Last time I was here at the Pluginize blog, we talked about applying design usability concepts to writing site copy for your homepage. This round, we’re going to talk about why you want to write for the least informed person in your targeted audience–not the most.
First, you have to figure out who is listening.
When writing copy for web/mobile development and design firms, there’s often a debate about just how technical the conversation should be. Often, these agencies have an overlap in their audiences:
Category A: Business owners/Entrepreneurs/C-Level Executives/Senior Marketing Types
These are the folks who make first recommendations and/or final decisions in their business, and depending on the size of the business, one (or two) of them set out to find a developer who can build, or refresh, their site.
Category B: Other developers and designers
Developers and designers often hire their own–whether that be for support on a big project, consultation, or help with a particular element on a specific project. Developers, as a rule, tend to be extremely motivated when it comes to learning new tips, tricks, and more, and if they’re part of a solid community, tend to refer out to other devs they know and trust when necessary.
Category C: Website builders
We define “website builders” as people who are looking to build their own sites, but aren’t quite proficient at development. Many of them are interested in learning more, but also looking at building straightforward, fairly simple sites or being able to do small tweaks on their own quickly and easily.
You can already see the problem here, don’t you?
These three groups fall along a broad spectrum of technical knowledge. When you’re appealing to all three, you have to figure out a way to communicate to audiences with varying levels of understanding of your product. You have to figure out which assumptions to make for three parties with very different perspectives.
Ok, but I don’t run a web development shop.
This isn’t exclusive to web development or plugins, I promise!
Let’s pretend that I own a tea shop. I’ve never owned a tea shop, although I have frequented quite a few.
I would assume that there are a few different kinds of folks they get:
Category A: The average tea drinker
Someone who likes to drink tea sometimes, especially when they’re feeling sick or when it’s cold. They might occasionally pick up a fancy tea for a special occasion, but generally speaking, they keep it simple and inexpensive.
Category B: Die-hard tea fans
They know specific details about loose-leaf teas. They have an extensive collection of different kinds of teas and associated goodies. It’s a hobby–they learn about how different teas are made, serve different teas according to the health benefits or different flavors, or maybe even create their own tea combinations.
Category C: Someone who knows nothing about tea, but is buying a gift or accompanying one of the above folks.
“Tea is flavored water.”
(Bad news, tea haters: So is coffee. And also…kind of everything that we drink.)
With nearly any industry, it’s easy to pick out three primary categories on the spectrum of knowledge about that particular product/service. Some have zero interest in the business or product, other than the purpose that it ultimately serves in their lives. Some are diehard fans who are extremely interested in what the company is doing, what is being made, and what the business is about. Then there’s everyone in between.
I’ve seen this a lot in the tech industry: Folks think that they want to write their site copy for the most technically knowledgeable person reading their site. They are afraid that if they make it more straightforward, they won’t demonstrate their own technical knowledge sufficiently.
- The vast majority of your audience is not going to be highly niche, unless your product itself is highly niche.
- Most people are not going to be bothered by site copy that is accessible to the least knowledgeable person in your audience*.
- There are other, more sophisticated ways to demonstrate your prowess without resorting to complicated jargon, nasty buzzword-ery, or other lazy linguistic tricks.
*Within reason. What does this caveat mean? Again, we have to go back to figuring out what basic assumptions we can make about your audience–what are the fundamental things they know? Use that information to set the baseline.
Here’s where we go back to Steve Krug’s fundamental questions and break them down further.
(If you haven’t read the first post in this series, now’s a good time to go catch up.)
Here were Krug’s questions:
- What is this?
- What can I do here?
- What do they have here?
- Why should I be here–and not somewhere else?
Once your page answers those questions, where do you go from here?
Let’s break it down:
We’ve covered the basics of the homepage already, but essentially, the homepage should be a succinct and compelling way to capture your audience. Krug’s four fundamental questions should be answered by your design and copy, and from there, the other pages on your site that house that additional information.
This should be extremely high level and accessible to your average audience member.
The About Page
The About page on your site is a fantastic opportunity to tell the story of your company, both past and present. When done right, this incorporates information that tells the audience why you are qualified to do what you do. What’s your previous experience? Who are you and why are you passionate about what you do? You want to figure out your business messaging and find your parable.
Here’s where you can show what you have to offer without necessarily detailing the how. What’s the end product? If it’s something you’re selling, you can share the details on that here.
If you offer a service, you can sell the outcome of working with you. This is a place where you can add more detail, but still want to keep it high level and accessible to someone who isn’t wildly knowledgable about your industry.
FAQs are often used to address the obvious–frequently asked questions, which are often practical, logistical questions that aren’t addressed in the straightforward site copy you’ve already written.
You can also use this opportunity to break down the how and what regarding your process, which can include more detailed information. You can also use this space (or even a separate page) to offer resources with more technical information.
This is the perfect place to include that extra technical information that you may feel is missing from the homepage or your your services/product pages.
And here’s where you can really appeal to several demographics at once. Blog posts covering the basics can be for people unfamiliar with your industry or product. Blog posts covering the nitty gritty can give insight into your extensive knowledge base. By producing both, you’ll appeal to all categories of folks you feel most appropriate.
Etsy does a great job of this: They have the Etsy Seller Handbook for shop owners, who are personally invested in using Etsy as a means of income and opportunity, and their blog content is curated for shoppers, who primarily use Etsy to purchase goods.
We do this at WebDevStudios, too. We have content that covers WordPress basics, like underutilized WordPress features and the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org, content that appeals to business owners and other folks in senior positions, like articles on successful project management and marketing, and then extensive, detailed web development tutorials that appeal to both experienced devs and those who are still learning.
There is a time and place for your extensive industry knowledge.
The key is to making sure you know when to best implement it. Krug’s four questions are a great place to start. Use them as the high level questions you should answer first, and then use the additional pages on your site to drill down into deeper technical/industry knowledge. This prevents your average/least informed audience member from being scared off and provides the receipts for those who want to see them.