A few months ago I was asked to critique a website of a fintech company, whose main offer is to help professionals — solicitors, accountants, lawyers — get paid via an online payments portal. Their system speeds up the payments process and and significantly helps cashflow.
I went through the website, page by page, and presented my initial findings. The problem was that rather than clearly communicating what they do, why they should be used and what benefits their services offer, the content was like something a politician might have written.
There was no clarity, just obfuscation — but why would a company make it so difficult to explain what they offer? People looking for a product or service are like butterflies looking for nectar — if they don’t get what they want from one flower they move on to the next.
Perhaps it was down to an over eager marketing director who had to be impressed with complex language or perhaps it was simply that the web design team had no real idea as to what their client did. Either way, my report resonated with the person it was presented to, but the next one up the ladder was the one who had commissioned and approved the site — no further action was taken.
I hope that when people visit my company’s website that they understand what we offer, otherwise this article is going to be rather embarrassing for me. On the first page we set out the six core services in plain English. There’s no need for flannel, because we pride ourselves on generating compelling copy and our website is easy to navigate. You’ll have to take my word for the quality of our photography, event management and graphic design.
The sad reality is that the fintech’s poor use of language isn’t isolated. Another sales email arrived recently from a company promising to do many things to boost sales leads. But, what did they offer? It was only when I watched a 60-second explainer video on their site that it became obvious what they do.
How many other sites over complicate the situation so that it all sounds very impressive? Well, they think it sounds impressive, but no-one’s actually reading the content because they have either lost the will to live or they have gone elsewhere.
So, what’s the take-away from this?
If you’re a web designer, ensure that you understand what your client does so that you can succinctly tell their story. If you’re commissioning a website, don’t fall for the old ‘bullshit baffles brains’ approach, because it doesn’t. And, it is not only humans who have to understand. The main mission for Google (or at least what we think Google is looking for) and other search engines is to help answer a question and to provide the most relevant websites that answer that question.
Google doesn’t need to ‘understand’ what is written (in human terms), but it trawls millions of pages of content in the blink of an eye to retrieve the most relevant information. If your content doesn’t match the search criteria then your site will not feature in the search results.
There is also a lot of nonsense written about search engine optimisation and how companies can ‘guarantee’ getting your company to rank on page one of Google, but that’s for another time (suffice to say, no-one can guarantee page one of Google, not even Mr Google himself).
Taking my point of relevance to extremes, you might make the best coffee in the neighbourhood, but if your website explains that you produce consistently enjoyable hot beverages derived from the seeds of a plant that grows in south-east Asia, parts of Africa and South America, you’re not going to rank very well with the search engines and you’re going to bore the pants off your prospective customers.
The old adage from the hostility, sorry hospitality, industry was that ‘the customer is king’. That’s clearly not true if you’ve ever had to queue for a coffee in a CostaLottaBucks, but that’s beside the point.
Communication is the new king and in my opinion the simpler the message, the better. My only adjunct to this mantra is that the performance of the service or product being offered had better meet the reality of what’s being promised in that message.
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