The Blog Library
3 Ways To Make Your Website More Human
“And I thought, look at Jenika’s website – she talks like a human.”
Two weekends ago I perched atop a desk in a Yale dorm room, swinging my legs and chatting with a former college roommate. An amazing part of being at the reunion, aside from the piles of well-catered food (endless platters of brie? I’m so there…) was getting to play undergrad and talk endlessly, just like we did back in the day.
Only this time, we weren’t gossiping about last night’s a cappella jam or whining about midterms.
We talked about writing.
This roommate now works for a fast-growing company with a substantial online presence. She helps train people to write for their websites and blogs. A job which, it turns out, is quite frustrating.
Here’s where it gets interesting:
Her biggest complaint was not that people don’t have anything to write about, or that they didn’t write frequently enough.
It’s that when they did write, they didn’t sound like human beings.
Put pens in the hands of a room full of cheerful, chattering, perfectly lovely people, and they morph into dull, corporate-verbiage-generating machines.
You’ve seen the this kind of writing. The words seem stiff. Vague. Fluffy. With the emotional range of Mr. Spell.
Have you ever been there, too? Where you type something up and think as you write, “What am I even saying?”
I go through this all the time. I discard a good 40% of what I write for this blog and try to edit the rest into submission. It’s a process, and I don’t always succeed. But there are three tools you can use to beat back the borings and sound more like a human and less like a talking spreadsheet:
#1: Get off the airplane.
Sometimes I feel like the internet is one giant airplane, and we’re all breathing the same re-circulated air, writing the same re-circulated words.
When we write, our minds tend to grasp onto what we’ve seen other people say. We create a “Product Guide” because we’ve seen other photographers do it, and assume that’s what clients expect to see, that it’s simply how things are done.
But maybe clients don’t expect that. Maybe they’d prefer “4 Unique Ways To Enjoy Your Images” instead of a “product guide.” Maybe they’d prefer a “Dream Home Guide.”
We think of our wares as ‘products,’ but that might not be the way your clients think of them – they think of them as vehicles to create a beautiful home, to sell more handmade blankets on Etsy, to get something done. So maybe there’s a way to label your “products” that would intrigue or serve your client better. Or maybe not.
But too often, we regurgitate what others have written and we don’t hit “pause” and think. We don’t ask the question, “Is this really the best way to say that?” We’re stuck on the airplane.
Of course, as you branch out and consider fresh perspectives, never sacrifice clarity for creativity. Your “Product Guide” should not be “The Land of Awesomeness.” It needs to be clear what you’re talking about. Internet users still prioritize usability over creativity in labeling.
But be mindful of your labels and titles. Don’t just call it something because you’ve seen it around. That’s how you get stuck in a puddle of bland. Sit in your client’s chair – what would they want to see?
#2: The best anti-boringspeak weapon: Say it like you’d say it out loud.
Before you try and shoehorn an idea into the written word, say it out loud. Does it sound like something you’d say in regular conversation?
Would you ever write to your best friend, for example, “To request more information about our wardrobe recommendations, contact me”?
Or would you say “Want help deciding what to wear? Call me!”?
The way you say it out loud might not translate perfectly into writing on the first try. That’s okay.
But you don’t have to start out by trying to sound ‘professional.’ Sometimes, trying to “sound professional” from the get-go will result in dry, boring, plain-oatmeal writing.
It’s often easier to start with something genuinely conversational, and then polish it up.
Note: Not everyone needs to have a conversational site. Your tone has to match your brand.
But one thing is for sure: If you’re billing yourself as a laid-back photographer who captures “real” and “spontaneous” living, then telling clients to “Enter your information to subscribe to our newsletter” doesn’t prove it. You might be better off with something like: “Drop your email here for a monthly surprise party in your inbox!” – something that demonstrates that you are what you say you are.
#3: Reward people for reaching the footnotes.
An email landed in my inbox recently. An advertising message on some list I’d signed up for. I was mildly irritated by it, and scrolled down to unsubscribe, and this is what I saw:
Computers are evil? Electronic missives? I giggled. And I’m not a giggler. My irritation dissipated.
Rewarding people for reaching the footnotes isn’t about being silly. It’s acknowledging that even though we use a lot of official, transactional language – we can still make each other laugh. Back when I used MailChimp, I loved sending out emails because the “send” button said something like “This is your moment of glory!” underneath. It made me laugh – and added a touch of good-humored grandiosity to an everyday task.
When people read through your work, make some of the fine print funny. Add a snicker-inducing graphic. Change “send” to “Bombs away!” on a submit button. Reward them for reading the details. If they expect unexpected, amusing things from you, they’ll be more likely to engage with what you say and read the fine print.
Did you enjoy this post?
Then you’d probably enjoy Irresistible Words, where I’ll teach you even more techniques to grab clients through a screen.
And how to write a blog post in 20 minutes.
And how an essay about chickens landed me an all-expenses-paid trip to Tunisia – and how you can steal that secret for yourself.
Check it out a free sample here.
EXCELLENT article, and very true. I adapted my website description from “photography in the inland empire” to Specializing in simple yet sophisticated wedding bashes all over the Inland Empire.
You need someone to record the memories while you booze it up with your guests. Oh hi.
Uh yeah, we’re not cramming all of us into that big chain studio for family portraits again.
That’s right, because you called me, and I love the outdoors. There’s more space and the scenery sure beats a plastic watercolor backdrop.
You might think our family is a little weird.
I do. Let’s hang out and do pictures.”
the rest of my website reads just how i speak. people need to know who i am.
Very cool, Jessie! Thanks for sharing that piece of wording….it sounds real and fun. 🙂
Love the advice – so spot on! I have struggled with the professionalism (background of journalism classes in college) and just writing as if I were talking to a friend…and have found that the talking-to-a-friend approach works perfectly to draw the reader in while telling a story and engaging them. I even talked about peeing in my pants in yesterday’s post. 🙂
Um, awesome Tyann. I might have to find that post 🙂
Oh so true. Total face palm for me. When I journal, I sound like me. When I “write” I sound like a confused undergrad attempting an all nighter on her semester project. Too much flowery prose and not enough real life. It doesn’t sound real to me most of the time, so why would it sound real to my readers! Great article, look forward to the deets on the writing class!
“a confused undergrad attempting an all nighter…” = GREAT image 🙂
Thanks for the note Vanessa! I would love to have you “in class” 🙂
Great post … I’ve got LOTS of work to do on my website! 😉 Can’t wait for the details!
😀 Thanks Michelle! Ahh, your site is so lovely, would love to work with you on it. Sending hugs.
Your article really interested me, and maybe I’d like to join the class, so I’m commenting here because I know that when I close this article now, I’ll never find your website again. Please follow up with me about more information for your writing session.
Haha, will do Chana!
Thanks you. Seriously, thank you. This is exactly what I needed to read today. Know that your efforts and time are truly appreciated. Happy Writing!
Thanks Cristina! I appreciate your note!
Love this blog Jenika, I look forward to reading your weekly missives on a Thursday evening. Would also love to take part in your blog writing group…
Thanks for taking the time to send me such a fabulous note! I’m glad the ‘missives’ (hee hee…there I go, giggling again….) make you happy. Your note cheered me up in a whirlwind day today!
I would love to get to know you better in the writing class….more details to come next week. Chat soon!
Have a great night!
I got halfway through your blog before I just *had* to go finish my own blog post that I’d been putting off for a week. So, thanks for that motivation. 😀
Great advice….. I’ve just probably confused all visitors to my site now by changing my product page to: “CDs are for music…” 😀
Thanks for the tip, it’s always nice to gather new photography hints and tips from people will to share. Thanks
Eagerly awaiting your class announcement!
How did I know you were the girl who would jam out a cappella? This so fits for you! Lovely article. I took a bunch of notes and will continue to watch my tone to be as human as possible. LOL. Why is it so hard to be human? Thanks as always!
This was a helpful article and I liked reading it! Maybe I’ll make it to your writing class next time around!
[…] Can you see the difference? Here’s another example of well written content, but this time it’s awesome. It’s natural, it’s useful and it’s interesting. Ironically this article is a “how to” post on making your website and your content more human. Enjoy it here. […]
HI there, Love ur amazing photos!
The analogy re the internet being like a giant airplane struck home like a thunder bolt! As a fledgling freelance writer for the web, this comment has summed up just how I feel about the amount of material that is re-written time and time and time again. If I see one more ‘Top 10’piece…
Jenika – I know I’m a few months behind, but better late than never right??
I agree totally that you should humanize your web site, but the problem is that Google and SEO can’t see human. The reason we use plain boring titles – Weddings, engagement, High school seniors etc is because we want our sites seen in Google…more clicks to our sites. What are your thoughts on this and how can we humanize our sites and not upset Google?
Geez Google, this is why we can’t have nice things! 😉
A few suggestions:
1) An adjective here and there won’t kill Google. “Breathtaking Austin Family Photography” isn’t going to make Google shut down.
2) You can use “plain boring titles” for things Google cares about, and it’s always helpful to have clear labels anyway. If you obfuscate “weddings” with “beautiful celebrations” the right people may not find them anyway! But what’s beneath your title? What does your first paragraph say? That’s where photographers often still sound like robots. Which is silly. Human good, robot bad 😉
3) A lot of google things (image titles, tags, etc) are invisible to humans. You can tag and title away without people seeing some of it.
4) There is a balance between getting people to your site, and getting them to want to hire you once you’re there. Tracking both traffic (how well your SEO is doing) and CONVERSION (do they stay and hire you?) are both important. Do the SEO thing, yes, but make sure that once they’re there, they’re connecting with you as a person and not just a “Austin Wedding Photographer.” You know? 🙂