Tuesday, June 21, 2005

What Tone Does Your Web Site Set?

Your Web site is often one of the first places where your prospects will form an impression of your company. What you say on your home page is critical, but how you say it is equally important. Your home page should clearly communicate three things:

- What your company does

- Why you’re the best (i.e. why I should want to do business with you)

- What you’d like me – a visitor to your site – to do next (e.g. call you, email you, read something, buy something, search for something, download something, etc.)

Your home page, and your site, also set a tone. Is it friendly and inviting, making me want to take the next step? Or is it in some way off-putting, giving me a less than ideal impression of your company?

We’ve all seen examples of sites that set a poor tone; cheesy, pompous, confusing, or just plain bland. Setting just the right tone to reflect the personality for your company that you’d like to convey (for example, professional yet pleasant) is challenging – but valuable, if done well.

I recently did some consulting work in the reinsurance sector (companies that sell insurance to insurance companies). There are few businesses more arcane or self-important, and predictably, many reinsurance Web sites are technically proficient but very dry. Yet even in this segment, I found two sites that managed to stand out, by conveying a tone that is fun and friendly without being inappropriate or unprofessional.

Alea Group uses hand-written notes on the home page and here to create a distinctively different, yet still professional tone (although there used to be more of this on the site; it appears that they have “dulled it down” recently, which is unfortunate).

The Watkins Syndicate site really stands out in this sector. It is effective, creative, and clever (click on “Arcade” or “Insert Coin” on the Home menu to play “Catasteriods”, an online version of the old, similarly-named arcade game).

For more on how to craft content that is both effective and inviting, I recommend
The Web Content Style Guide: An Essential Reference for Online Writers, Editors and Managers and Content Critical: Gaining Competitive Advantage through High-Quality Web Content, both by Gerry McGovern and Rob Norton, as useful references.


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