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It takes guts to drive users to your site effectively

Writing for specific target audiences is hard and most are too scared to do it well.

The French mathematician Blaise Pascal was quoted in the 17th century with this observation of letter writing: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

That quote resonates with me. I can be as guilty as the next marketer of waffle.

Pascal highlights the need for brevity and in doing so he concedes that it takes time and real effort. It’s not easy to be clear.

Positioning your business, its products and its services online and offline is all about brevity.

You might have many services or products aimed at many differing audiences. This is your biggest online challenge – to be crystal clear to each.

How to get to most out of Google

At work, I don’t ‘browse’ the internet. When I visit a new website or web page, especially on a business matter, I will make snap decisions. Maybe you’re the same?

And I’ll typically turn to a search engine because I have no other referral, because I’m looking for something specific.

Googles’ Larry Page once described the perfect search engine as something that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want”.

‘I’ve never cared enough to work out unclear messages in search engine results; neither have you and neither have your prospects”

A search engine’s job is to deliver the most relevant search results, based on what it considers to be the best answer to the query, as quickly as possible.

Search engines work for us. Google wins because it currently does it best.

Very simply, Google will present our results on a plain web page where each search listing is made up of three clear parts.

The blue text is the page title, the green part is the URL and the black text below is the page description.

These elements are most effective when kept within a certain character length – ie no more than 70 and 160 characters long respectively.

And given the job they need to do – to get the user to click the link – both need to be brief and spectacularly clear.

Take charge of your page listings

You control these elements – they are your responsibility. The entire listing needs to work hard to answer all of the users reassurance questions:

  • Does the listing appear to be able to help me in my current situation?
  • Is it making me want to read more – ie click through to the page?
  • Do I need to ‘think’ to make the next move?

All this before the user even arrives at the web page.

This thought process takes seconds – it’s quick. Users will try once, twice, maybe three different search queries before the results are refined enough to answer their query and they’ll visit the web page.

I’ve never cared enough to work out unclear messages in search engine results or on business websites; neither have you and neither have your prospects.  

We move on to the next and the next, ruthlessly until we find what we want.

Unthinking usability

In 2009, website usability expert Steve Krug wrote the book Don’t Make Me Think. He wrote it because people always asked him how to make their websites easier to use.

His answer is clear: “I should be able to ‘get it’ – what it is and how to use it – without expending any effort thinking about it…”

‘Don’t make me think’, is his first law of usability. ‘Don’t make me think’ is also the first law of ‘Positioning’.

“Good positioning is as much about turning certain folk away as it is about bringing prospects in. It takes guts to be crystal clear”

This is because time is of the essence. In 2011, user experience consultants Nielsen Norman Group highlighted evidence proving that the first 10 seconds of any user’s visit to a web page is critical.

“If the web page survives this first – extremely harsh – 10-second judgment, users will look around a bit. However, they’re still highly likely to leave during the subsequent 20 seconds of their visit.”

So, we have 20 seconds to be utterly clear – and this is the kicker.

Brevity is hard because it creates fear. Good positioning is as much about turning certain folk away as it is about bringing prospects in. It takes guts to be crystal clear.

If you’re one of the few companies in construction who is clear about exactly what you do, who you do it for (and how they benefit) and you use plain English to attract prospects as well as turning the unqualified majority away, I salute you.

Nick Pauley is a CIMCIG committee member and the managing director of Pauley Creative

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