Monday, January 7, 2013

Write Like a Human

MicroISVs can sell more software if they write like humans.

Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman, the authors of the book "Content Rules," urge us to write in a human, conversational tone. They talk about eight strategies that business people can follow to write more effectively.

Translating the authors' ideas into the software development industry, their ideas are:

Relax

Don't think about writing in a pseudo-legalistic, pseudo-corporate way. Instead, write in a conversational style.

Converse

Write as if you were writing a note to a personal friend. Don't assume that your audience understands tech talk. Write in simple, conversational English.

Eliminate jargon

Marketing-speak is a bad language for selling software - or anything else. Unless you're selling programmers' tools, don't use very much tech talk, either.

Avoid Franken-quotes

Franken-quotes are the horrible sentences that come from the corporate marketing departments of larger enterprises. If you wouldn't say it to a friend, don't write it on your website.

Be informal and casual

If you're selling software to kids, don't pretend to be a youngster. You'll speak "teenager" with a really bad accent, and nobody will understand what you're trying to say. Be yourself.

Break writing rules

Break some of the writing rules that you learned in school. Don't write like you didn't go to school. But replace some of the tired rules with some modern "attitude."

Tell stories

Paint your software prospects into a picture in which they see themselves benefiting from using your application.

Concentrate on content

Don't worry about being corporate or professional or precise. Just tell your prospects what they need to know about your applications.

Handley and Chapman want us to write with enthusiasm. And have fun. Remember that you're taking a bigger risk in boring your prospects and customers than in shocking them. Don't be inappropriate. You can't sell most software by being silly. But don't be too stiff and formal, either.

I've found that illustrations really help the story. On a good day, images can add substance to your sales messages. Sometimes, however, photos and drawings simply provide eye candy. And sometimes they're just there to break up the words and make the article look more inviting.
Sidebars and read-out boxes are very effective eye candy because they're almost always read. And if they're well-written, they can advance your argument - or your sales presentation.

Keep in mind that you're writing for two audiences - the search engines that you depend upon to send your website traffic, and human visitors who you want to buy your applications. Focus on your human web page visitors. At the same time, be aware of how you use the keywords and key phrases that are most important to you.

For example, if you're selling software to fellow software developers, you have two choices. You could say "Widget makes it easy for software developers to..." or you could say "Widget makes it easy for you to...". Traditional books about writing sales messages urge you to use the you/you're/your words as often as possible. Modern books, by contrast, urge you to use your most important keywords as often as possible.

Write for both audiences. But don't turn your sales presentation into awkward, unappealing text, just to create fodder for the search engines.

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