I’ve always wanted to be a movie critic and get paid to give people my opinions about what I like and dislike on the golden screen. The late Roger Ebert was a masterful film critic who had a knack for summing up a movie review with ‘bald honesty’ as described by Jeff McMahon in a recent Forbes article. “The movies he loved, he truly loved. And the movies he hated, he truly hated” wrote Christopher Orr in a fantastic piece in The Atlantic.
Can you imagine if Roger Ebert had turned his critiques to the websites of government contractors? I shudder to think what he would say about this company’s About Us page:
Our approach to management and technology consulting combines deep domain expertise with strong capabilities in strategy, and organization, analytics, technology and operations. By leveraging both, ABC COMPANY identifies and addresses our clients’ specific needs while looking for smart applications of our management and technology consulting solutions in the future.
Say what? Does anyone really understand what this means? Does anyone even talk this way? Hardly.
Check out this one:
Inspired by our customer’s missions and driven by their challenges, we focus on helping our customers achieve higher levels of performance by utilizing cutting edge technologies and methodologies. Our team of highly skilled professionals is committed to service excellence and delivers innovative, cost-effective enterprise services and solutions on time and within budget. We are focused on reshaping the way services and solutions are delivered to our customers in order to proactively understand and meet their mission needs and enable them to more rapidly adapt to dynamic environments.
Say what? If you boil this down to one sentence, this company is really trying to say this: “We have no idea how to explain what we do or what makes us different from hundreds of other government contractors, so we threw together a bunch of words that hopefully makes us look like we know what we’re doing.”
When you read the content on these sites, you get the feeling that these companies really don’t think people will actually read this gobbledy-gook. If they did, I’m afraid their customers and future customers would keep looking for another company that could speak their language and address their everyday challenges.
It’s not easy for engineers and technology professionals who start and operate government contracting companies to describe the outcomes or results of their solutions and products they’re building and perfecting every day. That’s the job of communications and marketing experts who hopefully are working closely with the founder and senior management to present and position the company in the best possible way with clearly written content, simple navigation and sharp design.
Here are three golden rules of company websites:
1) Be frugal with your web copy – Today, very few people have the time or the interest to read paragraphs of information on the web. In fact, most people don’t read at all. They are scanning and searching for specific information. A study conducted by Jakob Nielsen claims that a 58% increase in usability can be achieved simply by cutting roughly half the words on webpages.
2) Talk to your audiences – Yes, you heard me! Use your website to have a conversation with your audiences. Opt for easy-to-understand words and phrases instead of long sentences and paragraphs. Use headings to break up webcopy. Most readers skim pages in an F-shaped pattern: two horizontal stripes followed by a vertical stripe. It’s a very different reading pattern than we learned in school, but it’s how our eyes are trained to find information on the web.
3) Pass the cocktail party test – Your website is your company’s virtual storefront. For government contractors and government services providers, it’s the first impression people will have of your company until they meet your people. Choose memorable words that tell a special story about your company, its founders, the unique problems and challenges you’ve addressed or solved. Pretend you’re at a cocktail party and meeting a prospect for the first time. You only have a few minutes to strike up a conversation and get their interest. You’ll carefully choose your words to describe what your company does so they don’t get bored and talk to the next guy or lady. Now, write down what you just said in that conversation. That’s the kind of memorable copy you want on your company’s website. Keep going until the rest of your site passes the cocktail party test.