Copywriting & IA Case Study: Bytecon
This is a marketing site for a small web development company. The site feels cold, unfinished and empty.
The main problem is that the home page doesn't promote a strong message. The experience for a prospect browsing the site needs to be richer, fuller, and more active.
That's why I'm going to focus on content in this case study.
The page uses a a 3-column layout, with left and right columns that show pictures, and a centre column for content.
The side columns serve little purpose other than hold blue pictures which are remote and cold. You don’t believe that the photos are anything to do with Bytecon. There are empty boxes dividing the photos, as though there’s meant to be something there.
Pictorial content should be content, i.e. say something as part of the dialogue of the page. For best effect, it should sit inline on the page, not added down the side. (This is a layout issue, because the layout often comes first, and thought is needed to create space for effective pictorial content).
Unusually, the fixed-width centre column floats in space between the side columns. Conventional three-column layouts would either be all-variable, all-fixed and left-aligned, or all-fixed and centre-aligned. If a layout is going to spread to fit the window width, the main content has to move also. The problem caused is lots of empty white space between the page origin and the content, which is unhelpful and helps the site feel remote and inert.
The content area is divided into sections with headers, but the headers are indented with bullets. This is wrong. If the header describes the section, it should own the section, and that means being nearer the origin, i.e. more to the left.
The logo is too weak. The pixellation effect is harsh and geeky. It also doesn’t seem to belong on the page.
Blue is not a bad colour (lots of professional sites use it), but on its own in this way it is too cold. It needs to be offset against something softer and warmer.
If you’re selling your services as a web agency, part of what you’re selling is a relationship, which means character. You might trust a cold, blue, hard, mechanistic programmer to be a good programmer, but you won’t want to pick up the phone and talk to him about your web presence.
This needn’t require fancy graphics. Browse around for other sites that create the kind of atmosphere you’re after, and use those colours. Don’t be shy, hexadecimal codes aren’t subject to copyright!
Opening questions bad
Never open a page, and certainly not a site, with a question. The Bytecon home page starts with,
In sales technique, this is a weak tactic, because it passes control from the salesperson to the prospect, where the sale can easily go dead. (Of course, face-to-face, it can be helpful to get a couple of points of sensitivity from a prospect that the salesperson can use as leverage in a sale, but you can’t do that intelligently online).
The Home page also asks,
These are "opening" questions, because they widen the conversation. But when you’re selling remotely via a brochure or website, you need to focus and close in on specifics.
Asking the prospect what a web site can do for their business can only make them wonder how much they really expect a web site to do for their business, or whether it is the best way to spend their money. If they’re here looking for a web agency, they shouldn’t really need to be convinced that they may need a website. They need to be quickly converted from browsing to talking to buying.
Remember your own goals!
A better approach than asking the question would be to tell them what a web site can do for their business
Better still, show them what benefits web sites have brought to businesses like theirs.
Even better, give them the evidence to make them believe that talking to Bytecon is the next step to increased success.
Your home page is where you set out your stall, in the most economical, impacting, accurate way you can.
Front the site with a message that communicates,
Focus the message on positive benefits
Every part of the home page’s message should give a potential client a different reason to believe they’re in the right place. That means pointing to benefits (whether directly or by implication), and being specific enough to suggest "We’re the right place to come for these benefits
Let’s analyse some specific examples of copy from the Home page:
is irrelevant. If someone is here because they want a website, they don’t need to be told that. They need to be told the benefits of getting Byetcon to do it.
Don’t talk about what’s going on, what’s not finished. That sells nothing. What sells is benefits. The client’s question is: What can these guys offer me, now? So offer, now.
All that’s needed is:
There is no benefit to saying this. "We can help you!" cannot convert a browser to a buyer on its own. It’s not accurate enough, not confident enough, and just not credible.
Only say what particular benefits you bring that set you apart from the next webdev company.
Sell on strengths
Everyone has a strength, something to show off about. It’s good to work out what that strength is, and mention it as often as you can. Work out what differentiates you. Even weaknesses can be sold as strengths when viewed from a different angle!
You’re small? That makes you affordable, available and willing! If you’re young, say energetic! If you don’t have transport, say you know the area and specialise in serving local businesses!
Anything that you can say positively about yourself could differentiate you from the next guy.
If you say you’ll work with clients of any size, believe me, you will not find big clients wandering into your net. If you work with smaller clients, at least that’s a differentiator, which gives you something to sell on. This might be excellent availability and close personal contact, a sense of humour and personality, fast turnarounds, low price!
Remember, your customers are not looking for the best web agency out there, they’re looking for one that is likely to give them what they need. Very often, a client’s major motivator is to find an agency that isn’t the wrong one, the least worst rather than the very best.
To make that decision, all they need is an excuse to notice you as different. If they have a particular need, there’s a chance that your marketing dialogue will hit the spot, or it may miss. But if you generalise, you can’t hit.
Home page copy continues:
Again, this isn’t worth saying. A potential client wouldn’t expect a web site to say the opposite..
…so don’t waste your shot by stating the obvious.
If Bytecon is going to be a competitor, it’s much easier if they differentiate.
How to create a message that differentiates
The following steps form a crude exercise that help you create a message that, at very least, can hit some of your target audience’s buttons.
Even if your message doesn’t hit exactly the right buttons in a prospect, if it’s presented with confidence, it can create the impression of what else you can do. Case studies and news stories are excellent examples of this effect. As described later, the power of case studies lies in what remains unsaid. If you imply that your skills and abilities helped 3 clients to achieve different goals, by implication, there’s no reason why those same (not fully described) skills can’t help the next prospect achieve theirs!
1) What’s your target market?
Write down as many true characteristics of their real target market as possible.
For example (guessing): within 100 miles of us; medium-size (5-200 people);
- marketing department of one person who wants a lot of input in their website;
- ordering their first or second web site
2) Who’s the buyer?
Give her/him a name. Why not Hilary?! We’ll make Hilary a persona, with her own context, goals and sensitivities.
3) Five positive triggers
Write down about five positive clues that Hilary is looking for (consciously or subconsciously). These will give us some trigger keywords or phrases.
What will get her attention and make her believe that Bytecon is probably the best web agency for her needs that she’ll find if she spends the next hour browsing? What’s she thinking as she browses?
Maybe she’s thinking..
- "I need someone that isn’t going to baffle me with lots of technology.."
- "I need someone local who I can phone up and speak to any time of day.."
- "I need someone accountable.."
- "I need someone who’ll give us what we need.."
Let’s say some suitable trigger phrases might be:
- "excellent value"
- "you can be confident"
- "no fuss, simple advice"
- "always there"
4) Build the message around the triggers
The last step is simply to build the sense of all those key words into the home page. The rest of the text is a vehicle to deliver the key phrases, so the filler words should be minimal and focus on not giving any wrong impression.
After Hilary scans the home page, if she comes away with nothing other than those five phrases in mind, that would be a great success!
Build on previous successes
It’s more effective to let someone else promote you than to do it yourself. The Bytecon site has a section, "References", which contains ONE reference! They’re making two mistakes here: the first is that the reference should be on the home page, where it can do most good (the home page is starved of real content too). The second mistake is that having an empty references section gives the impression that Bytecon don’t have many references.
All previous success is relevant and can be used to help get more success, but you have to maximise its impact to capitalise.
The Portfolio section is also a bit thin. This illustrates a common trap, which this site has fallen into: Making sections without enough content. Web sites don’t *need* several sections to be effective. They don’t need navigation. They don’t need a contact us page or a page listing services. All they *need* is a message that’s bold, consistent, relevant and well thought-through.
My last Scratchmedia web site was very effective and only had one page, which featured 2 introductory paragraphs, a brief write-up of my last 3 projects, some thumbnails of a few other websites, a short blog diary, and my contact details. It followed Occam’s Razor: being the simplest answer to the problem.
I would recommend floating all the site’s content up onto a home page, until such a point that there are enough well-defined services or case studies to merit creating new pages. The result will be a
A note on Case Studies
A powerful business case study needs a simple, succinct message that can be summarised in one or two points that emphasise the success of the project, The quality of the company is described by implication, never directly. A good structure is: Need, Did, Result.
- What did the client need?
- What we did
- What the result was (successes)
This write-up doesn’t use any adjectives to describe Bytecon’s expertise, skills, or any other value, yet that comes through by implication. Of course, this is a technique for creating powerful, credible case studies, and works in harmony with a direct sales message. Site visitors still need to find out about your differentiating factors, quickly and directly.
The original design seemed to follow a straight-line thought process: We want to be seen as IT professionals, therefore we’ll show pictures of IT professionals in action.
That simple approach quite often works, provided the execution manages to suspend the visitor’s disbelief. That’s all – remember, any real prospective clients viewing your site *want* you to be the right company, they’re not trying to catch you out. Tell them what they want to know, with confidence.
You know what the best thing about being a web design/development agency and doing your own web site is… The impression that you create on your home page is, by definition, true! If you make yourself look like a successful and professional web service provider, then you’ve proven your ability and therefore you can do it for clients. No further questions!
Unfortunately, this imagery is not well chosen or presented, and doesn’t create the right impression. The remote, washed-out, faceless stock imagery doesn’t work well here. Personally I don’t believe for a minute that these people could be Bytecon.
I did enjoy the two guys at the top-right, cringing in horror and disgust at their share price plummeting before their eyes, as illustrated on the plunging line on the graph on the photo below them
Anything that’s believable. It depends on the character and personality you wish to present, and that should be chosen to fit the target market…
So back to Hilary. She’s looking for someone who she can call up direct, someone who’ll be available and accountable. She also needs someone who’ll be very much on her side, and help her to work out what *she* wants. She only has a few thousand in her web site budget, so this is her only shot, and she needs to know that she’ll get cooperation with her web agency.
What will show Hilary the kind of personality she wants to see?
- Light, bold, simple design will help.
- For imagery, evidence of successful and happy clients will support the message.
- Logos are good when juxtaposed with snippets of success.
- If you’re going for a personal look, I would show the face of Bytecon!
The face of Bytecon
This means getting someone with a digital camera, good light, and spending an hour taking a hundred pictures, then filtering them down and editing them into the right image. It will be time well spent.
It doesn’t matter if the person behind the curtain is an eighteen year old geek – Hilary might be able to trust an eighteen year old geek if he comes across with the right tone of voice! (Note: I’ve selected a random geek mugshot for the case study redesign!)
This simple one-page site should give Bytecon’s prospects everything they need to pick up the phone:
- It contains a density of trigger phrases for the target market’s likely mental checklist
- The personality is open and friendly, with a repeated emphasis on creating communication
- It uses well-written, truthful case study and news items that imply repeated and on-going success
- Very little imagery is used, and it’s used as content to help support the proposition and brand
- The colour scheme is simple and generic but easy on the eye, and lets the reader focus on the message
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