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5 signs your website content sucks

I’m just like a doctor. Ok, not really. But there are similarities. Bear with me here.

When people first discover that I am a website copywriter (at a party, networking event, wherever), they ask me if I wouldn’t mind having a quick squiz at their website to let them know if assure them it’s ‘okay’.

(Come on, which of you out there hasn’t casually asked a doctor in a social situation about that bung knee or annoying rash of yours… hoping for a quick, free diagnosis?)

But lucky for me, the problems I see are lot more predictable than those in the medical world. So predictable in fact, that I often don’t even need to see a website before ‘diagnosing’ its likely disorders.

So consider this article your free website content diagnosis. At the very least, it’s a good place to start in determining if a refresh is in order.


1. You don’t know your audience

Have you ever visited a website with a very specific goal in mind and wondered:

Am I at the right place?
Do these people understand me?
Can this business solve my problem?

If your website visitors feel uncertain about the answers to any of these questions for more than a few seconds, they’ll click away. In a heartbeat.

And when that happens, it’s a sure-fire sign that you haven’t spent enough time learning and thinking about your audience before writing your content.

Getting to know your audience isn’t as simple as you might think. For example, to say you are targeting ‘Aussie mums in their 30s and 40s’ won’t cut it. (Demographics are just the beginning – and often not even a relevant segmentation strategy).

You need to delve deeper.

What does your audience value? What motivates them? How are they feeling when they come to your site – scared, curious, stressed, relaxed, insecure, excited?

And most importantly, what are their problems or pain points?

When you know the answers to these questions, your content will naturally reflect it. And within a few seconds of landing on your homepage, your visitors will be saying to themselves:

YES, I am at the right place!
YES, these people understand me!
YES, this business can solve my problem!

2. You’re talking too much about yourself

If you write your own website content (rather than outsourcing it), it’s super easy to slip into ‘me mode’.

Now repeat this three times as you click your heels together:

It’s not about you, it’s about them!
It’s not about you, it’s about them!
It’s not about you, it’s about them!

By all means, let your customers know about your recent industry award or your latest client project. But be smart about where – and how – you say it.

In other words, make it clear to your readers that they are number one. By doing so, you’ll connect with them on a new level and set the foundation for a strong customer relationship.

A good quick check: count the number of times you have used the words ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our’ versus the words ‘you’ and ‘your’.

3. You’re suffering from sentence bloat

‘In the event that our valued client base requires specialised personnel or supplementary assistance to meet urgent requirements with little warning, we can draw upon other experienced and qualified resources for additional support.’

Is your website sprinkled with sentences like this?

Wordy, convoluted sentences typically occur when writers try too hard to sound sophisticated and formal – and when they’re unclear about the message they want to convey.

Here are some quick tips to avoid sentence bloat:

Keep sentences short
Ideally, 25 words or fewer.

Use shorter, simpler words
Use ‘help’ instead of ‘assistance’. Use ‘many’ instead of ‘numerous’. You get the idea.

Keep adjectives and adverbs to a minimum
Delete adjectives like ‘helpful’, ‘successful’ and ‘practical’ – and adverbs like ‘effectively’, ‘properly’ and ‘professionally’.

Remove repetition and redundancies                                                  
It you write  ‘urgently’ don’t tack on ‘with little warning’.  

Use the active voice rather than the passive voice
Write ‘we filled the role’  instead of ‘the role was filled by us’.

Turn noun phrases into verbs
Use ‘consider’ rather than ‘take into consideration’.

Purge the modifiers and qualifiers  
Delete words like ‘actually’, ‘really’, ‘very’, ‘highly’, ‘probably’, ‘definitely’ and ‘extremely’.

With these tips in mind, the sentence above can be trimmed to:

‘If you need extra support staff, we can help at short notice.’

4. You think people enjoy reading

Okay, admittedly many people do enjoy reading. Myself included. But my subject matter of choice includes memoirs, biographies and blog posts on topics that I’m passionate about.

As for another business’ website? Not so much.

I regularly train groups on how to write for the web. And when I do, participants often ask me: ‘How can I make people read my entire web page?’

The short answer? Don’t try.

Good website copy is not just about the words you write. It’s equally about the way you organise and structure the content. Because if a quick scan doesn’t give your readers what they want, they won’t spend time searching for it.

Your web pages therefore need to make scanning effortless. Here’s how:

  • Use lots of subheadings to break up and  ‘label’ your content
  • Keep paragraphs short (white space makes scanning easier)
  • Use bulleted or numbered lists wherever possible
  • Make links meaningful and descriptive – avoid rubbish like ‘click here’ and ‘read more’

Finally, don’t forget about brevity. Less really is more!

Web usability guru Steve Krug offers this useful rule of thumb:

‘Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.’

And according to Jakob Nielsen – another go-to usability expert  – studies show that removing half of a website’s words doubles the amount of information users take in.

5. You’re putting Google first

Are you looking for a Melbourne wedding chauffeur based in Melbourne? Or how about a Melbourne limousine driver that transports brides and grooms across Melbourne? Then again, perhaps you’re wanting to hire a Melbourne chauffeur limousine that specialises in weddings … in Melbourne?

If your website content looks something like this, it’s a sign that:

  • It hasn’t been updated since 2002
  • You’re trying to seduce the Google Gods in all the wrong ways

What’s more, this kind of language is so unnatural that it’s almost unreadable.

Here’s the thing. Back in the early years of search engines, businesses could easily manipulate a page’s ranking on Google with keyword stuffing.

Today however, keyword density is only a tiny part of Google’s algorithm. No one truly knows how much – but some SEO experts guess less than 5%. What’s more, if you take it too far, keyword stuffing may actually hurt you. Google could push your website down the pecking order.

Google’s top concern is the user experience. Original, relevant and customer-focused content is therefore the way to go.


 

If your website is a key marketing tool for your business, it’s time to look at your words more critically. Gone are the days of rehashing old brochures or asking admin staff to throw something together.

There’s no doubt about it: quality, customer-focused content elevates your brand, pleases Google, connects with audiences and converts more often.