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.
Here are some basic tips for to help you create copy/content for your website.
1) Write as though you are talking tone person
- WRONG WAY: We provide excellent customer service for our clients
- RIGHT WAY: You will receive excellent customer service when you
work with us.
2) Write in “you” language not “us” language, in other words put the reader first
- WRONG WAY: We give you this benefit
- RIGHT WAY: You get this benefit when you work with us
- WRONG WAY: We provide free delivery
- RIGHT WAY: When you purchase this product, you get free delivery
3) Give specific examples whenever possible
- WRONG WAY: We save our clients money
- RIGHT WAY: Our average client in 2005 saved $3,021.
4) Avoid qualifying language
WRONG WAY: We like to say we’re the best value in town
RIGHT WAY: Our clients tell us we’re the best value in town
RIGHT WAY VERSION 2: Are you ready for the best value in town?
5) Use titles, bullet lists and bold – people tend to skim through websites so they might just read the titles, subtitles and bold text
None of these tips are steadfast rules. You’ll find there are times when they don’t fit into
the message you’re trying to communicate.