Most websites exist to sell something. Whether it is to sell a product, a service, or to raise support for a non-profit organization, most websites must make money to justify their existence.

But the reality is that most websites fail on this very basic level. I have observed way too many sites that are little more than an electronic version of a company's brochure or Yellow Page ad.

The problem, in my view, is a failure to write website content that sells. My elevator speech for prospective clients is that "I write the words on websites that turn casual visitors into customers."

That statement puts the spotlight not on a website's graphics or design, but on the "words" that make up its content. And "words that sell," I believe, is what separates websites that make money from those that don't.

To write website content that sells, I have developed the following format that I use when writing content for my own clients:

  • Adopt the style of a successful magazine. The magazine industry is one group that really understands their customers. They conduct massive amounts of research on who their readers are, what they want to learn about, what they like and dislike, what products they buy, what problems they face, and on and on.

    Then they present the information their readers want in a format that is highly readable and interesting.

    They use both stories and useful, problem-solving information.

    Think about how often you or someone you know has clipped out an article from a magazine and passed it along or just kept it for their own use. Maybe it was an interesting story, maybe it was a "how to" problem-solving list article, or maybe it was a warning of a potential problem you had little previous knowledge of.

    If you begin writing your website content with a magazine format in mind, you will be able to develop the same loyal readership a successful periodical has.

  • At the risk of repeating what has already been mentioned, know your ideal customers or clients, and the problems they face. Write several case studies about real clients you helped to solve these problems for. Write separate case studies for separate problems so visitors can identify with the problems they themselves are facing.

  • Write your own story. If you are a sole practitioner, write about how you got into your business and what challenges you overcame. If you are a bigger business, write briefly about your history, your company culture and what your organization's driving passion is. People do business with people they know and like, so help them to know and like you.

  • Write a "Difference Page." Why are you different from your competitors and why should someone choose to do business with you instead of the other guy. Don't use lame platitudes like, "We have 20 years experience," or unsubstantiated boasts like, "We deliver excellence."

    Develop a real positioning statement with meaningful benefits. This is also the place to write about your "Unique Selling Proposition" or USP. (See USPs: 10 Steps to Writing a Powerful Unique Selling Proposition for ideas on how to write compelling USPs).

  • Include a Direct Response piece. One of the most important jobs of your website is to capture leads for follow up. Offer something for free (more problem-solving information, possibly a white paper or a report) that will induce visitors to leave their email addresses with you in order to receive your free offer.

  • Develop a follow up system. This does not mean you hand your leads over to a sales staff right away. Use an autoresponder to "drip" on these leads by offering them a continuing stream of more free, non self-serving information that is of value to your readers.

    Only about 10% of your prospects are in a "buy now" mode, the rest are potential customers for some time in the future. By sending them regular emails via an autoresponder, you will position yourself as the number one provider of your product or service in their minds.

  • Give visitors a call to action. Make that lots of calls to action. Give your visitors frequent opportunities to opt do something, anything, to advance the sale.

    You can provide several opt in forms for your lead list, or you can mention reasons to call you for a consultation (followed by an immediate placement of your telephone number so they won't have to look too hard to find it).

    If you sell products, strategically place shopping cart forms in several places on your site. You can also have buttons that enable visitors to email articles to other people so you can expand your network of visitors.

  • Sprinkle testimonials and quotes from your customers throughout your site. Place them in sidebars on every page that is feasible to do so. When possible, even include a photograph of the customer who made the testimonial.

  • Post a Frequently Asked Questions page. FAQs are often the first place a visitor will turn to when they encounter a new site. Gather both real questions you have been asked and also include questions you know people should be asking but lack the knowledge to think of.

  • Links to useful information. Use this option sparingly as you don't want to give visitors too many ways to leave your site, but you still want your website to be a resource to your target audience. Sometimes you can gather articles from other sources and reprint them entirely on your site (a good place to find such articles is

  • Tutorials and Checklists. Depending on what business you are in, it may sometimes be helpful to provide step by step instruction about the process involved with buying your particular product or service.

  • Product descriptions. Finally, you need to include the one thing that dominates most other websites, your list of products or services. Most of your competitors' websites will be all about their product offerings and little else.

    But because you have taken great pains to educate your visitors and provide a resource full of case studies and valuable information, your product list will not be as off putting as if you just tried to cram them down visitors' throats.

Every website, of course, is different. What works for one company will not work for others, which means my "formula" is not a one size fits all solution. But I have found that this format produces some very effective websites for those clients who want a site that attracts visitors who will return again and again.

Such a site builds brand loyalty and positions you as experts in your field.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown


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