They Snooze, You Lose

Come take a snooze with me. Check out this leading paragraph from a healthcare organization’s home page:

Welcome to Care-a-Lot Healthcare,* your network of community healthcare services in Springfield County.* At our heart is your community hospital, which continues our tradition of quality, state-of-the-art care… You will find a special place with special people who care about your family.

Works better than warm milk and graham crackers, doesn’t it? Granted, healthcare (which happens to be my line of work) tends to be egregiously behind the e-times (with, ahem, a few exceptions, of course). Nevertheless, the previous paragraph is notable only for some pretty tired phrases that convey very little about the organization. It’s hard to imagine readers bounding out of their chairs because they’ve been introduced to “a special place with special people who care…”

Of course, healthcare isn’t the only perpetrator of poor prose. Here’s a snoozerama of an opening line from the world of finance…

If you’re aggressively seeking a competitive advantage in the financial services area, it’s important to partner with a company that provides the financial services, expertise, premiere customer care, and demonstrated technology leadership that attracts and grows profitable customer relationships.

Check, please! And can you believe that’s one sentence?

All right, you can wake up now. We’re getting to the meat of the article… the ranting and raving part about badly written web copy. But rather than kvetch (yet again), allow me to offer the following suggestions for improving writing on the web, especially the all-important copy that introduces your organization to web readers:

Kill the corporate-speak.

Premiere, demonstrated leadership, new paradigm, knowledge managers, state-of-the-art, synergy, thinking outside the box, and my favorite committed to excellence are not only overused, they have become meaningless. The Internet is all about making connections with people, not regurgitating your six-color annual report that only board directors pass around. Write with originality, style, and clarity. But note, that’s not to say you should go overboard with Generation Y-speak in an effort to be trendy. It’s not only annoying, it smacks of a writer who never progressed beyond tenth grade.

Compel, don’t confuse, with graphics.

I actually like rich graphics and think they can enhance a site. However, what doesn’t enhance your message are bloated Flash extravaganzas and meaningless mouse-overs revealing text that’s even more bloated with corporate-speak. (The classic shot of your “team” with the word “synergy” above their heads comes to mind.) In an age when organizations have non-names like Verizon, Kozmo, and Flooz, people need some clear explanation of what your site is all about.

Lead with the superlatives.

Superlatives are what truly sets your organization – and site – apart from all others. Your readers should catch on to your superlatives either the moment they link to you or, at the very least, on your “About” page. What are superlatives? How about “the world’s bestselling golf shoe,” “the easiest way to prequalify for a loan” or “the state’s best outcomes for heart surgery”? About five superlatives should say it all… and so much better than your tired commitment to excellence rap ever could.

Use the “Hey Neighbor” test.

Not sure what your superlatives are? Think about how you’d describe your organization to neighbor Bob with the black socks and shorts when he’s watering the lawn. He’s the simple guy with whom you exchange pleasantries, not philosophic musings. Tell him a few things you know he will process, but make it compelling and memorable.

Tear down the mission statement.

Mission statements are written by executives justifying their bonding expeditions in the Hamptons. (Let me guess, they’ve decided your organization is committed to state-of-the-art, demonstrated leadership.) If you’re in charge of the web site, you have real work to do, like using compelling copy to get your site noticed. Most mission statements tell very little about what an organization is all about. Unless your mission statement is truly unique, you don’t have to post it at all.

Have I awakened a few writers into taking another crack at their organization’s web copy? I sure hope so. Show me something interesting, fresh, and memorable, and I’ll show you a real commitment to copy excellence.

*Names have been changed to protect the boring.

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