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SEO Website Audit

Writing TO Your Customers—Not AT Them

October 28, 2009
By Karon Thackston © 2009, All Rights Reserved

Sometimes choosing which company to buy from is about like deciding which brand of canned peas is the best. To make matters worse, the copy on most websites doesn't offer any help.

There are three major offenders in copywriting that I see constantly on the Internet. The first is generic copy that offers no specific differentiation points — in other words, reasons why the visitor should choose you instead of the thousands of other sites that are just a click away. The second is overused fluff copy that has no substance. And the third? Using company-focused copy ("we" and "us") instead of customer-focused ("you" and "your"). It's the third offender I want to address in this article.

I am literally shocked that — after decades of marketing evangelists preaching "It's not about you!" — website owners still don't get it. What's not to understand? Copy that focuses strictly on your company and practically or completely ignores your prospects doesn't work nearly as well as copy that speaks to your target customers in their language and about the benefits they will receive.

I discussed this very topic with SEO friend Jill Whalen recently, and she commented, "I think people don't understand how to write to the customer instead of about their company." Perhaps my cohort is right. So, in an effort to educate, let's look at several before and after scenarios.

Company-Focused Copy Examples

It's as if this web design firm has intentionally made an effort to ignore their site visitors. They use their company name, "the client," "customers," and practically every other word to describe who is reading the page. Except, that is, the most important: you. You must address the one, single person who is reading your web page at any given moment, not a collective population of people.

ABC Web Design is dedicated to customer service. We make great strides to offer high levels of customer service and communication with clients. As a small company, we understand one-on-one service is needed. Our designers have developed hundreds of small-business websites and we make the process simple. Contact us for pricing and a free consultation today.

Do you see that not a single "you" is used? The site visitor is never addressed. It's all about the company. Now let's change it to be about the customer:

ABC Web Design is dedicated to your success, promising high levels of customer service and communication. You'll be kept up to date — on a one-to-one basis — about the progress of your project. Relying on years of experience, your web designer makes the creation process simple, guiding you through every step. Contact us for pricing and a free consultation today.

Here's another example:

We have the finest contractors in the marketplace today. Our kitchen experts have been recruited from the most successful companies. XYZ Kitchen Remodeling Company of Kalamazoo has the support of a large network that has over 300 reliable and professional kitchen remodeling contractors serving most of North America.

Here's the rewrite:

When you want to work with the finest contractors in the marketplace, XYZ Kitchen Remodeling Company of Kalamazoo answers the call. Not only will you benefit from using experienced kitchen experts, your renovation is backed by the support of the largest network of kitchen remodelers. That gives you the knowledge and skills of over 300 reliable, professional kitchen remodeling contractors in North America.

See the difference? Is it a sin to use the words "us" or "our"? Certainly not, but your copy should be weighted far more heavily with customer-oriented words than company-focused ones. Tell visitors about your service, your results and your experience. But do so in a way that makes them and their success the center of the copy.

When you keep the focus on your company, you prevent your target customer from knowing the benefits they'll reap after working with you. However, when you adjust your focus, you shine a bright light helping visitors to quickly see why you're the best choice for them.

Karon Thackston
Marketing Words

[Jill's comment: You might also be interested in FutureNow's "We We Calculator," which measures your copy for customer focus vs. company focus.]
Post Comment

 Jayne said:
Excellent article as usual and very disturbing calculator! I tried it on recently written website page that i was quite pleased with & got a 51% self focus rate – I will be doing some rapid re-writing!
 Bill Treloar said:
I love the We We Calculator. I've been lecturing a client about me-oriented copy. He got an 83% self-focus score, while my latest blog got a 70% Customer-Focus score. Pretty neat tool.
 Rafael Vargas said:
Definitely a bookmark. Thank you Jill!

 sioux city cars said:
What's worse is when you know this, know how to write sales copy focusing on the customer, but the business owner says "that's not how it's done" and makes you rewrite it to the old BS talking at the customer way. :(
 Chris said:
Bravo!, What a perfect way of explaining such compelling insight within a short passage of writing, I have learnt a lot from this article and I am more than pleased with adapting my style of writing to suit the "customer" and not the company. Something that I took for granted without actually considering.

Thanks for a wonderful article

 Bob Meetin said:
This is more than a bookmark, I printed it.

I as well think this is another super article and will most certainly apply the technique in mind and spirit as weather and copious spare time permit, but being the analytical goat that I am I would love to see some before/after statistics.

Lead me to the pudding please.
 Nikki May said:
Great piece!

Many companies go overboard while describing who they are and what they do.
It’s important to remember that it’s not about you, the company, it’s about the client. Companies that sell products or services also spend too much time talking about the features of the product or service. It is important to focus on the benefits – what are the benefits to the customer!

Thanks for giving these examples which make this point very clear.