At the beginning of the year a lot of entrepreneurs were talking about this being the year they took a big step forward.
And, believers or not, none of us were going to say no if the Chinese year of the Horse brought more energy and creativity!
How is that going for you?
I expect you’ve found that getting anywhere involves hard work, a generous sprinkle of luck, and a lot of frustration when nothing seems to be happening. Much like any other year.
One of those areas of work is communication. Don’t leave it to happen by some sort of magic.
Getting your message in front of someone is an achievement in itself. It’s just so wasteful if it scares them off rather than drawing them in. You need to clear away any speed bumps that would stop them getting to the thing you’ve got to say.
Here’s a checklist. Go through and make yourself a scorecard with ticks and crosses.
How many out of ten will you get? Does it highlight any areas for improvement?
1. Does your site introduce itself?
Look at your website home page – the first screenful a visitor sees at the top of the page. Can they tell what your site is about from a quick glance?
Try to separate yourself from what you know and focus on what you see: title, strapline, graphics, etc. A lot of people simply forget to tell the audience.
If visitors don’t see that your site is about the thing they’re looking for, they’ll click away again.
2. Does your site look like a pleasant reading experience?
If it looks like it’ll be a horrible ordeal, visitors will look elsewhere rather than put themselves through it.
Is your text easy to read? First, is it a good size? Can you read it comfortably on a normal -sized screen with browser zoom at 100%? For comparison, grab a non-fiction book with a layout you like and compare the body text sizes.
Second, is there good contrast between your site’s text and the background? Lose if you have, for instance, pale grey on white, text that becomes invisible, or some wild colour scheme where the words seem to float off the page.
Give yourself a frown if the text column straggles across the entire screen width. Long lines are harder for readers to track.
3. Do your comms have the ring of authenticity?
We look for social cues in all forms of communication. One of the biggest, of course, is, “Can I trust this person? Are they who they appear to be?” If we pick up signals that you’re false somehow, for instance if you say one thing and demonstrate another, we won’t be comfortable hanging around.
Your colour scheme is a big part of this. Colours have common associations, and we process the visual impact of the way info is presented rapidly, mostly on a subconscious level. If your visuals use a colour scheme that’s at odds with your message, that’ll create dissonance and discomfort in readers.
Colour psychology is a topic in itself, and a major part of my e-course on design basics. But for example: Red suggests energy, passion, anger, warning; Green suggests harmony and balance, nature, healing; Blue suggests cool and calm, trust, responsibility. If those were the only options available, I expect most of you could pick one that would be best and one to avoid. For example, if you’re running events to get young people excited about art, a lot of blue would dampen the energy.
There’s also what you say and how you say it. Do you sound like someone who lives the principles you talk about? Or someone who’s just dashing off any old thing and doesn’t really care about us?
It’s even about the standard of your writing. If you say you’re a highly-qualified professional but you write like a bored 9-year-old, do you think we’ll be convinced? Do you give the text of your stuff a critical onceover to weed out mistakes before you let it loose on the world? If this is something you need help with, have you acknowledged that and hooked up with someone who can give you that help?
This is a very practical matter of whether you put barriers in your own way. Bad writing attaches a tag of “sloppy work” to the image of you in people’s heads. (This is hard if you’re dyslexic or have other language difficulties – where do you set the bar? It may be wise to be open about it, so at least your more generous visitors will form impressions accordingly.)
4. Does your website navigation work for users?
Can a visitor to your site easily find the following?
- A page with more about you.
- How to contact you.
- More about your topic/field.
- At least one free resource they can grab and keep.
- Paid products, services or publications.
You’ll have to think like someone who doesn’t already know where things are. Are links in a prominent position? Are they titled in a way that visitors will expect, so they can easily tell what’s what?
5. Are you showing up in person?
Do you have an About page that’s easy to find? Is it written in the first person, like a conversation with the reader? Does it have a photo of you? Does it tell us a little about your life history, your background, your values, why you’re doing what you’re doing, where your skills have come from?
If you produce a download or other document – especially if you start talking to the reader using “I” and “me” – do you introduce yourself briefly near the start?
Some people hide. They think their words about their work will cover them. But your communications are like a conversation, and that feels really weird if we can’t see who’s talking to us.
6. Are you using enticing headlines?
Look at the headlines for your last three blog posts. Do they have keywords relating to things your audience is interested in, give a decent idea of what the post is about, and raise some sort of question they’ll want to know the answer to? (More on headlines in this post.)
7. Do you include social sharing images?
Do all your blog posts include a decent-sized image that will form a good accompaniment if they’re shared on social media?
This wasn’t a big issue till recently, so only look at the last year, plus any older ones that are important enough to still point to regularly. Social media sites are much more visual than they used to be, and evidence shows that a good image makes it more likely that a post will spread. (Pinterest can only share a link if the page has an image, and it seems unwise to cut yourself off from a fast-growing network.)
8. Are you writing for the web?
Look at the text in your blog posts and other pages. Lose if you spot more than a handful of paragraphs over six lines long, or long run-on sentences, or big words that your audience might not understand.
If you’re used to writing for print, remember that people reading on a screen are less forgiving of habits that make things harder to read. They’re also more likely to be skimming than reading in a concentrated way.
This is also about style. You want a concise, journalistic style that conveys information and ideas in a way that’s clear and easy to read. (More on writing style here.)
9. Do your downloads look like things that will be good to read?
Do you have important download documents, like a free PDF for signing up to your mailing list? Take a look. Have you paid attention to layout so that they look like a pleasant reading experience? For example, attractive and readable fonts at a decent size; plenty of descriptive headings breaking the text up; use of white space to separate elements and make it feel uncluttered.
Lose if your PDFs look like something you dashed off on a word processor. People download all sorts of stuff, give it a glance, put it in a folder to read later, and forget about it. Give yourself the best chance of catching their attention. (Read more in this post on making download documents.)
10. Do your physical materials give users what they need?
Do you produce physical promotional materials like leaflets or business cards? If someone gave you a thing of that type, what would you want and expect to see on it? (Jot them down if it helps.) Does your stuff have that?
Things like a decent set of contact details, including website, email, maybe phone, probably at least one social media link/handle so they can check you out in conversation. If it’s an event, info about venue, date, time, cost. Lead them to what you want them to do next, and give them what they need to do it.
A couple of days ago a campaign flyer dropped through my letterbox. It raises awareness of an important issue, then doesn’t direct people anywhere. A short web link to a page of further info or an online petition would have been ideal. As it is, it’s a sad waste of someone’s effort.
How did you score on those? Really you want to be nailing all of them, but if you got less than, say, 7/10 you need to devote some time to fixing things soon.
Let me know how you got on in the comments. And do use the resources on the site to help you.