After the fourth edition of SevenHolidays‘ successful book Resorts of Maldives, it was time to go online. Firstly to serve the same purpose but to a wider audience and for free: to educate holidaymakers about which resort is best for them with personal, unbiased reviews and photography. Secondly, to sell those holidays.
The book is a page turner. Enjoyable to read, as you marvel at the luxurious top resorts, and get sucked in to deciding which resort you would like the most. Putting all this information online (free) from a content perspective was about finding a neat way to present the reviews and photography, but more importantly, of sucking people in in the first place.
When I first visited Copyblogger I experienced this sucking in effect. I would be halfway through an article telling myself ‘this is the last one’ when a headline would catch my eye in the right hand column and I’d go for just one more.
This is microcontent at its best. So for sevenholidays.com I put in a catchy headline for each resort, from the front page in, and appearing at the top and bottom of every review page.
Every resort also needed a summary, and each review needed editing for the web. In addition there was new content to ghostwrite and edit: a Maldives Guide and glossary, aimed to be useful to those holidaying there, rather than give boring facts about the country.
Did you know, for example, that you can always drink the resort water (regardless of what the signs say), to head for westerly islands in our winter months if you want to see whale sharks, and that one of the single most important factors if taking kids is to find an island with mature palms to provide shade?
Content work for sevenholidays.com involved writing, editing, micro-content, branding, positioning, SEO, and information architecture, as part of the Endis Solutions team designing and building the whole site. It was great to have a piece of content (the book) to begin with, but the challenges were in translating it into compelling, useful web material, and then to research and produce other content to create a dynamic context in which to house it.
I think it has worked well. And I’ve got my eye on Mirihi. What about you?
ChurchInsight have been providing websites to churches, charities and other organisations since 2002, developing and improving their platform many times over along the way.
I came into their new UK sales web site project as a copywriter, but ended up having a big say in the overall structure and tone of the site. Insight does so much that the important thing was to draw out a few selling points clearly and simply instead of trying to get them all in and losing people in the ensuing melee.
We decided to build the pitch around the system’s many applications. The first thing was to brand them ‘features’ (what’s an application to their customers, anyway?). The second thing was to decide which features to include. Having lots of features is itself a feature, but I recommended keeping it nevertheless to a round 20 (there are many more).
So not all of Insight’s applications made it; nor are all those that did actually applications (another reason to call them features). But the 20 featured are significant functions that ChurchInsight’s potential customers want. And that’s the important thing.
Each feature needed a name, a tagline/tooltip, a summary and additional copy. The multitude of selling points needed condensing into three concepts for the front page. In addition I wrote comprehensive FAQs, landing pages for the tour and free trial offer, and descriptions of pricing and additional services.
To generate some fresh customer testimonials and case studies I devised a questionnaire for existing Insight customers. I learnt that asking for criticism as well as praise is a huge incentive to reply, and that it’s good to honest about your angle on the research (‘your feedback helps us develop our product and we want to quote you on our new web site’).
One spin off from the research was the discovery of two dominant themes in the feedback. ‘Easy to use’ and ‘helpful support’ came up again and again. I worked that back into the copy. It is satisfying to build existing customers’ favourite things about the platform into the sales message for new people. And it helped with the tone: on the whole hard-selling web sites to religious third sector groups does not work as much as showing the benefits confidently and honestly.
Apart from writing all the pages, the main work for ChurchInsight was in deciding what – in the whole sea of features and selling points – to represent simply as the main message. It was pleasing to have existing customers help me out.
I first worked on the Checkatrade web site as a copywriter. Checkatrade are a unique business, compiling a free directory of reliable tradespeople for the public, by selling a vetting and monitoring service to the tradespeople. The workmen and women sign up because they get so much work through it – because the public love finding tradespeople that they can trust.
The main challenge in furnishing the site with copy was writing for all the different audiences on the same site. The public are after a simple, useful and clear service. Tradespeople need to be sold memberships. Members need to enjoy the benefits that their membership has brought them, and the staff need to make sense of it all behind the scenes.
All on one web site.
It was not just about choosing the right voices, tone and vocabulary. Another consideration was that the site needed to remain a consistent whole: clearly addressing each audience on their own terms without breaking into discrete sections.
The further consideration was to maintain a transparency across the web site. The public could see the sales pitch to the tradespeople. Members could see how the public were engaged. So each piece of copy had to appeal to the motivations of its primary audience, while affirming the motivations of the any other parties who might be browsing off piste.
Each section needed to play its part in affirming the mutual benefits of the service.
Part of the work was in naming the concepts, processes, functions and elements of an innovative model so that everyone could understand them. The staff would call a process something logical to them, but which is confusing or obtuse to those using their service. As a content strategist you become the mediator – first grasping what the concept really is or does, before translating it for the customer. Then you need to convince the staff that the change is necessary, and teach them to either accept the new term, or more likely (and helpfully), to live with both.
Since the initial work I have been part of the team managing and developing checkatrade.com. This has included everything from scripting screencasts to writing blog posts. It is always a pleasure to work on something that you believe is actually providing a great service.
If you need a trustworthy plumber, you know where to look.
Cantle is a coaching business that needs to be experienced to be believed. Owner Jim McNeish’s clients come (falling over one another) from word of mouth. It is in his interest to stay hidden to raise curiosity and appetite.
So editing Cantle’s first web site was about making sure that the descriptions enticed without giving too much away. The copy worked with sumptuous photography to wet potential client’s appetites. Not giving too much away meant keeping the blocks of prose short and allowing plenty of white space to let the content breathe on the page – essential for the tone of the organisation whose tagline is ‘breathing life back into organisations’.
With no need for a forceful sales message, shaping Cantle’s content was more about deciding how much material to include, getting the experiential and seductive tone consistent, and tightening up the language where perhaps psycho-babble had slipped in. All is forgiven in front of a roaring fire with a single malt in hand up at the centre, but on the public web site the language needed to be as sharp as the coaching.
A final word on Cantle – the leadership and coaching training is second to none. Without exaggeration a few days spent with Jim McNeish can revolutionise your organisation or career. He’s the guy that all the other trainers are desperately trying to be.
My limited experience of web professionals so far is that we’re quick to dismiss stuff like coaching and development. Our loss. We’ll grow up one day and I hope when we do that Cantle will have some places left.
Welcome to SmyWord. Here we go.
First off I’ll put up some portfolio pieces and then I’m keen to get the conversation going. Balanced with the actual content work I do I’ll be able to post 1-2 times per week, on content strategy, writing for the web, grammar and style, communication, and a bit of psychology (because we’re humans writing for humans after all).
I’m keen to bring some energy to the dialogue about writing for the web. It seems that at last people are starting to take content seriously. They are realising that they can’t just throw in some words at the end of a project, or expect the developers or designers to do it for them.
I want to raise the bar. Say that it’s not just important; it’s the most important thing of all.
I’ve got a few things to chip in about content strategy and lots to learn from others. So go ahead and write a comment. Or contact me directly. If you’re enjoying the posts why not subscribe and get them in your reader? Or in your inbox?
The twitterati can find me here.
And in a naive display of benevolence I’m offering a free sample of my work. All you’ve got to do is ask.
I hope you enjoy the blog and I look forward to the conversation.
PS. If you’re looking for the pink paper boat, erm, it was a metaphor.