The about us page is where irrelevant content goes to die. Often it shouldn't exist at all. But when it does, let's at least make it useful.
Do you have an about us page? The chances are it is less than useless.
For a start, what is it for? I mean, your entire site is ‘about you’. Why do you need a dedicated about us page? It doesn’t make sense.
The truth is most about us pages are a dumping ground for miscellaneous content. Content that doesn’t belong anywhere else. Content such as:
- Your mission statement.
- Your team.
- Your history.
I could go on.
It is content we ‘feel’ should be online somewhere, but we don’t value it that much. It is content that somebody might find interesting. But we are not sure why. Often it is content that somebody in senior management has decided needs to be online and you don’t know what else to do with it.
Many of us don’t have the luxury of killing our about us pages. We cannot strip out this content because somebody somewhere thinks it has value. This leaves us with the question: What can we do to make our about us pages better?
The answer lies by asking ourselves an obvious question: What do users want to know about us?
Start with user questions
Too often we start writing content on our websites from the wrong premise and nowhere is this more true than an about us page. We start with the premise, what do we want to say, when we should be asking, what does the user want to know?
Take for example the about us page of your average web design agency. We pack them with information about the ‘vision’ of the agency. Or what technology we favour and how Jim is the joker of the office (aren’t we a fun, friendly bunch).
In truth most visitors don’t care about this kind of content. Nobody ever went to a site wondering what the companies vision statement was.
Sure, somebody might come to the site because they are looking for more information on a person or what technology you use. But these are an exception, not the rule. There are more important questions users want answering first.
We should start by researching what questions people ask when considering hiring us. Then we can make the content as relevant as possible.
We need to run surveys on our current about us page asking what people were looking for when they visited it. We need to ask existing customers and even customers we didn’t win. In essence we need to do our user research until we are confident in what users want to know. It is these questions we need to be answering.
We need to be seeking to understand what questions users have about our companies.
For example, it is rare to find an about us page that answers questions such as:
- Is this company financially secure or will they go out of business before they deliver?
- Are these people going to be easy to work with?
- Why are these people better than the previous five companies I looked at?
Our content may hint at answering these questions, but we make the user work for it. The about us page is a great place for addressing these questions. But not just these questions, all the questions your audience have.
But the problems with about us pages are not just limited to the content. There is also a problem with the way we tend to write this content.
Strike a conversational tone
Something happens to normal human beings when they sit down to write copy for promotional material. We somehow think we need to write what I can only describe as marketing BS.
Here is a random example I found on a digital agency about us page. I have changed the name to protect the guilty:
Acme is a digital consultancy that identifies opportunities, creates experiences and builds systems to help our clients benefit from technological change.
Imagine for a moment you ran Acme. You were in the pub chatting with a mate who asked you about your new business. “What is it you do?” he asks. You reply “oh we identify opportunity, create experiences and build systems.” You can guarantee the next words out of your mates mouth would at best be: “oh, that’s nice.”
Human beings don’t talk like that! Why then do we write like it. We think that is what our audience expects. But here is a secret, users are people too. They want us to speak to them like human beings, not like they are a corporate bot 2000.
How to write conversational copy
Here is my advice when next you come to write some copy. Start by getting somebody to ask you out loud those user questions you collected. Reply to that person and record the conversation.
Use that recording as the basis of your copy. Only tweak it enough to make it more coherent and remove anything superfluous.
Next, take that copy and read it out loud to a friend. If you feel silly saying it to your friend then you have lost your way. Time to go back to the original recording and add back in some of that conversational tone.
Never publish copy that you cannot comfortably and naturally say out loud to another human being.
It is not rocket science
I am aware that nothing I have said in this post is rocket science. All I have said is that if you can’t scrap your about us page, make sure it answers real user questions in a conversational tone. But if this is so obvious, how come the majority of about us pages are so terrible?
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