You have 8 seconds to catch me!

October 14, 2021 § Leave a comment

Your website copy needs to put up a good fight for my attention.

If your website copy hasn’t got my interest in 8 seconds, I’ll be off. It could be and, is most likely to be, your competitor’s copy I’ll be reading next and if they do a better job, I’ll give them more of my time.

It’s not just me who has the attention span of a flea. Data collected for online reading patterns shows that we’re all the same – your potential customers included.

Diddle around or make your copy a hard read and you lose a reader AND the chance of a sale.

Your website copy needs to:

  1. Get to the point. Visitors haven’t got time to read details like how long your business has been going before they find out what exactly it is you offer.
  2. Explain what you can do for them. Don’t bother to talk about how wonderful you think you are. Of course you think that.
  3. Be chatty, friendly and engage visitors. My blog post Let’s get chatty with the written word explains what you need to know about using the right language. Whatever your product or service is, people will seek out the techy stuff if they need to know it. Most don’t so won’t. They’re looking for a solution and just want to know if you have it.
  4. Be written so that a 12-year-old would be able to understand it. Successful web copy is usually pitched at the reading age of a 12-13-year-old. People haven’t got time to work out precisely what your copy means. You either tell them straight or they move on.
  5. Say it succinctly. Of course when you’ve hooked a reader they’ll want to make sure you know what you’re talking about and will have a look around your website for more information, maybe some customer testimonials and possibly case studies involving past work. So there is a place for lengthy copy but you’ve got to get them interested first. Your home page, the logical order of your site and the clarity of your words need to get their attention straightaway so that you can reel them in.
  6. Get it right. Nothing, nothing. nothing switches off reader interest more quickly than a mistake – in spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence flow. Visitors will be on and off a badly written page before you can say “Whoops!” And there’s no room for excuses like “anyone visiting the site will know what we mean.” Make errors on your website, aka your calling card and you’ll get prospective customers wondering where else you’ll be happy to make mistakes.

Good design has a big part to play in the success of a website and will hopefully attract attention in the first place. But the right words will make sure the content keeps that attention. You only have 8 seconds to persuade a potential customer that your website is the one they’ve been looking for. Choose your words wisely.

When retail gets it wrong …

July 24, 2019 § Leave a comment

paying-1438142__340.jpgNo you can’t help me!

When I walk into a shop laid out for browsing I don’t want a sales assistant to rush up to me and gush ‘Can I help you?’. Frankly, If I wanted help, I would ask for it.

Why have a shop layout which encourages customers to have a good look around if sales assistants are going to hound them from the time they walk through the door.

Maybe I sound like a grumpy old woman. I’m not. (Grumpy). But I’m definitely old enough to ask for information/advice when I need it – however I probably won’t know what help I need until I’ve had a look around the shop and realised I can’t find what I’m looking for. Or maybe I’ll want “that one in a different colour/size” when I see one in the wrong colour/size. It’s one of retail’s biggest mistakes in my opinion – to get people into their lair and then turn them off by hassling them like it was a bazaar.

There used to be more counters, definite ‘don’t walk beyond this spot’ barriers, where customers expected attention from sales assistants and wanted, actually needed, their help because they couldn’t get what they wanted it without it. In fact, waiting too long before being served was annoying. In that arrangement ‘Can I help?’ was exactly what you wanted to hear.

Then there’s the complete opposite of all this – the shop where it’s hard to find a sales assistant in the first place and when you do, they don’t want to help.

 

retail-703589_960_720.jpgI was shopping for a bra the other day – one to fit with a new dress because none of the bras I owned did the job. I went to my favourite lingerie department, looked through the rails, couldn’t find what I was looking for and went in search of a sales assistant. I imagined a salesperson would know the stock and be able to help since I was looking for something pretty specific.

When I finally found a sales assistant, which wasn’t easy, she was restocking a fixture. I felt like I was interrupting as opposed to wanting to give the store business! Her response was to trot over to where I had already looked and tell me that the bra I had described used to be there but evidently wasn’t anymore. And that was it. She went back to stocking the fixture, giving no advice as to how I might find the bra or paying me any further attention.

(In case you’re worrying, I found the bra eventually – from the same retailer but online. For the men who are reading this, bras are like shoes – better tried on, even if you know your size, so online isn’t ideal.)

I don’t want to get into the ‘every customer is different’ and ‘every shop is different’ debate. There is a one-size-fits-all solution and it should be used. The clue lies in the job title, sales assistant. ‘Sales’ – that bit’s easy: on behalf of the business, sales assistants will handle transactions. Assistant – their job is to help – when the customer needs help but not to mob or avoid helping by stocking shelves. Problem sorted.

The secret language of the written word

April 29, 2019 § Leave a comment

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When you speak to someone they know what you’re saying because they can hear the words and, importantly, how you’re saying them.

When you text someone they can’t always be sure of what you’re saying – or, at least, exactly what you mean – because they can see the words but can’t hear the tone of voice behind them. So your innocent reply can be misread.

The same goes for content on a website. It’s a real craft to write content that’s friendly, appealing and easy-to-understand-in-one-reading.

Going back to text messages, I received one the other day from a friend who was replying to a ‘Happy Birthday’ text I’d sent her. It said: “Many thanks” which I thought was a stilted and corporate reply between two good friends. To be honest, I worried about it over a cup of tea and wondered what could be wrong – I’d got the right date, sent her a card as well (and in time) and my text to her was just the cherry on top.

It turned out, I discovered some days later, that she’d been at the hospital accompanying her mum to an appointment and had just been called in when my message pinged through. Rather than not answer it she dashed a reply to acknowledge it – a message that led me to worry for days because it didn’t sound rushed, just formal.

In the scheme of life, a slightly misunderstood text message is not so damaging because you can put it right quickly. Reality is that if you’re texting, you’ll also have the recipient’s number so that you can call to check out the meaning of something you’ve received, if it doesn’t sound quite right.

Not so simple is the website example. Many, many people will visit your site and it’ll be a long time – if ever- that you find out they’re not responding to it because they don’t understand what you’re saying. You won’t have the telephone number of everybody who visits because you don’t know who they are.

The fact here is that website content is best written by someone who initially doesn’t know your business, has to ask loads and loads of questions to understand it and then can craft good written copy to make it sound friendly, appealing and entirely understandable – without the visitor even having to try to work out what it means. I can help you with that – 07946 450708 or send an email to julie@bowlerhatmedia.co.uk.

Write it like you say it so everyone gets it

January 11, 2018 § Leave a comment

It amazes me how companies use a completely different language when it comes to their written marketing stuff which should be directly connecting with customers. They don’t write the way they talk and people have to work too hard to understand what the company’s offering.

If you see anything on my site that falls foul of what I’m about to say – please pull me up on it. I mean it. I don’t want to write anything I wouldn’t say.

A good example of the ‘different written language’ I’m talking about was nearly used the other day when a friend of mine wanted to complain about the shoddy service she was receiving from a company who was supposed to be supplying some wedding invitations for her. She started writing a flowery email to them and asked my advice, basically about the ‘big’ words she was using. There was nothing wrong with the email but I asked her what she’d say if she was talking to them about the problem. Let’s just say, we got to the point quicker by writing with words of one syllable and her message was all the more powerful for it.

There is a place for formal language – I suppose solicitors still have to use it but not many solicitors read my blog and they’ll ignore what I’m saying anyway. I’m talking to and about the people who are trying to get attention via their marketing and will struggle if they use fancy language.

I know when we’re writing we can be more thoughtful. I know when we’re talking we can often think afterwards ‘I wish I’d said that’. But if we use a mixture of those two elements in down-to-earth language we can get a good formula.

Crafting a direct message that gets to the point and dumps unnecessary frills that the customer doesn’t have time or energy – or will, frankly – to read is a skill. I think it should be a law of marketing.

I suppose a good test is to ask yourself: would ‘I’ read it?

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Twitter and Stephen Fry’s breakfast!

June 1, 2017 § Leave a comment

77c29fd557c9f62b121bebefb5d180f8.pngIt takes seconds to get yourself a reputation and decades to lose it and that’s exactly what has happened  to Twitter.

Back in the days when Twitter started tweeting (2006), there was an appetite among the Twitterati to post a bunch of stuff that nobody needed to know but lots of people lapped up.

There’d be stuff as trivial as what the rich and famous had for breakfast, for example and there were celebrities like Stephen Fry who just loved tweeting.

So by slapping those two bits of info together people have landed on the notion that Twitter is only about ‘rubbish like Stephen Fry’s breakfast’. It’s an excuse that’s pulled out time and time again by businesspeople who don’t get Twitter – although why Stephen Fry’s breakfast has been chosen as a scapegoat is a mystery.

His breakfast doesn’t feature in his top tweets or even his first tweets.   omelette-2200916_960_720.jpg

 It’s true he has said something about breakfast but, to be fair, he’s said something about a lot of things because he’s a prolific tweeter.

We’ve moved on miles since the first days of Twitter. Some of the early takers have ditched it – maybe to worry more about Instagram. Many other accounts have now joined Twitter not to talk about their breakfast but to talk about their business.

It’s easy to see why. Twitter is a cost-effective form of marketing particularly in an era when print advertising is relatively more expensive and far less interesting. But people who don’t get Twitter still use the ‘Stephen Fry breakfast’ argument as an excuse for not pounding the life out of their Twitter accounts.

Realistically, Twitter takes time to master. It’s a fast-moving beast so accounts have to tweet often and regularly to make their mark. Although there are tools to help everyone spread their message and reach a wide audience throughout the day, these need to be learnt as well. Using the right hashtags will mean tweets are seen in the right places by the right people – potential customers – at the right times. But all this takes the know-how to know how to build up an audience and keep them interested.

It makes more sense for many people to concentrate on the main business of running their business. One answer is to hand over the management of social media to a company whose business is social media and ‘words’. Bowler Hat knows plenty of companies who have decided to do just that, from DIY stores and hairdressers to accountants and webchat services.

Five tweets per day for the sum of £50 per week (that’s what Bowler Hat charges) adds up to good value for an ad campaign for business (and has nothing to do with Stephen Fry’s breakfast!)

 

 

 

How do you sign off your emails?

February 22, 2017 § 1 Comment

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I’ve said it before but I’m saying it again because I still don’t know the answer: Do you have a standard sign-off for emails or do you vary it for each recipient?

I would guess that most of us throw out the rules if we’re emailing friends or clients we know well but what’s a good standard sign-off for anybody who falls into a more formal group. I don’t really have a ‘standard sign-off’ and am always finding reason to tailor it.

What I mean by that is that I’ll write the email in a way that Many thanks makes sense as a finishing phrase or Speak soon because both of those seem friendlier than many of the alternatives. I’ll take you through them as I see them:

Very best wishes – It sounds a bit over-sincere, I’ve decided;

Best wishes – alright but a bit stiff;

Best – manly (I can’t really explain why I’m giving it a gender but I said this was how I saw it);

All the best – old-fashioned and somehow too ‘old’ to be coming from someone of my age;

Kind regards – I’m not sure it’s ‘me’;

Warm regards – twee;

Regards – to the point. I feel fine when I receive a ‘Regards’  but signing off with one doesn’t come naturally;

Sincerely – not right for an email, not right for anything anymore – too formal;

Yours – same problem as ‘Sincerely’;

Sincerely yours  twice the problem of ‘Sincerely’ and ‘Yours’;

Take care – I like this, both for friends and for clients I know well. It’s not too personal but it’s friendly;

Love – I write that on birthday cards (because I love the person I’m sending them to. The same can’t be said for all email recipients so it’s not right.)

Name only – sometimes I sign off with just my name, particularly if we’re having an ’email conversation’ when wishes of any kind start to make the messages look clumsy. Otherwise it looks lazy unless you know the recipient well;

Initial only – rude;

Cheers – we’re doing business not buying a round;

Smiley – no;

See you soon – you probably won’t so as a generic sign-off it’s inappropriate;

Thanks for getting in touch – I like that;

Thanks so much for getting in touch – too needy;

Many thanks – a favourite but you’ve got to have something to thank the recipient for otherwise it doesn’t make sense. That’s why this blog started out with me saying I rewrite emails in order to be able to use this sign-off;

Speak soon – I also like this. If you’re emailing a client you know well you probably will speak soon. If you don’t know the client well yet, the sign-off reinforces the fact that you’re opening channels of communication.

So having run through many of the usual suspects I still haven’t found a generic sign-off I feel comfortable with. Something you might say at the end of a meeting goes towards deciding your ideal sign-off but it’s not a standalone decider because often you haven’t met the person at the receiving end of the email so the relationship is different.

Which means that even after giving the issue much thought I haven’t got anywhere with it. There will be some who will say I’m over-thinking the issue. I don’t agree. Every piece of communication goes towards your professional reputation and the way you close an email could be seen as smooth or awkward and that matters very much indeed.

Any thoughts??

Don’t let the little ones get away

February 7, 2017 § Leave a comment

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Watch out for the tiddlers

We  make the biggest effort to check complicated words that are tricky to spell but so often overlook the little ones that have drifted from, say, ‘or’ to ‘of’. We’ll have been concentrating our proofreading efforts on more challenging words – take something like ‘accommodate’. We’ll make sure we’ve got two ‘ccs’ and two ‘mms’ because we know that’s an easy one to get wrong.

Or if we mention McDonalds, we’ll double-check that spelling, knowing you can buy a Big Mac from the place although there’s never been an ‘a’ in the company’s name. It’s a helpful hint for getting the spelling spot-on.

But…and take it from someone who proofreads every day, the mistake we make time and time again is to forget to check the easy-peasy tiny words we can spell in our sleep/with our eyes shut/without even thinking about them.

And we’re so focused on making sure the body copy reads perfectly the howlers sometimes appear in the headline of the piece. It’s a fact of writing life: people tend to overlook headlines, subheads and captions when they proofread.

Much as I’d like a proofreader to be hired for any job that involves words I can see it isn’t happening. That being the case it’s wise to write your content, save it as a draft, walk away, have a cup of tea and read it again 30 minutes later. You’ll be surprised what you discover and your copy will be all the better for it.

Always – but always – be wide-eyed and alert when you see words like:

  • is
  • it
  • if
  • in
  • up
  • us
  • of
  • off
  • on
  • to
  • too
  • he
  • her
  • here
  • you
  • your
  • for
  • four

To name a very few…

Don’t ever rely on your spellcheck

November 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

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I’m surprised I even had to write that headline – I thought everyone knew. Spellchecks are helpful – I use them as a guide – but if I left it at that, it would be corporate suicide.

I was chatting to a friend about this the other day and her reaction was: “Yes, you couldn’t afford any errors – being in the ‘words’ game.” That’s true. If I made mistakes people would be quick to point them out.

On the other hand she’s a gift retailer and her communications output is critical to her business, particularly at this time of the year when customers will be looking for Christmas presents.

She always sends an invite to a list of her customers with a message that says something like:

  • Come along for an evening of wine, mince ties and a chance to buy gifts for your nearest and dearest, hopping at leisure.

Although only something like that because it actually reads:

  • Come along for an evening of wine, mince pies and a chance to buy gifts for your nearest and dearest, shopping at leisure.

The point I’m making, is that a spellcheck wouldn’t have picked up any spelling mistakes in the first sentence because there aren’t any. The sentence just doesn’t make sense and it takes a human brain to work that out, not a computer.

In short, a spellcheck can tell you when a word is spelt incorrectly but not when it’s used incorrectly. Use it but know its limitations.

People may forgive. They won’t forget

February 1, 2013 § 1 Comment

Have just had a debate with someone who was telling me that he writes his own website copy because he believes that customers will forgive the ‘odd spelling mistake’. After all, he pointed out, he’s not in the ‘words’ business. He’s a life coach.

I don’t get it. Here’s a man who wants us to trust him with our lives and he can’t be bothered to make sure his site’s spelt properly! Or that it’s grammatically correct, for that matter.

“Also, they know what I mean even if I’ve got an apostrophe in the wrong place,” James said. “You’re just being picky because it’s your business.”

I think that’s true – people will understand what his copy is saying. But the same people, in their search for a life coach, without question will be looking at several sites and because James thinks it’s acceptable to present his services complete with spelling and grammatical mistakes, he’s given them the impression that he’s a bit sloppy and not very professional.

They won’t forget that when they come across a site offering a similar level of life-coaching expertise, finished off properly with all apostrophes in the correct places!

“Of course you’d say that – you’re a copywriter,” he said.

No. Come on. Think about it.

There are two messages we (and I’m counting myself as a consumer here) usually get when we come across a badly written piece of marketing copy:

  1. The company is careless – and if it’s careless when it’s trying to sell itself what’s the rest of the service going to be like?
  2. The company couldn’t afford to get it right – that doesn’t bode well.

This is how my discussion with James ended: I’ve got a rough idea of what it takes to be a life coach but I wouldn’t attempt to do the job – he, on the other hand, has had serious training and can offer solid skills. I’ve had serious training as a copywriter and offer solid skills.

Your website is your online shop window, people judge you on how you present yourself and a copywriter can help you make the most of your presence. It’s not good enough just to have a website…the content is key.

And it’s corporate suicide if your (sic) getting you’re (sic) message messed up!!!!!

‘Less’ clients mean more profit????!!!!

October 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Whether or not you agree with the sentiment of the headline, the statement ‘less clients mean more profit’ is just plain wrong!

What’s even worse, though, is that I just spotted that statement on a copywriter’s website – he was selling a course of copywriting tips and the above was the headline of one of them. I’m telling you (for free) that ‘fewer’ clients may, indeed, make you more profit – almost definitely if one of them is a Coca-Cola or McDonald’s type giant. But I’m not-so-secretly hoping that copywriters, who don’t know that ‘less’ is used to measure a volume of matter and ‘fewer’ is correct when you’re referring to numbers, profit accordingly.

Continuing on my rounds as a self-appointed member of the Word Police, let me now draw your attention to verbs that are misused:

  • Try and do (something) = wrong
  • Try to do (something) = RIGHT

I see and hear that one often – and why does it really matter, you might ask, because everyone will understand what you mean even if you make the mistake. That’s true. But like it or not, we’re judged on how professionally we present ourselves. Your business may have nothing to do with words but if you don’t use them correctly to explain what you do, the impression you’re giving is less polished than the company that makes the extra effort to get the words right.

Since I mentioned the word in the last par: you’re or your? Stop and think before you decide which version you’re (you are) going to use because your company literature looks amateurish if you plump for the wrong one:

  • You’re = you are
  • Your = belonging to you

The point is, you can affect (influence) the way people view your business by the way your corporate copy is written. The effect (result) of good copywriting shows you means business.

Have you been in business for ‘over X years’ or ‘more than X years’? Answer: it’s more than x years. ‘Over’ denotes the position of something (over the road) and ‘more than’ relates to numbers. Yes, again, meaning will be understood even if you slip up but your writing will shine out if your corporate literature and website demonstrate a full understanding of your own language.

To recap, use:

  • fewer (when referring to numbers), less (when referring to volume);
  • try to, NOT try and ;
  • you’re (for you are), your (for belonging to you);
  • affect (when you mean influence), effect (when you mean result);
  • over (when referring to position), more than (when referring to numbers).

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