Outsmarting Goliath by Debra Koontz Traverso Outsmarting Goliath by Debra Koontz Traverso
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Tips to Apply to Your Business--Instantly!

Tweak Your Web Site Using Words, Not Money

The following is used with permission from www.WriteDirections.com, the virtual institute which offers personal writing and business communication classes via telephone and e-mail.

Copyright 1999 by Debra Koontz Traverso.
All rights reserved in all media.


The intent of most Web sites is to capture visitors' attention and subtly convince them to part with their money. Why then, do most Web sites read like a tome or an egocentric tribute to their creator, rather than like a highly effective marketing piece?

You can turn your Web site into a location that adds value to your visitors and supports your image, while simultaneously developing future sales. You will need an understanding of journalistic writing and direct marketing techniques, both of which have proven their effectiveness for decades.

Can your Web site pass this test of top ten items for effective writing?

1. Include your address and phone number (or tell where to find them) on the home page.
Since one of my roles is as business journalist, I often use search engines to help me locate sources for my articles. Invariably, I find an intriguing site whose owner I want to interview in person, but whose address and phone number are not available. Rather than devote an endless amount of searching through the web site, I will move on to the second site on my list. Thus, the first site loses some valuable free publicity with a major publication. Another reason to add your address and phone number is to build credibility; it suggests that there is at least one person behind the virtual storefront who is not afraid to be held accountable for what the site presents. You will notice that on the home page to this site, I have listed "Contact Information." One click on that button will tell you several ways to reach me.

2. Use short paragraphs.
Look at the paragraph under item one above. It's too long for web writing. When read on a screen, it looks like a blur of grey. At most, it should feature two to three short sentences. Web usability studies show that readers tend to skim over sites rather than read them intently because of the low resolution of today's computer screens. It's hard on the eyes to read much on a computer monitor, and reading speed on a screen is on average 25% below reading ink on paper.

3. Tighten your writing.
Make each word fight for its right to be on the screen. If you want to accomplish item two which is short paragraphs, you will have to tighten your writing and eliminate any words that are not necessary.

4. Speak in terms of benefits, not features.
Direct marketers have been doing this—and proving it works—for more than 50 years. Explain to visitors on page one exactly how your site will benefit them so that they don't have to do the work (thinking) of figuring it out themselves. In direct marketing, this is the equivalent of enticing the recipient to open the envelope.

For example, don't say: "We offer a list of A, a directory of B, and a group of C to choose from." These are features. Instead say, "With A you will become thinner, with B you will get richer, and with C your love life will improve ten-fold." These are benefits.

You will notice that on the home page to this site, I state immediately how you will benefit from the information it contains: "On this site you will find proven tips and strategies for developing a killer business image and proven marketing program." It worked so well (no doubt without your even being aware that it worked) that you stayed with the site and have continued clicking for more information.

5. Write in the journalistic inverted pyramid style.
Journalists place the most important elements of a story in the first paragraph. Each subsequent paragraph carries information of less importance as the story grows in length. This allows a story to be cut at any point to fit available space, yet still present the essential information.

Because most of your pages will require visitors to scroll, you might lose them at any time. Thus, you should put the vital information you want to impart at the top.

6. Try a clever lead (first paragraph) to grab attention.
Ask a question that adds intrigue to the topic. Provide a statistic. Quote a leading figure in your field. Create interest with a story or analogy. Secure a revealing testimonial and use it to introduce your topic.

7. Put numbers in perspective.
Figures, statistics and percentages can enhance any information. However, numbers can seem overwhelming (when they're actually not) or unimpressive (when they're actually incredible), if they're not put into perspective.

The classic examples of numbers presented visually include the distance around the world, or from the earth to the moon, or height in relation to the World Trade Center. But you have thousands of options for building pictures out of numbers; your only limitations are your imagination and ability to calculate numbers.

8. Give away your good advice.
Of course you want customers, clients, sales, money. But you won't get it for free. Offering advice, helpful tips, and meaty information at your site, rather than just listing the great features you offer, that's the price you pay for winning an audience.

You probably have noticed that this site is associated with a book of the same name, "Outsmarting Goliath." If the site talked only about the features of the book, what would be the point? You could pick up the book at a local bookstore and review it more thoroughly anyway. So, go beyond the book and offer tips and strategies at this site that will not only get you excited about the book, but that will also give you ideas that you can immediately apply to your business. The article you're reading now, for example, is not included in the book.

And finally, remember that your charm, sincerity, incredible good looks and impressive eye contact mean nothing over the web. Your message alone must provide the charm, sincerity and rapport; it stands a better chance of doing that if it's wrapped in genuinely helpful information. You decide: has this article provided you with helpful information?

9. Headlines
Use headlines generously...to grab attention; to break up lengthy copy; to introduce new topics; to add interest; to encourage further reading.

Keep titles and headlines short, pithy and explanatory. Study headlines in your local newspaper for ideas. Be sure to include either a verb or a suggestion of action. For example, compare this standard title, "How to Compete With Bigger Companies and Win" with the intrigue the title of my book "Outsmarting Goliath" provides. Fewer words, yet more impact.

Also, notice the headline to this article: "Tweak Your Web Site Using Words, Not Money." I would guess that this headline had an emotional appeal for you: the suggestion that you can make great improvements without spending a lot of your hard-earned money.

10. Word choice
Words are more than descriptors you put together to convey a message. They are also tools you use to persuade and motivate your visitors. You persuade your readers that you have something valuable to offer; you motivate them to acquire it for themselves.

So choose powerful words and phrases. Telling your visitors that your site is "informative" doesn't generate anticipation as much as saying that it "unlocks the secrets of" or "stirs the imagination" or "gives you an insider's grasp" or "keeps you ahead of the game" or provides details that "you ought to know about."

Sure, these phrases work against item 3 in which I told you to tighten your writing. But sometimes the effort to tighten can also eliminate the interest. If you're stuck between "boring and fewer words," and "interesting but too many words," then either choose different power words or opt for "interesting with more words."

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Outsmarting Goliath -- Copyright © 2000-2008 by Debra Koontz Traverso
All rights reserved on all material on all pages in this Web site. For information on reprinting material from this site, please contact debra@outsmartinggoliath.com.