Web design sins: your big, friendly welcome blurb is costing you clients • Information Highwayman

Hi! My name is completely forgettable, and I do something which I mention here to sound different and interesting, even though it’s really kinda obvious.

Every second freelancer’s website seems to start like this. Well, all right—seven in twenty. A big, prominent welcome message that looks to be cloned off a master copy and then edited slightly to fit. I’m starting to develop a twitch whenever I find a new site like this. Why?

It’s just bad communication

Before you all start howling and whinging, a written communicator can still be a great visual communicator. Alexey Chernishov sure is. (It’s particularly heinous of me to pick on him since English isn’t his first language, but this really highlights my point, so pipe down in the peanut gallery.) The websites of most freelance designers all have the same objective, and it isn’t to showcase their designs. It’s to sell their services.

So what, exactly, is wrong with introductory text like this?

Here are three damned good reasons that no freelancer should be using an affable welcome blurb:–

1. It’s a purple cow killer

A whatnow? Your purple cow is what makes you unique. It’s what sets you apart. It’s your winning difference, as Brian Clark calls it in Authority Rules; or your unique selling point, as Naomi Dunford refers to it in ‘Marketing School, Day One’. I, as a client, probably know what I want to buy when I visit your website. I want to buy the services of a designer. But maybe I need convincing to pony up. Either way, I definitely need convincing to pony up to you. So, why should I?

Well, there’s no reason I can see from my first impression of your website—that’s for sure. You’ve gone and made yourself look as generic and uninteresting as you could have. You might as well have taken your purple cow out back and put a .22 slug through her head. Now instead of “wow, I can stop searching, this fellow is my man” (yes, or woman, don’t get up in arms), I have an impression of “meh, this one isn’t really any different to the others.” So rather than draw me in and convince me that my initial “yessss, found it” impression is right, the rest of your website has to work extra hard just to convince me that my initial “meh” reaction was wrong—just so as I’ll stick around long enough to give you a chance.

The moral of the story? Why would you put up a giant message about yourself, when you can put up a giant message about your purple cow?

2. It’s happy talk

As Redd Horrocks puts it, quoting from usability expert Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition:–

Happy talk is like small talk—content free, basically just a way to be sociable. But most Web users don’t have time for small talk; they want to get right to the beef. You can—and should—eliminate as much happy talk as possible.

The moral of the story: are you made of beef? Of course not. Your purple cow is. But I hear you whinging already. “Bnoooooonn, who I am is important, because I’m a freeeelaaancceeeerrr.” Oh really? That leads me into my third point…

3. No one cares about you

This is probably going to be a bit hard to hear, seeing as how we’re talking about your very own, personal, lovingly-developed website into which you’ve poured the very essence of your soul and the very greatest of your design talents…but you’re just going to have to man up and take it on the jaw. If you don’t want to take it from me, take it from James Chartrand:–

Don’t flatter your own ego by penning boastful descriptions of you and your business. Show people you’re listening instead.

What’s the one thing that your website should be doing above everything else? It should be engaging the question foremost in your prospective client’s mind. What is that question? I have no idea, but you probably do. It could be something like, “Is hiring a designer really worth it?” Or, “Since I’m going to hire a designer, why should I hire this one?” For my own part, I target both those questions: I explain why design (and copywriting) is important, and why I’m the best choice—my designs could blow someone’s head clean off. (Note: not literally true.)

What your prospective client almost certainly is not asking, however, is “Who does this website belong to, and how would he describe himself?” I mean, blimey, that’s about the last question I care about when I go to a website. In the rare event that I am looking to find out more about the person who runs it, I neither expect nor want some pithy one-liner on the landing page. I’ll go to the about page to find out about someone. I mean, right?

The moral is that people are interested in themselves. That’s why you wrote that silly blurb to begin with, eh? So be interesting to the people you want buying your services.

Is your ego more important than getting work?

All the space you’re wasting telling people about you is space not devoted to showing that you understand and can help them. Again, I’ll use myself as an example of how to do it right, because I’m modest that way. What’s the first thing you see when you come to my homepage? A big ol’ heading about me—what? No? It’s about you? That’s right, as in, you my prospective client, to the service of whom this webpage is dedicated. What follows is some text (but not too much) explaining the heading in a way that leads persuasively into a big, bright, exciting call to action. A topic for another time.

So there you have it. Three outstanding reasons to lose your insipid ego-type, and replace it with a powerful headline and commanding copy. Go now.

D Bnonn Tennant
‘The Information Highwayman’

D Bnonn Tennant, ‘The Information Highwayman’, signs his name to this

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