How to blog on your business website

Blogging on your business website can bring all kinds of benefits – especially to your bottom line – but getting going is easier said than done.

This post is for you if you’ve wondered whether you should blog, have been told you should, or if you’ve always intended to, but never got going.

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Why you don’t need an FAQ page

FAQ pages are often used as a sticking plaster for a hard to use website

FAQ pages are quite possibly one of the laziest crimes in website usability. If you have one on your site, you need to get rid of it. Here’s how.

Frequently Asked Questions. This is traditionally the place that website owners dump the content they don’t know what to do with – or really can’t be bothered giving it enough thought.

They are about the convenience of the website owner but never, never are they about making things easier for the website visitor, which should always be your focus.

FAQ pages are often used as a sticking plaster for a hard to use website
FAQ pages are often used as a sticking plaster for a hard to use website

In short the FAQ page is a sticking plaster solution for poor information architecture. In the early days of the web they were useful, but things have moved on and the FAQ page has been left behind.

Take the name: How does a random visitor to your website know whether these questions are asked frequently or not? It’s as if we are expecting visitors to sort out our content for us.

What does FAQ even mean?

Many website visitors don’t even understand what FAQ means, therefore they ignore it. User testing indicates those who do know what it means only ever use it if all else fails.

It’s neither useful nor helpful, unless you’re the person putting the website together. But then you might as well just take all the information from your FAQ page and put it in a new page called Miscellaneous. Or Information. Or even Page.

Website visitors – or to use their proper name: customers – deserve better treatment than this. We should be making it easier for them, not harder.

But FAQ pages are a nightmare, usually presented in a question and answer format that makes them difficult to read or take in.

That’s because everything you find on an FAQs page belongs somewhere else, if only someone would spend the time thinking about where it should be.

If all else fails then make it up

In one large organisation where I worked the various website authors were obsessed with FAQs. Every time a new section was launched, there would be an accompanying FAQ page. Sometimes it would run into hundreds of words, sometimes it would only be a couple of forlorn questions.

My job was (to try) to filter out the worst content before it made it onto the website, so I would always begin by asking if anybody had ever asked any of these ‘Frequently’ Asked Questions.

Nearly always the answer was: ‘No but we had to put something in the FAQ page…. And we must have an FAQ page…’

So these questions were not frequently asked or even asked at all.

And this is often the case as FAQ pages are filled up with imaginary, sometimes off the wall, questions that nobody ever asked. Things like ‘Who built this brilliant website?’

How to get rid of your FAQ page

The secret behind making your website work for your customers – and turning visitors into customers – is in understanding that all web content should be about answering the questions of your website visitors.

Visitors arrive at a website with a task in mind and questions they need answering. These are the real Frequently Asked Questions.

But the answers should not be tucked away and hard to find, they should be obvious and easy to spot: Don’t make your website visitors work for the answers they need.

If your website has an FAQ page start by reviewing it.

Are the questions and answers really things your customers want to know or are the questions just made up? Are some of them so important that they need to be given greater prominence? Should they even be on the website at all?

If the questions/answers are useful to visitors they should be –  usually with the other information on the same topic.

Some FAQs may be pointing at a more serious issue – something on your site that is so hard to use that people need instructions. In this case it would be better to look at fixing the original problem than challenging users to work it out with the aid of instructions. Few have the patience to do this.

For example, if one of your FAQs is ‘How do we contact you’ then obviously you need to make it easier for people to find your contact page, or make it better so people don’t have to ask.

And here’s the point: Websites are becoming more customer focussed these days. If your site serves its visitors properly you don’t need an FAQ page.

If you have one you need to question whether your site is serving your customers the best way it can, or whether you are just using your FAQ page as a crutch to make up for poor design.

More information

Gerry McGovern: The problems with FAQs.

Six Revisions: Stop the FAQ page bandage.

More Website Sins

Things to avoid saying and doing on your business website.

  1. Never say ‘Click Here’
  2. Don’t use ‘Under Construction’ pages
  3. Why you don’t need an FAQ page
  4. Why pop-up light boxes are a bad idea

Photo credit: photosteve101 via photopin cc

Five tips for writing effective website copy

Five tips for writing effective website copy

Writing for the web is different from any other form of copywriting and needs special attention.

It’s not just a matter of taking your printed promotional material, grafting it onto your website and hoping it will do the job – because it won’t.

And going on at length about what you have to offer and expecting people will read every word will not work either.

Writing for the web
Follow some basic rules and writing for the web gets a lot easier.

Content marketers like to bang on about web copy that is ‘engaging’ and ‘grabs the reader’s attention’, but this is wishful thinking at best.

After all if your customers are on your website you already have their attention: The hard part is keeping it!

How to write website copy that works

So here are five tips to help you make the best of your business website. We’re not intending to cover everything here – just the basics of how to structure and lay out your website content.

1. Make your text easy to understand

Generally, people will arrive at your business website with a task in mind and want to know if you are the people to do it for them.

Also, most people do not sit and read web pages from top to bottom, savouring every word: They scan pages, eyes darting over the words looking for something that matches what they are looking for.

So your writing needs to be clear and concise, without complicated sentences with ambiguous meanings.

You also need to put the most important points at the top: If you keep people waiting to get to the point the chances are they won’t hang around long enough to find out.

Don’t try to be clever and throw in some puns or other ‘witty’ writing. That sort of thing can get old very quickly, but mainly doesn’t help get your message across.

Make it easy for people and they are more likely to stay around long enough to find out if you can help them.

2. Break up your text

Great big blocks of text are hard to scan and therefore hard to read on a website.

Everyone is time poor these days with a thousand different things competing for our attention. This makes us impatient and blocky text will be skipped over rather than read.

So you need to use short, succinct sentences and lots of paragraphs – ideally one sentence – and one idea – to a paragraph.

You’ll be amazed at how much easier a page is to read if it’s been split up properly.

You can also use headings (heading 1, 2, etc, not just bold text and bigger font size) to break things up, and if you use the right, relevant, words these actually help your page get found on search engines.

3. Go easy on the formatting

Another trap that people fall into is to try to emphasise different aspects in their text, but tests have shown the more you try and make something on a web page stand out, the more you end up hiding it!

Bold text, entire words in capital letters and random big text sizes can all be used to add emphasis, but once you start using them it’s difficult to stop.

If you find yourself doing this, then the chances are there is too much irrelevant stuff in your web page and you need to edit the copy down.

Formatting needs to be consistent and sparse. Don’t use italics (hard to read), underlining (easy to confuse with links), stick to a body text size and font and set heading sizes and use bold very, very sparingly.

4. Keep it short and stick to the point

Information overload normally goes hand in hand with trying to squeeze too much into a web page – it’s a very common problem on small business websites.

We often see business owners go into all kinds of detail their potential customers do not need to know. The end result is visitors are bombarded with too much information and end up taking in nothing.

If you want to take your car in to be fixed by a mechanic you don’t want to know what make of spanners he uses, or for that matter anything about his methods. You just need to know that he is competent to do the job and how much it’s likely to cost.

Yet many business websites are marred by the business going on at length about how they do things when potential customers do not need this information.

If you want to make it easy for your website visitors (and that’s the only way they will stay), keep it short, simple and stick to your essential information.

5. Read it – Then cut it! (Then read it again)

If you are expecting others to read your carefully crafted web copy the least you can do is read through it properly before you press the Publish button. Sadly this doesn’t happen.

Everything that goes on your business website should be read by at least two people first, to make sure it makes sense and doesn’t contain grammatical errors. A spell checker is also a must.

If you can’t get someone else to read your copy, then take a break – overnight at least is good – and come back to it with fresh eyes. Sometimes it’s easier to read through copy that has been printed out.

At this point you should be reading with a view to cutting it down by up to a half. And once you’ve cut it you’ll need to read it again.

If this sounds extreme it isn’t – once you get into practice it’s amazing at how much you can lose and every word you remove will be helping to make your copy more concise – and above all more effective.

More information

Concise, SCANNABLE and objective: How to Write for the Web – Neilsen Norman Group

How to write for the web: BBC News School Report

If you want to hide it, emphasize it: Gerry McGovern – New Thinking

photo credit: RLHyde via photopin cc

Never say ‘Click here’ on your website

Never say Click Here. There are lots of better ways to say 'this is a link'

Whatever you do when writing links or anything on a web page, don’t ever, EVER use the words ‘Click here’.

The phrase has been around as long as people have been building web pages. And for as long as people have been using click here as link text, usability experts have been tearing their hair out telling people not to.

Link text says click here
Click here. And for added annoyance, it’s in block capitals too.

Why? Well it should be obvious, but then everything about creating user friendly websites is obvious once it’s pointed out to you.

So let’s look at some really good reasons why you should never use the dreaded phrase click here.

It’s patronising

You don’t see posters inviting you to ‘read here’ – you just read them. A bottle of beer doesn’t have the instructions ‘drink here’ on it either.

If you have to give instructions then your site is not user friendly. It should be obvious that the text in question is linked up so there’s no need to add pointless instructions.

Remember: Instructional text must die (©Steve Krug).

It’s not user friendly

Website visitors – or users – do not sit and read every word on a website. They skim, eyes darting all over the page, looking for something that matches their goal. For many this means skimming from link to link.

After all a link is a gateway to another page and the text that is linked up should really give people an idea of what they can expect if they follow that link.

Click here is mystery meat navigation – like a cheap burger, you have no idea of what you are going to get.

Websites should make things easy for people to use them. Click here inevitably assumes some knowledge on the part of the website visitor – as if they are supposed to know why they should click here. Which is annoying.

It’s no good for disabled people

Plenty of people using the web are disabled and many of them use assistive technologies to help them. These may, for example, just read the links on a page, and if your page is full of links that just say click here or even here then how are they supposed to tell where the links will take them?

It’s good practice to make web pages accessible for disabled people, especially since the first step to accessibility is making sure your site is user friendly.

It’s a common courtesy.

It assumes that people are using a mouse

Maybe a bit pedantic on the face of it, but many of the people visiting your website may be using phones and therefore won’t be clicking at all.

And back to the accessibility argument, some disabled web users do not use a mouse either.

Advert saying click here
Why say Click Here once if you can say it twice? And why does the guy on the right have two phones?

If you use it once, the chances are you will use it a lot

Like all bad habits it’s easy to get into doing, and once you start you can’t stop doing it.

If you use click here once, the chances are you use it a lot.

It becomes a sort of lazy shorthand for saying: This is a link, folks, please use it.

A little thought goes a long way and makes things easier for the people using your website.

The easier you make it for them, the more likely they are to stick around long enough to buy from you.

The more thoughtful you are for your visitors, the less effort they have to put in to use your site because it’s intuitive.

Click here makes things that little bit harder. And quite annoying.

There is always, ALWAYS a better choice of words than click here.

Try using active words instead and you will find that your links are worded much better and more direct – and where websites are concerned, direct is good.

So instead of click here to find out more about us, try find out more about us.

Actually, the more you think about your link text, the more you realise you are much better off without using click here.

It makes things much more long winded than they need to be, and you need to be short and to the point.

It’s bad for SEO

I’m not going to carp on and on about this but Google likes user friendly websites and that means sites that are easy to get around.

If the links on your site, especially the links within it that people use to get from one page to another, are clearly marked you get points for that. Just so long as you don’t overdo it because that’s annoying too.

What you should do – in a nutshell

Explain what users will find at the other end of the link, and do it in plain English and without jargon.

Be short and to the point.

More information

UX for the masses:  The curse of ‘click here’

Neilsen Norman group: Top ten web design mistakes of 2005

UX Movement: Why your links should never say “click here”

More Website Sins

Things to avoid saying and doing on your business website.

  1. Never say ‘Click Here’
  2. Don’t use ‘Under Construction’ pages
  3. Why you don’t need an FAQ page
  4. Why pop-up light boxes are a bad idea

photo credit: nsfmc via photopin cc

Why you should remove PDFs from your website – now!


Adobe PDF files are for preserving the format of a print document – a leaflet or poster for example – but that format is totally unsuitable for the web.

A poster is meant to attract attention on a wall. On the web you already have the attention of your website visitor.

Yet still website owners think PDF documents are an acceptable way to convey information.

In recent weeks I’ve seen them appear as:

  • A website privacy policy
  • A buying guide for an online shop
  • A product brochure
  • A ‘user guide’ for online banking
  • Several newsletters
  • An infographic
  • Yes, that’s right. An infographic!

Why, people?

So what’s the problem with PDFs?

PDFs are the enemy of usability. They simply do not take into account how people actually use the web.

[caption id="attachment_597" align="alignright" width="300"]Say NO! to PDFs on websites Say NO! to PDFs on websites[/caption]

They tell your website visitors that you cannot be bothered enough about them to put the information in a format suitable for the web.

Actually the content of your PDF can easily go into a web page. All it takes is a little thought and consideration.

Product brochures as PDFs

PDF Product brochures do not work online.

There is a massive difference between how people use a product brochure and the way they use a web page.

Throwing the brochure up on your website and forgetting about it is just lazy – do you expect people to print the whole thing out?

Usability fail

Jakob Nielson, the usability researcher, is scathing of them. According his research web users hate PDFs with a vengeance.

This is because:

  • Users have to wait for their PDF reader to start, interrupting the flow of web pages
  • Once it starts they are presented with a document with no site navigation and no way back to the homepage
  • The PDF reader has different controls from a web browser – no back button, for example – and this can be very intimidating for web users who lack confidence
  • PDFs are not usually presented in a web friendly way – for example they include long, chunky paragraphs with no whitespace and nothing that aids speedy web reading.
  • PDFs are also set up to fit a piece of paper – typically A4 – and not a computer screen, which makes it very difficult to view on a computer, no matter what size you view it
  • PDFs are often huge file sizes – they can easily be 10Mb or more – and often those who insist on using them don’t tell you the file size. So you can click on them and suddenly find you are downloading a massive file instead of quickly loading a web page.

Nielson found that users were so anti-PDF that they will avoid clicking on a link to one. This really defeats the point, surely?

Organisation-centred thinking

Gerry McGovern is hired by organisations worldwide to make their websites work for their customers and in particular improve sales.

Surprise, surprise, he hates PDFs too and condemns them as a classic case of organisation-centred thinking.

PDFs are thrown up onto a website because it saves the organisation time to do it, but in doing so it costs the visitor – or customer – time.

In a large public sector organisation where I used to work the web team were often sent PDFs with the instruction that so-and-so wanted this ‘put on the website’.

This was all part of the mentality that websites were there to be filled with more and more rubbish, and nothing to do with making things easy for website users.

Those attitudes are supposedly ok in the public sector but if you are a small business the visitors to your website always have a choice – they can go to your competitors.

Do yourself and them a favour and stamp out those PDFs.

More information

Why simple websites are best

A boffin

A simple website will not only get your message across to your customers in the most effective way possible, but it will save you money, too.

Many web companies will try and sell you a site with all the bells, whistles and gimmicks they can but this will only end up annoying your website visitors – so why bother?

All the research shows that website visitors have less and less patience with websites.

They just want to get in, find out what they need to know and get out again.

[caption id="attachment_516" align="alignright" width="199"]A boffin A usability boffin, yesterday[/caption]

Anything else just gets in the way and often makes the page load slower, adding to their frustration.

A good website doesn’t need:

  • Flashy animated graphics (including dancing gnomes!)
  • Swish designs that baffle and confuse visitors;
  • Pages of waffle and mission statements;
  • ‘Cool’ greetings that say good morning/afternoon/evening according to the time of day you arrive;
  • Any other pointless gimmicks that detract from your message.

In fact these features will only get in the way of your business connecting with your customers.

So why go to all that trouble, let alone pay through the nose for a load of stuff you just don’t need?

Still not convinced? Then read on…

So what does your business website need?

Your website should be:

  • Easy to use and find what you want;
  • Short and to the point, and written in plain English;
  • Built according to web standards and display the same for everyone;
  • Easy to find on search engines and other media such as Google Maps and Facebook.

Find out more:

  • Jakob Nielsen’s site provides a guide on how web content should be written: Concise, scannable, and Objective: How to write for the web