What’s your website’s personality?

Is your website a wallflower, a braggart, a bore, a weirdo or a conversationalist?

Every website has a personality. Whether you realise it or not. And that personality plays a big part in whether your website attracts and engages new customers or whether it turns them off and sends them to your competitors.

Listen to this podcast to find out how to avoid the personality flaws that send people packing, and understand the importance of a web personality that focuses on your customers, speaks their language and keeps their attention.

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An inspirational headline

A grey squirrel

More dangerous than he looks ….

This morning a headline caught my eye on The Guardian website:

“Scunthorpe manager Alan Knill ‘could have been killed’ by squirrel”

You have to admit, those words do tend to grab your attention. It conjures up a pretty surreal image.

Obviously, I read the story, and as a keen cyclist and someone who’s fairly knowledgeable about football I could empathise with his predicament.

Cycling blissfully along, he collides with a squirrel that gets caught in his wheel, and he catapults over the handlebars and lands on his head, shoulders and neck. Thankfully Knill survived the fall with just a few bruises and a philosophical view of the incident:

“For a minute, I thought I might have been in trouble because I landed on my head. Then, all of a sudden, I thought: ‘I’m not, I’m alive! I could be dead and it’s so stupid. I’m not and you have to put things into perspective.”

He was lucky. It could have been fatal. And what a way to go, felled by a small furry rodent.

But this near-miss has certainly helped him to look at his professional problems in a different way. His Scunthorpe team have made a terrible start to the season, and are currently bottom of League One having lost all their first six league games, and their cup game on Tuesday night. He’s under a lot of pressure, but his personal dice with death  has made him appreciate what is really important:

“The situation we’re in at the moment, I don’t cherish, but there are worse situations.”

Bill Shankly may once have famously suggested that: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” But then, he’d never almost been killed by a squirrel.

Anyway, the headline, and Alan’s response to the incident, and his determination to ‘always look on the bright side of life’  inspired me, and I wrote this little poem in response.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Poor Alan Knill, rides his bike down a hill,

to escape from The Iron fans’ invective.

Gets a squirrel in his spokes,

but survives, and then jokes:

“Well, it puts our bad form in perspective!”

All the best Alan, and I wish you and Scunthorpe United a full and speedy recovery.

Accuracy counts as mistakes cost £millions

Spelling mistake on billboard

A single mistake makes a world of difference.

Yesterday the BBC website featured a story that put a smile on the faces of all of us involved in business writing, as the headline screamed “Spelling mistakes ‘cost millions’ in online sales“.

It’s what many of us have been saying for years, and so it’s quite gratifying to have the importance of accuracy expressed in terms that business people can understand. If you’re sloppy with your copy, it’ll hit you where it hurts. In the bank balance.

Admittedly the article itself presents a slightly less convincing case in terms of empirical evidence than the headline suggests, but that’s not the point.

Accuracy counts

The point is, accuracy counts. And we have now got your attention.

As a business writer and plain English specialist who trains business people how to write more effectively, I am passionate about accuracy, in spelling, punctuation and correct usage. I’m not a pedant, but I value the correct use of the language I love, and I recognise how powerful it can be to communicate ideas quickly and easily when it is used properly.

What angers me is when people don’t think accuracy is important. When they shrug off spelling mistakes and take a weird kind of pride in the fact that they can’t use an apostrophe correctly.

“Because, at teh end of the day, as long as people understand what your saying, whats the problem?”

That’s something such people might write, and leave uncorrected, or not even realise there’s anything wrong with it.

But there is, and it’s hugely important!

Why?

Accurate = professional

The point is of course, that if you are dealing with a business, you expect them to behave in a professional manner, and adhere to certain standards. You would expect, and no doubt often do receive a high standard of customer service from many businesses on the telephone. Indeed many companies spend tens of thousands of pounds to train their staff to perform to exacting standards, and even record and monitor calls to check performance.

But for some reason, businesses pay far less attention to the accuracy of their written communication. Always have done. In the past, they could perhaps get away with it when they sent out letters to customers – who reads letters anyway?

But now, with the prevalence of e-commerce, so many businesses rely almost entirely on written communication through their websites and emails to attract, interact with and retain their customers.

And they are starting to come unstuck.

Good.

It’s about time!

The BBC article quoted William Dutton, director of the Oxford Internet Institute, who said:

“when a consumer might be wary of spam or phishing efforts, a misspelt word could be a killer issue.”

The fact is, customers are much more careful when transacting business online. They are wary of being caught by scams, identity theft, or security threats to their computers, so they tend to look for websites they can trust. Ones that look professional. If the home page of a site features spelling mistakes, consumers could be forgiven for thinking “Well, if they don’t care whether their own website is spelt correctly, how much are they going to care about looking after me?”.

And who can blame them?

We all make mistakes, but only some of us correct them

People make mistakes. We all do. It’s part of being human. No blame there. But there’s no excuse for not checking the accuracy of what’s been written and making corrections.

The entrepreneur in the article found that revenue on one of his sites doubled after a spelling mistake was corrected.

Sometimes it’s not because people can’t spell, or don’t care, but just lack of attention to detail.

Many years ago, a company I worked for came up with a new mission statement that they were keen to share with their customers and the general public. It was quite good, as mission statements go, but as soon as I saw it I realised that there was something seriously wrong with it. About halfway through it referred to offering “complimentary services”. What was meant of course was “complementary services” – services that would complement the company’s primary business offering. What they’d said though was “complimentary services”. As in free. Gratis. Not paid for.

Which was not what they meant at all. In fact, had the mission statement gone to press and been published on the website as it was intended to be, it would have at best been an embarrassing PR faux pas. At worst, the company could have ended up having to give away a lot of things for free.

I pointed out the error, and thankfully the crisis was averted. But it could have easily slipped through. And the reputation of the company would have suffered as a result.

You can’t guess in finance

Accuracy always counts in financial matters, so why not in writing? Can you imagine a senior management team presenting their annual report and accounts to their auditors with a note saying:

Some of the figures might be wrong, there’s a few decimal points in the wrong place and some of the calculations are a bit haphazard, but you get the general idea..”

Of course not! It would never wash. Which is why companies spend lots of money employing accountants and auditors – financial experts who are qualified to iron out any inaccuracies and ensure that everything is spot on.

Which brings me to my final point. As fellow writing professional Richard Hollins blogged yesterday, good copywriting is more than just spelling. We’ve established that spelling and correct punctuation is important, but let’s face it, those are just the basics. There’s far more to effective communication with customers than that. You need to engage them, enthuse them, excite them, entertain them even. And make sure you explain to them clearly why they need you and how you can help them.

Get professional help

It isn’t easy. Not everyone can do it. Which is why it’s a good idea to call in an expert to help you. Someone who spends all day, every day producing messages for a wide range of audiences that are pitched in just the right tone of voice, and use just the right words to attract, then keep their interest.

Someone who is a professional writer.

An accountant doesn’t  simply ensure that the figures are correct. They do much more than that. Clever financial things, with budgets and projections that help businesses plan for the future, manage their resources effectively, receive the maximum return on investments and make the best profits they can.

In the same way, a writer can do so much more than just ensure that your communications don’t contain mistakes. They can conjure magic with their words, transforming run-of-the-mill messaging into something compelling and persuasive. They can make your customers sit up and listen. Make them smile. Make them buy. Make them tell others how great you are. While you get on with doing what makes your business great in the first place.

Can you afford not to hire a copywriter or business writing professional?

It seems a lot of businesses think they can, and they’re not even getting the basics right.

Can you afford to lose customers?