Top 5 content writing mistakes business owners make (part 2)
This is part two of my five-part series on the mistakes business owners make when writing content. Click here to read part one. It explains what you need to do before you start writing. You don’t need to read part one in order to understand this article.
Mistake #2: Focusing too much on your business and what you offer
Who is the hero of the story?
When you are writing—even about a boring business—you are trying to illustrate a story. It’s natural to position yourself (or your business) as the hero of the story. However, there’s a much more important role for you to play.
You want to be the mentor. The story is about the hero (the person reading your site), facing a tough challenge (the problem), and finding the right path (your product/service) with the help of a mentor (you).
When considering a purchase, a potential buyer considers four questions:
- What are you trying to sell to me?
- How much does it cost?
- What is in it for me?
- Why should I believe you?
These four questions provide a framework for understanding the inner dialog of your prospect. If your content provides compelling answers to your ideal customer, it will be extraordinarily persuasive.
Features, benefits, and problems
Referring back to the four pre-sales questions described earlier, your features are #1 (What are you trying to sell to me?). Problems and benefits refer to #3 (What’s in it for me?).
We often assume the answer to the, “What’s in it for me?” question is obvious based on how we describe the features of our offering. It’s almost never the case that all the benefits of a feature are instantly recognizable.
You may have heard the old marketing axiom, “People don’t want a ¼ inch drill bit, they want a ¼ inch hole.” Taking a step further… Mom and dad are hanging up the high school graduation photo of their daughter, who just left for college. First, they need to buy a ¼ inch drill bit.
Start with the problem
It’s useful to start with the problem that you hope to solve for your clients. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll define a “problem” as the gap between how things are and how the prospect would like them to be.
Converting features to problems and solutions
We can use a couple of simple questions to convert our features into the corresponding problems being solved. Let’s call those “problem statements.” The first question is, “What problem(s) does this feature solve?”
Example Feature: Ongoing website maintenance
Problems solved by this feature:
- Issues with website security
- Potential reliability problems
- Not knowing if your site is working properly
In order to dig down to a descriptive problem statement, we will use a follow-up question for each problem above. That question is, “Why is that a problem?” Like a two-year-old incessantly asking “why?” we will keep asking the question over and over until we drill down to a natural stopping point.
As you can see, when we got to the problem of hacking, we see many problems. Instead of keeping to one statement, you could split off the “sub-problems” and ask the “Why is this a problem?” question for each. We could have kept digging, why is it a problem to get blacklisted on Google? Etc.
When starting with a problem, the benefit is solving the problem. The benefit is the solution, described from the standpoint of the customer. Then you end with the feature, if more specificity is required. In other words, you add specifics about features, if you think the benefit statement leaves the reader thinking, “How do they do that?”
Color coded example: PROBLEM | BENEFIT | FEATURE
Hackers can damage your reputation (both with customers and Google), and can even destroy your site. Your hacked site could be used for adult ads and/or to distribute malware (viruses). Worse, once compromised, repairing your site may be more expensive than starting over. With our maintenance program, you will feel secure in the knowledge that your site is actively monitored and updated, providing excellent protection against would-be hackers. Our maintenance starts with creating a secure initial website and is centered around having real people actually looking at and updating your site.
The problem with problems
You may be thinking, “But, aren’t problems negative?” There are two things to consider. First, most action is driven by problems. Second, with the liberal definition of problems as a gap (between how it is and how you want it to be), negativity isn’t baked in.
Don’t go overboard
When really digging into problems and benefits, there can be a tendency to only talk about those. It’s important to balance these emotional appeals with facts. In sales, it’s often said, “We buy on emotion and justify with logic.” The most effective messages contain both. Starting with the emotional appeal creates the engagement necessary for the reader to be interested enough to hear the facts.
When you should talk more about yourself
For about 90% of your writing, the above advice provides the ideal strategy. The main exception is stories.
Sharing compelling personal or business stories helps build a connection with your audience. The most important factor is that the story is interesting. It should also tie into a specific point you are making. Your “about us” page is often the story about how you got into the business and your related background.
Practice makes pretty darn good
The process of focusing on your audience while writing can be awkward, especially in the beginning. Stick with it and, with practice, it’ll become almost automatic. The rewards are extraordinary.
All things being equal, increasing the effectiveness of the content on your website can easily be the difference between the success of your business and its’ failure. This is no exaggeration. Virtually all of your marketing—even word-of-mouth—will lead people to your website. Your ability to convert those website visitors into sales is one of the key factors to your success.
What do you think?
Was this information helpful? Is anything unclear? Please don’t hesitate to email me (Justin) if you have any questions or comments.
More about content mistakes
If you haven’t yet read part 1 (Mistake #1, Writing Too Soon), you can check it out here. If you’d like to be instantly notified when part 3 comes out, fill in your information below and join my list.
Avoiding mistakes 1 and 4 will save you dozens of hours and countless headaches. Crappy, painful-to-read content is eliminated if you just avoid mistakes 2, 3, and 5. But, how bad could a mistake be…
The founders of Apple are Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. But, do you know there was a third partner?
Today, it’s estimated that his equity would be worth several billion dollars. That’s billions with a ‘b.’
It’s unlikely that you’ll make a billion-dollar mistake. However, there are a handful of mistakes people make when writing content for their small business that are quite expensive—both in time and money.
The writing process can be frustrating and borderline painful—even for accomplished writers. This report is broken into 5 parts, covering 5 mistakes. In the process, you’ll learn some simple strategies for making it faster and easier to write compelling website content.
Mistake #1 – Writing too soon
You will save a tremendous amount of time and frustration if you do some research before you even start writing. Specifically, you’ll be researching the websites of other businesses in your industry. This process will help you choose the main topics to cover within your site.
Who to research
In addition to the local competition, it’s a good idea to research sites in your industry within larger markets. This is especially true when you are doing business in a small community. Large markets are likely to have much more competition, and therefore, likely have better websites.
How to research
The video above, as well as the text below will give you a step-by-step process for researching and documenting websites. This process will give you a great foundation for creating your own content.
Your main research tool will be Google. To get started, we need a list of keywords people will use when searching for a business like yours. For example, a roofer might have a list like… Roof repair, roofing contractor, roofer, new roof, etc.
In order to create a list of sites, we’ll use the keywords from above, along with a location. For example, a Beaverton roofer would search, “roof repair Beaverton Oregon.” We’ll Google this keyword + location combination.
To find the best websites, you’ll look at the first page or two of Google. You are looking for actual businesses (not directories like Yelp), who are listed in the natural search results. Generally, the top listings will be ads (marked as such). After that are often map listings (with a map and markers). After those are the ones we’re after, the natural listings.
For now, just copy the URL of each site into your preferred tool for making notes on your computer (i.e., Word, Notepad, Excel, etc.). If you use Excel or Word, the URLs will turn into clickable links, making life a little easier later.
Once you’ve collected the URLs for the first phrase, start again with a second phrase. You’ll find that some of the same URL’s will show up multiple times. It’s a good idea to note this, as these sites are likely to be especially effective.
Depending on the number of sites you have now, you may also want to do the same process, except swapping your location for a larger one. In other words, instead of “Roof Repair Beaverton Oregon,” you might use, “Roof Repair Seattle Washington.” This will give you results for an area with more competition, and therefore, more robust websites.
A master outline is one of the tools you’ll use to help you convert your research into ideas for your own content. In the end, it’ll contain the following:
- A list of the pages you want to include
- Under each page, the general topics to be covered
- Under each topic, potential subtopics and notes
To get started, just spend a couple of minutes and create a rough list of the pages you think you’ll include on your site.
You will also want to have a blank document, or even a physical notebook for general notes. If something strikes you as important, write it down. When you are on the third or fourth site—trying to remember your takeaways from the first one—you’ll be glad you have notes.
For each site, you’ll first want to note what pages they include. If they have a page that you think may work for your site, add it to your master outline.
Now, let’s look at the actual content. Start with the home page and visit every page. For each, answer the following questions:
- What are the key points?
- What problems are discussed?
- What facts are shared?
- What kind of photos/graphics are used?
- Is there anything else you like about the page?
- Is there anything you don’t like about the page?
You don’t need to write down the answers to each of these questions. The idea is to read the page (or skim it), with each question in mind. Certain info will stand out, and you can use that within your master outline and your notes.
Another trick for digging into content is to pretend a specific paragraph or statement, is an answer to a question. What is that question? If you convert the content into questions, you can turn around, answer those questions for your business, and create truly unique content. For now, you’d add the questions under the specific page or topic within your master outline.
Document the questions you create, topics, facts, points, and other notes. Don’t leave a website until you are confident you’ve recorded any and all valuable insights.
Once you’ve finished the first site, you follow the same process for the next site, and so on and so forth. The first site will take—by far—the most time. Once you’ve finished a couple of sites, much of the content will be repeated. Each additional site will go faster and faster.
When researching, there’s a concept called, “paralysis by analysis.” It’s important not to let research take over all of your time. It’s a mean to an end—creating your own content.
While you’ll need to use your judgment when deciding how long to spend, it’s a good idea to limit set an arbitrary limit. Instead of setting a time-based limit, use number of sites researched. A good number of sites is between three and ten.
Once you’ve researched three websites, it’s time to look at your master outline and see how complete it feels. If there’s a specific hole (i.e., you need more topics for the about us page), you can start researching in high speed, looking for information related to that specific hole. If you don’t feel like it’s complete, go ahead and research another site.
Another consideration is the number of pages you currently have time to create for your own site. If you only have time to create the content for 3-5 pages, documenting fifteen pages may not be the best use of your time. In this case, you are probably better off using your research to decide on the 3-5 pages and targeting your research on the topics within those pages. You can always come back to the process when you are ready to beef up your content.
That’s it! You made it through part one. Was the information helpful? Is anything unclear? Please don’t hesitate to email me (Justin) if you have any questions or comments.
Part 2 is here
The second part of this report is posted here. If you want to create content that turns prospects into customers, you won’t want to miss this one. If you want to be notified as soon as more parts are posted, join my email list below.
Would you cash a check for 13 cents? Trump did.
In 1990, Trump was one of 58 ultra-wealthy Americans who were unwitting participants in an experiment run by Spy Magazine to find out, “Who is America’s Cheapest Zillionaire.” First, these high-net-worth individuals were sent checks for $1.11 and 26 of the 58 cashed those checks. The reporter sent progressively lower value checks. When the dust settled, Trump was 1 of only 2 participants willing to cash the smallest check sent (13 cents). The full experiment was surprisingly involved and the article is worth checking out.
Maybe you wouldn’t cash a 13-cent check. I know I wouldn’t. Then again, maybe that’s why we’re not part of this elite group of zillionaires.
Now, back to the 5 hidden costs of a free website…
1) The cost of upgrades
Upgrade costs are the least hidden of the hidden costs. Most free website builders are based on what’s called a freemium model. The word freemium is a mash-up of the words “free” and “premium.” It’s the strategy of giving away a free, limited, version with the expectation that people will upgrade to a premium version. Most or all of the profit comes from people upgrading, so the main focus in a freemium model is upselling you.
Often, there are premium features that fall into the must have category. As an example, the free version often has advertising. It may be something as small as “build your own free website with…” However, this will instantly hurt your credibility. “Removing branding” is an upgrade that you’ll always want to choose, as is using your own domain name.
The monthly costs of upgrading ranges from $5 – $30. If you do decide to build your own site with a builder, you should plan to spend some money on upgrades. You will want to do some research, so you understand what features they charge for, and how much, before investing a lot of time in building a free site on a platform.
2) The cost of your time
Considering the TV commercials, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you could build a website in 10 minutes and it’s “as easy as 1-2-3.” As a developer, these commercials crack me up. They always breeze over a step that actually represents hours and hours of work. Imagine a commercial about building a car, “Build a car in 3 easy steps: step 1, pick the color; step 2, customize the car; step 3, drive it off the assembly line.”
If you are committed to building an effective and professional website, a good chunk of your time will be devoted to learning. You are probably starting out at the don’t know what you don’t know level of understanding. It’s a long slog to build from that level to knowing enough to do a halfway decent job.
The worst part is when you get stuck. When you run into a problem that you can’t solve, it can eat up an unbelievable amount of time. It could even be something that literally can’t be done within the builder you’ve chosen. If you are a perfectionist, building your own website will take exponentially more time. Sometimes, building your own site is about accepting, good enough.
You are likely to spend 10, 20, 40 hours or more between educating yourself and actually designing the site. If you only spend 10 hours, you are likely to suffer additional costs because of mistakes and hits to your reputation.
3) The cost of mistakes
As previously eluded too, you are probably starting out without a clear concept of all the different factors that you need to understand in order to create an effective website. Did you know that you can build a website that looks great and has one or more fatal flaws? This isn’t an exaggeration. A site that looks great on your computer may be literally useless for some of your visitors.
Example Mistake 1: Poorly optimized images
A common mistake is to not properly optimize your images. This leads to very slow load time. In this high tech world, people stand in front of their microwave, muttering, “Come on… I don’t have all minute.” If your site takes too long to load, people will just back out without even seeing your site.
Example Mistake 2: No or bad meta tags
You may not even know what a meta tag is, right now. One thing that isn’t even obvious when you learn about them is how you can use them incorrectly and potentially get penalized by the search engines. Without getting too deep into the subject, you mainly need to understand that the text in the meta tags should match the exact words on the page. The keyword tag is the biggest culprit, and it is widely recommended not to use it at all.
The more time you devote to learning, the fewer costly mistakes you’ll make. Therefore, time spent on learning lowers the cost of mistakes.
4) The cost of lost reputation
As the saying goes, “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” No matter how someone hears about you, the first thing they are likely to do is to look you up online. Your website represents your chance to make that first impression.
When considering the effect of your website on your reputation, there are a few levels. Having no website—or one that people can’t find—is the worst. The second most problematic is having a site that’s obviously built for free—thus, the advice about upgrading if you do use a builder. Even if you clear both those hurdles, you don’t want your site to look like one you built yourself. A professional website is a signal to your prospective customers regarding how seriously you take your business.
As with mistakes, the more time you devote to learning, the better chance you’ll have of creating a professional looking website. If your site doesn’t look professional, fewer people will convert from visitors to customers. In other words, you’ll lose sales.
5) The cost of lost sales
As you probably expect, you’ll make fewer sales from a DIY website, versus one that is professionally designed by a developer. Both the amount of people who find your site, as well as the number of those people who convert into customers, are likely to be better with a professionally built website.
The value of lost sales can be considered an opportunity cost and should be part of your calculations. While it’s virtually impossible to calculate an exact cost, it is useful to consider the value of one lost customer. From there, you can make an educated guess as to how many sales you may lose each month based on how confident you are about building your own website.
You get what you pay for
Now, you have a better understanding of all the costs related to building a free website. It might surprise you to learn that this article wasn’t created with the intention of talking you out of building your own site. Yes, I am a professional website developer and I strongly believe that the sites I build offer an exceptional return on your investment. However, my main goal is just to help you understand the actual costs so you can make an informed decision.
I’m thinking of creating an article about the top mistakes people make when building their own website. If you think that’s a good idea, shoot me an email and let me know.
I’m often so busy building websites that I don’t get around to updating my portfolio. The last 5 sites I built have been an interesting mix, so I figured I’d share them with you.
Custom E-Commerce Site
Gretchen & Vance run a cool little business customizing parts for certain motorcycles. Beyond the standard e-commerce features, they have a multi-step ordering process that affords them the flexibility they needed. See the site
Every once and a while, someone will ask me if I can build them an app. Depending on how complicated the app is, this is something I can do; however, it’s not always a good idea.
In order to decide if it makes sense for you to get an app for your small business, it’s a good idea to consider the following questions.
What extra value will this app provide to the end user?
As a business owner, it’s appealing to have your app installed on your customer’s phone. The real question, however, is “Why would someone install the app?” Many of the most basic and affordable apps, to create, provide little or no more value than a mobile website.
Do you have the kind of business that is a natural fit for an app?
If you are running a restaurant, you could use an app for things like notifications of specials and a virtual punch card. If you are a plumber, it’s much more difficult to find those things that make your app useful. (See the previous question).
Is this a good use of your money?
It’s uncommon to spend less than $1200 on an app; even the inexpensive ones are regularly more than $2500. If you have a brilliant idea for a custom app, it might even cost 10’s of thousands of dollars or more. Considering the other, more cost effective, ways of accomplishing the same things, an app is mostly a poor investment for a small business.
This is just a quick post because the questions came up again recently. What are your thoughts on it? Do you still have questions or are unsure? Please let me know. I’m happy to update this with further information.
I just launched a website for Busy Bee Daycare in Aloha, OR. This is an example of one of my basic website package websites, and it’s the second preschool/daycare site I’ve built in the last month or so. The other one is Little Scholars University in Forest Grove Oregon.
Busy Bee Daycare
Address: 718 SW 215th Ave, Aloha OR 97003
I recently launched a website for Little Scholars Preschool in Forest Grove, OR. This is one of two preschool/daycare sites I’ve setup in the last month or so. The other one is Busy Bee Daycare in Aloha.
Little Scholars University
Address: 2217 16th Ave, Forest Grove, OR 97116
A local web designer is someone who builds websites and is geographically close to you, right? Maybe, but let’s look at an alternative concept of what local might mean in this context.
Serving small local businesses
Perhaps it’s about who you serve and your expertise, instead of physical proximity. Since inception, the focus of Justin’s Web Design has been serving small businesses who are local in nature. In other words, if you run a small company with local customers (i.e. roofer, plumber, carpet cleaner, etc.), you have specific needs. Developing the expertise and systems to serve those needs is a big factor that separates JWD from the competition.
Buying local is almost as important as…
…selling local. As a local business owner, one of the best things you can do for your local economy is to sell. Just as buying local helps bring money into the economy, the flip side of the coin is selling local. In order to do that well, you need an exceptional web presence. If you can find a trusted adviser to help you with that locally, great! If not, or if the local solutions aren’t affordable, it’s important that you not let that keep you from doing your part–selling local.
The Beaverton connection
This company was founded and run in Beaverton, OR for the first five years of its existence. Even now, a large percentage of my customers are in the Portland area. A big reason for this is that most of my business comes from word-of-mouth. Additionally, I rank well in the search engines for keywords related to Beaverton web design.
Currently (as of 8/15/2015), I’m in Reedsport, OR. Reedsport is between Florence and Coos Bay on the Oregon coast. I moved here to be closer to family in order to help with a medical situation.
In this day and age, most people are comfortable with working primarily over the phone and by email. That said, I have some other great tools that allow me to work from any location without compromising customer service. I can do screen sharing, and video conferencing for those who want the face-to-face experience. Overall, my systems allow me to get more done in less time and therefore save you money.
This is a good place to explain another key difference between JWD and the competition. Most developers are focused, almost completely, on the ‘big ticket’ initial sale. If your initial budget is too low, they don’t even want to deal with you. If you clear that initial hurdle, it can be difficult to get support once the project is complete. More importantly, those developers are no longer actively involved in helping you keep your site up-to-date and secure.
My packages are configured with a long-term business relationship in mind. The key principle is the necessity for you to have a trusted professional to continually help you with your web presence.
While my physical location varies, I am always here to help you with your local business, and in turn that will help your local community. If you have any questions, concerns, or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
The question often comes up, regarding where I’m located. As of the writing of this article, I’m living on the Oregon coast (Reedsport Oregon). I started my business and spent the first 7 years in Beaverton. A big percentage of my clientele is still in the Portland area, and I maintain my membership with the Beaverton Chamber of Commerce.
I’ve been fortunate enough, to find this vocation, and enough success, to allow me to be location independent. In other words, I can do my work from just about anywhere. So the question remains, “Am I a local web designer?”
The answer depends on how you look at it. If you are asking if we can sit down at a coffee house and have a meeting, the answer is no, unless your close by or willing to travel. That said, I’m a very good local web developer using a different definition.
My whole business has been optimized to serve small local businesses. Not only businesses that are local to me, but all the businesses that are serving a local community in America. If you have a little restaurant, or you’re a plumber, and you need help promoting your business locally, that’s where I can help. And, that’s true whether you’re in Key Largo, Flagstaff, or Beaverton.
So if you are looking for a rock solid business person, to be your webmaster over the long-haul, you can count on me. If you require proximity, I’m probably not your best choice.