Why small businesses are publishing online in 2017 and the strategies they are relying on to engage with their customers and grow their business
We live in a world where 81 percent of shoppers conduct online research, and 61 percent read reviews before deciding to contact you.
It’s natural that they will have questions whose answers they will seek online.
In the pre-Internet era, they would have consulted Yellow Pages, or called or visited your sales department. But in 2017, two-thirds of them turn to search engines for answers.
That means it has become essential for you to write and publish the content that will:
- Increase your business’ visibility
- Improve customer experiences
- Have your clients’ questions answered
Successful businesses are already doing that.
You can be in the league of the successful, or be left behind like 46 percent of small U.S. businesses who don’t even have a website where they can write.
Publishing online does not mean scanning your existing sales material and uploading that onto your website as PDFs. Writing for the web means identifying your customers’ needs and writing for them in a language they can relate to.
Understand How Your Customers Read Online
Your customers don’t read online.
A Nielsen Norman Group study has shown that Internet users read about only 20 percent of the text on a web page and ignore the rest.
Tufts University researcher Maryanne Wolf, who has written extensively on our online reading habits, agrees.
She argues that reading online is “like your eyes are passing over the words but you’re not taking in what they say.”
So when you are writing for web audiences, it becomes crucial to consider your customers’ online reading habits because that will go a long way in helping you to create compelling and useful content that your customers will want to read.
The benefits of doing that are many.
Benefits of Writing for Web Users
- Be visible. Forty-six percent of small U.S. businesses don’t even have a website. Their many potential customers don’t even know that they exist. By getting a website and publishing regularly on it, you can on the radar and new customers can find you.
- Get More Visitors to Your Website. If you already have a website, writing quality content on a regular basis will improve its search engine rank and drive more traffic.
- Become and Authority. Helpful content—such as DIY articles and non-salesy blogs that educate and entertain readers—builds your brand and helps to establish you as an authority in your niche.
- Increase Your Sales. Audiences always want more of good content. Email is an ideal way to deliver it. Encourage your readers to become subscribers and use the email list to market your products or services.
- Engage with More Customers. Publishing useful content and sharing it on social media will lead to shares, friend recommendations, and a dedicated following of customers who will regularly engage with your brand.
That brings us to the million-dollar question: How to write engaging content for web audiences?
Many principles of good writing that were promulgated in the pre-Internet era are still valid.
Award-winning writer William Zinsser suggests writers to use short sentences, prefer active voice and stick to a conversational tone in his book On Writing Well. His advice is as valid today as it was in his time.
But that does not mean all old-school writing techniques will work.
You cannot avoid using white space, subheadings, photographs, videos, and bullet lists if you are writing for the web. These writing devices were rarely used in books.
Here are more tips, some old and some new, to writing for the web.
1. Write About Subjects Your Customers Care About.
That’s a cardinal rule. No matter how well written your blog is, if it doesn’t click with your customers they won’t read it. If you are starting out, a review of the industry blogs in your industry can be a useful way to avoid the writer’s block and get ideas on the subjects your customers are interested in. An alternative will be to outsource writing to an expert agency, Foxxr. (Hmm!)
2. Put the Most Important Information First
Writing online is different from writing on paper. Your customers are in a hurry. They don’t want to read because they are inundated with information. So when you start, make sure you put the most important information first. Market research can help you identify “important” in a sea of non-essential data.
3. Work on Your Headlines
Four times more people read headlines than blogs, according to David Ogilvy. A magnetic headline can increase the traffic on your blog more than seven times, but a poor one can leave your blog unread, even if it’s well-researched and written. Headlines also set the context in which the reader will understand your message. So it’s essential to work hard on your headlines.
4. Speak Your Customers’ Lingo
Replace each instance of jargon with a word your customers understand. Instead of “We provide tree services.” you can write “We remove trim and prune trees, remove stumps, and provide licensed arborist services.” Be specific. Be clear. You are an expert, but your customers aren’t. That’s the only reason they are hiring you. Keep jargon to a minimum.
5. Use Short Paragraphs
A paragraph longer than five lines is a no-no. It will not even fit on the screen of some mobile devices.
6. Use Short Sentences
You don’t have to be telegraphic like Hemingway, but you cannot be verbose like Herman Melville. Keep most sentences short but add one or two long ones for variety.
7. Don’t Ignore Search Engines
The content on the web is as much for humans as it is for search engine crawlers. Work with an SEO expert to craft content that will be liked by both Google and your customers.
8. Ensure Your Content is Sharable
Only the first two-three sentences will be visible if you were to share your content on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. If they are not compelling, you readers will not even click on it. Work extra hard on the first few words, or there will be a 51 percent chance that no one even clicks on your link.
9. Prefer Active Voice
“The cannabis was consumed by this person.” Doesn’t that sentence make you yawn? It can be written in a more reader-friendly way. For example, “This person consumed cannabis.”
10. Avoid “One” and Use “You”
Compare these sentences: “Research shows that one does not like to be talked down.” versus “You will not be liked to be talked down.” The second one is closer to how your customers talk.
11. Divide Your Content Into Sections
No one reads websites like a novel. A long, continuous piece of text is off-putting. Divide your content into visually separate sections that can be scanned on desktops and mobile devices.
12. Use Multimedia
You can use images, videos, and audio in your text to reinforce your argument. In fact, a growing body of research suggests that combined use of text and images increases comprehensibility to 95 percent, as opposed to 70 percent for text-only posts.
13. Use Bullet Lists and Headings
These HTML devices visually separate information, making it easier for readers to scan and digest.
14. Work on Typography
Reading on mobile devices is slightly difficult than reading on desktops. Work with your designer to choose a font and create a layout and color scheme that sits down well with most mainstream devices.
15. Don’t Write BS
Finally, avoid salesy stuff (unless it’s an ad) and hype. Back your writing with research because customers can detect BS from a mile away.
Your customers are online. You can reach out to them, engage them, and convince them to buy from you without even meeting them in person or talking to them over the phone. The key is writing.
But writing for the web is easier said than done. The principles of good writing, along with your customers online reading habits, have to be considered to create content that educates, entertains, and compels readers to take an action, which is overwhelming for most businesses.
We present a solution. Let us write for you while you enjoy the benefits that come from convincing online copy.