themselves as people who need your services?

Take a look at how you are presenting your marketing messages. Your company’s visual impression should be consistent across all of your material, online and offline. Do the design and functionality of your website demonstrate the values and personality of your company? Does your employee newsletter invite interaction and feedback through creative composition?

We all have room to improve both what we say and how we say it. I listed some great local graphic designers in an earlier post ‘Designers to make your website POP’ and do let me know if I can help with copywriting.  Just remember to put forward your best message and your best messenger.

Happy new year 2015