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Do airlines persuade you to fly with them because of the sophisticated engineering of their airplanes?

No. They do so by telling you what a great weekend you could have in Madrid and how easy it is to get there.

They sell you a benefit (mobility) based on a technology (flight).

Yet many websites get it the wrong way around. They whine on and on about the technology, processes or people that support a particular service - without ever telling you why you should use it!

A photo of a sausage on a fork

Public organisations are particularly conspicuous in this regard.

Recently a conference goer told me of a government institution that wanted to improve the content on its site. Although it was clear that the internal web team understood the main principles of good web writing; something was not right.

Good service, bad focus

For instance, one newly created page seemed to suggest that the organisation was in the real estate business. The text referred to a scheme for buying property, together with a long list of instructions about how to sign up.

Yet nowhere did it explain why anyone should do this.

Only with further investigation did she discover that the aim is to encourage people to move into community housing facilities. One way to finance this move (but not the only way) is to sell their home. And the benefit? Better quality housing, more leisure activities and enhanced personal security.

So why not state this upfront? After all, those are the facts that would entice people to participate.

Don't be a "put it upper"

With this in mind, she rewrote the copy to highlight the advantages of this housing service, while demoting (but not hiding) the means by which it is delivered. The revised text worked far better at both attracting inquiries and putting context on the service itself.

This exercise of rewriting helped the web team to step outside of their traditional "put it upper" role (as defined by Gerry McGovern). They learned how to deconstruct content provided to them and look for benefits, instead of always focussing on process or technology.

More sizzle, less sausage

Her story reminded me of an old saying in copywriting - "Sell the sizzle not the sausage". Web managers would do well to remember that.

A photo of Shane Diffily

About Shane Diffily

I am an experienced commentator on web operations. In 2015, I released the web's first online training course in website management and governance. Back in 2006 I published the Website Manager's Handbook, the original guide to online operations.

Find out more about me or download slides from my recent conference talks.