Words are the building blocks of every website. But then, words are the building blocks of modern civilization.Presidential candidate, Barack Obama, was recently accused of being all words and no action, of being lots of rhetoric and little substance. Here's how he replied:
"Don't tell me words don't matter. 'I have a dream.' Just words? 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.' Just words? 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself' -just words? Just speeches?' (Obama plagiarized his friend, Deval Patrick, for these lines, but that's not the topic of this piece.)
Words matter. They always have. They always will. On the Web, words matter even more. The right words.
The problem is that there are lots and lots of words. For your website, there are a small set of words that really matter, and then there are an awful lot of words that don't.
How do you judge if a particular word matters or not? You don't. It's not for you to judge. It's for your customers to judge. Customers are highly impatient. They search and scan a page quickly, looking for their right words.
You might want to communicate about "climate change", but if customers are searching for "global warming", you're out of luck. You may have "tight" jeans for sale but if customers prefer "skinny" jeans, you're out of luck. You might have great "low fares" but if customers want "cheap flights", you're out of luck.
If you want to design a new website, the first thing you should decide on is the words. Not the graphical design, not the software. No. The words must come first. Once you get the words right, you are half-way there.
But the words don't come first, do they? Most websites are driven from a technical or graphical design perspective. The words are hardly even considered. The people who wrote the words were brought in late on in the process and asked to fill in an already agreed-upon structure and design with some words.
Words are simply not respected. Does it really matter if it's:
"Buy" or "Buy Now"
"More information" or "Request a demo"
"Find a dealer" or "Buy: shop locator"
"Login" or "Logon"
"Fleet" or "Vehicles"
It does. It really does matter. It matters hugely. It matters enormously. I have seen situations where sales have been doubled by changing a couple of words. (Nothing else on the website was changed.)
In most web teams people who work with words get very little respect. But if you work with words, you are literally sitting on a goldmine. The problem is you are selling it like a coalmine.
Most web writers think that their job is about writing articles. But it must be much broader and deeper than that. What is the navigation of the website made up of? Words. What are the links on the website made up of? Words. What are the applications on the website made up of? Words.
Nothing can work on the Web without written words. No page. No link. No classification, navigation or menu. No application or software. Nothing.
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.