Writing for the web: About us

24 Mar

I’ve harped a lot on why having engaging copy can separate one site from another. Assume only more of the same. (What? It’s a legitimate argument!)

Jackson questioned which pages should receive focused effort in creating brilliant copy. I understand it’s serious hard work for people to craft creative content for an entire site (*cough* hire a copywriter! *cough*), and he raises a realistic point: making an impact in a handful of highly visible areas of a site AND in the details, too, can have a tremendous effect. So here’s the first of many places I think a site can showcase brilliant web copy to separate itself from the competition: About Us.

Is this too obvious? Or maybe it’s surprising because #1 might otherwise have been the homepage, but more and more people are finding secondary (and deeper) pages through search engines and skipping the homepage completely.

Whether they come to the homepage or jump into some third-level page doesn’t matter; ultimately, if you have what they’re looking for, they’ll jump to your “about” page to help gauge legitimacy. Grab them by describing yourself in an direct, genuine way.

Not sure how to do that? Well, pretend like you’re describing your company to your grandma. You’ll be surprised by how different (Dare I say, approachable? Or easy?) your language becomes when talking to a loved one versus a potential consumer. Once you have that conversational infrastructure, you can “professionalize” it to how you assume your users will best understand it.

But don’t go overboard — sometimes, your users want to digest your language the same way your grandma does. More and more, the internet is becoming an informal place where business is done in jeans over IM. Of course, this doesn’t hold true for every company, but keep in mind that your content should be representative of you but speak to your user.

The Good
Viget.com (shameless plug. sue me. please don’t.) – We are people. Here’s what we do. Here are the qualities we personify in our staff and through our work. And it’s not *just* because Viget Labs is a fun web consulting company that allows it to project such an approachable voice; it’s because it refuses to confuse “conversational” with “unprofessional,” and many companies still have a hard time realizing the two aren’t necessarily synonymous. (Considering so many decisions are made over lunch — rather than in boardrooms — you’d think more traditional businesses would start speaking directly to consumers rather than through a marketing team trying to come up with “impressive” descriptors that most people never use in everyday language. To them, I say: KISS.*)

U.S. Department of Education – I applaud the U.S. Dept. of Ed. for using the KISS* technique in its about page. This is who we are, when we were founded, and what we do. It doesn’t get bogged down in traditional stodgy (unnecessarily wordy) government lingo. Bingo bango, Secrest out.

The Bad
Boeing.com – I know Boeing is speaking to an entirely different audience than viget.com, for example, but I have a hard time believing that users — before visiting Boeing — decided they really needed a company that would integrate “through network-centric operations” by creating solutions “that reach across business units.” Maybe those people exist, and maybe they’re enjoying a round of golf right now. To me, the language on Boeing’s site screams fluffy marketing, and aside from a few lines on their about page, I argue that their value is diluted because someone wanted to fill up the webpage with more copy. The real meat is that more than 150,000 people comprise Boeing, which, at its core, “is the world’s leading aerospace company and the largest manufacturer of commercial jetliners and military aircraft combined.” Less is more.*

Dell – Did I just click to read news releases? Who is EqualLogic? Dell is assuming that everyone in the world knows who they are. Maybe that’s an OK assumption to make if you’re Michael Jackson, but Dell misses the mark here by not even giving a paragraph to itself as a company. Instead, it makes reader wade through press releases — something I argue no one really wants to do anymore — to find out what the company has been doing lately. So much for engaging readers. Why not just have an about page that says, “If you’re here, you know us. ‘Nuff said.” Pompous? Sure. But confusing, nah.

* KISS: Keep it simple, stupid.

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7 Responses to “Writing for the web: About us”

  1. M. Jackson Wilkinson March 24, 2008 at 10:34 am #

    Was that a Michael Jackson knock?

  2. shay March 24, 2008 at 10:38 am #

    Yes.

    Though he is the most recognized figure on Earth, up there with Elvis, Madonna, and Mickey Mouse.

  3. Caroline at Dell April 3, 2008 at 4:06 pm #

    Although most folks can hum the tune to Thriller, you’re right that not everyone knows about Dell!
    I work at Dell and provide content for our ‘about’ page, and I can tell you that the intention of that page is not to be a bunch of news releases, but instead to offer new information when/if we can… to keep people coming back.

    The other objective has been to integrate our community sites into our ‘about’ section – blogs, videos, ideas, forums, podcasts. Lots of companies have an ‘about’ landing page that never changes. We’re trying out something different to see if it works!

    That said, you make a great point about there not being an opening paragraph to describe what the company does. Thanks to your post here – I think we’re going to add one. Thanks for your feedback!

  4. shay April 3, 2008 at 4:16 pm #

    Hi Caroline!

    Thanks for the comment, and glad my observation was food for thought. I remember the days of “Dude, you gotta get a Dell,” that may not be a part of today’s marketing initiatives, but that kind of an approach (I think) certainly would resonate with consumers better than assuming they’re willing to read all of the community resources without knowing much about your communities in the first place.

    Kudos to taking on new strategies! We’ve done our own at Viget Labs with our blogs — trying to facilitate some great dialog in the communities at-large that influence the work we do (web strategy, design, development, and marketing).

    So far, this new strategy has worked for us tremendously, and we’re excited about the results — but we definitely paid close attention to ensuring the readers find what they’re after…and that meant, for us, to balance the “traditional about us” page people were seeking with language that is direct but approachable.

    I’m sure the paragraph you talk about is all users would need to orient them to your mission, then get them filtered into the more community-centric/social media areas of your site.

    Thanks again for the comment — glad to have been able to spark some ideas!

  5. Steve Jobs April 3, 2008 at 4:29 pm #

    Shay, you make really outstanding points and I’m surprised that Caroline at Dell really has anything worthwhile to say. Those guys just don’t get it!

    Your blog is outstanding and to encourage you to keep it up I’m going to send you an iPod. Just let me know which kind you want.

    Your friend,
    Steve Jobs

  6. Michael Jackson April 3, 2008 at 4:38 pm #

    Would you guys lay off me already? I’d like to see Steve or Caroline, or Shay for that matter, release an album that sells 104 million copies worldwide.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Writing for the Web: About Us - March 24, 2008

    […] Kari wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptMaybe that’s an OK assumption to make if you’re Michael Jackson, but Dell misses the mark here by not even giving a paragraph to itself as a company. Instead, it makes reader wade through press releases — something I argue no one really … […]

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