Toward Persuasive Content

February 14, 2011 | by Carrie Hane Dennison | Posted in Web Content

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: “Your website visitors come to your site to do something – make it easy for them to do it.” You could say it’s my mantra.

Above all else, I consider myself a user advocate. My work spans strategy, architecture, content development, and QA. Ultimately my job is to ensure that website users can do what they need to do on a website.

But companies also have business goals they need to achieve with their websites. What they want people to do on their websites should be in line with what their visitors want to do. When these things are in congruence, a successful website forms.

Whether you want people to buy something, learn something, interact with you, or take an offline action, you need to persuade them to do what it is you want them to do. This may sound like a simple thing to do, but it isn’t really. You have to find just the right words and presentation to accomplish this goal.

As I said, I consider myself a user advocate, so I start by putting myself in the users’ shoes. If I were visiting this site and wanted to do something, what would I want to see on the screen? If I’m trying to find out more about an organization I am interested in joining, I’d look for the words “About” or “What We Do” or “Why Join” or “Membership.”

Once I get to that page, I’d want to see information about why others have joined – who are they, what do they do, how have they benefited from being a member of this organization? If that information matches my own situation – say I have the same type of job and want the same type of results in my life – I will be persuaded to join and will immediately look to find the “Join” link. If I see it, I’ll start the process of joining. (Completing that process is another blog post.)

This could be translated to all other businesses and their websites which are trying to get people to do something:

  • Stores want people to buy something
  • Advocacy sites want people to take some action to further the cause
  • Conference sites want people to register for the conference
  • Non-governmental organizations want people to donate to further their work

But thinking up and writing the content isn’t enough. The other thing to remember about website is that people scan and spend only seconds determining if the page or site is worth their time. So you also have to edit and present the information in a way that hooks people right away. And I’m here to tell you, there are very few people who want to click on a link that sounds interesting and end up on a page that has 10 paragraphs of text. BORING! I’m certainly not going to waste my valuable time reading that!

What people want to see are the keywords they have in mind (mostly unconsciously). They’ll look first at the page name – does it match? Then they’ll look at bold or underlined or different colored words. Do any of those seem worthwhile? They might also look at the boxes in the left or right columns – those usually contain extended information. If what they see in their first 5-10 seconds matches what is consciously or unconsciously on their mind, they read more and then take action (or not).

So when you are determining what to put on your website, remember to start by putting yourself in your visitors’ shoes. Then think about what has persuaded others to take the action you want them to take. Put this together in a pleasing and usable format for a web page, and you’ve got yourself some persuasive content.


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