Tell Them Whats in The Can!


What does 'the can' mean? Well, its literal meaning relates to canned goods on supermarket shelves. If your can is up there among thousands of others, the label had better state pretty clearly exactly what's in the can.

Sliced peaches? Peas? Coffee?

Really, it would be unthinkable for a can label designer to feel that any job was more important than simply describing the can's contents.

So here's the question...if your Web site were up on a shelf among tens of thousands of others (it is!), do you tell people what's in the can?

How quickly can a first-time visitor find out exactly what's in your 'can'?

In general, I think most Web sites do a horrible job in this regard. If a Web group were given the job of designing the label for a can of chili, it would probably read something like this:

"Family Meal Solution"

And if they were sent away to improve on this, they'd come back two weeks later with something like:

"Robust Family Meal Solution"

It seems as if we go to extraordinary efforts to disguise what can be found in our sites. It's almost like we turn all our cans around, so they are facing away from the aisle. We fill that first screen with the contents, the ingredients and other non-critical information... But we fail to achieve the most important task of all - telling our visitors what it is we do and offer. We don't tell them what's in the can.

Here's a quick example.

I recently went to a site called plaidonline.com. The name and tagline that jumps out off the screen at you is this:

PLAID.
So Beautiful. So Easy. So Plaid.TM

Do you have any idea what they offer through their site, based on those words? Neither did I.

So here, drawing on my many years of copywriting experience and a sock-drawer filled with awards, is my suggested alternative:

PLAID
We Sell Craft Supplies.

And no, it doesn't take any great copywriting talent to write a simple line like that. In fact, the temptation to 'copywrite' can often get in the way of clarity at a time like this.

Remember, visitors come to your site with the hope of being able to achieve a specific goal. They want to do something. They want to get a task completed. Whatever the dominant tagline or copy block on your home page may be, it needs to be written with a view to helping your reader get started towards achieving her task.

Don't think of your home page as 'ad space'. Think of it as one can, on a long shelf, in an aisle in a huge supermarket that stocks millions of cans.

Don't assume that everyone knows what it is you do. They don't.

Don't assume that every visitor will take the time to dig deeper and work out for themselves what you offer. They won't.

The responsibility to describe the contents of your site is yours alone - and you need to achieve that within the first two seconds.

Job one is to tell people what's in the can.

Nick Usborne is a copywriter, author, speaker and advocat of good writing. You can access all his archived newsletter articles on copywriting and writing for the web at his Excess Voice site. You'll find more articles and resources on how to make money as a freelance writer at his Freelance Writing Success site.

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