First the credits: This is an excellent post, with which I totally disagreed. I expect a lot of writers will also disagree with it. Snazzier, more expensive, more “visual” formatting is not the way to sell even well-written words to us...although it seems to be working for people who were TV viewers not writers. My thoughts on this topic are long enough to be a whole four-part series. Part 1, here, is the introduction that summarizes what will not help other businesses sell me anything, ever. Parts 2, 3, and 4 will give Steps 1, 2, and 3 for how you might be able to sell anything to me...eventually.
A concept you hear more about on Main Street than on Madison Avenue is “slick.” In the slang sense with which I’m familiar, “slick” may refer either to glossy overpriced magazines or to scented hair oil; either way it’s about a hundred years old. It means “trendy, yes, but…” As in, glossy paper reflects light in strange ways that makes things printed on glossy paper no treat to read. Hair oil smelled better than the scalp fungus that was apparently an epidemic when people wore hats all day, but it stained furniture. “Slick” did not become a more favorable term when it came to refer to worn-out tires that lack traction, either. Among people I know “slick” continues to describe young women who look as if they’ve invested more in makeup than in job skills or academic studies, men who seem a little “too handsome” or “too” well groomed to be Real Men, faddy-looking sports cars that are lucky to get ten miles to the gallon, trendy imitations of boots (or jeans or bike shorts or motorcycle jackets or other working wear) that don’t stand up to the actual job, political speeches that skirt the real issues…and it’s the word that comes to my mind when I see a flashy web site with lots of visual clutter. I just skid right off that slick surface. I close the page and read something else.
I like the occasional photo, or photo essay, but I have to say that when I’m deciding whether or not to read (or follow) a blog, pictures cost you. If they’re small enough to load really fast (don’t delude yourself, you need a 1995 computer running Opera to test this, which is why I’m keeping “The Sickly Snail”) and they supplement the text, pictures can be nice. If they’re from Amazon…as an Amazon affiliate, I’ve set up my computer to work with Amazon cookies and don’t mind them, but many readers hate Amazon cookies. And if your site’s just set up to shove those pictures into readers’ faces before they can read the text…you’ve lost me. Keep the pictures in their place, and that means no videos unless you can encode a way to keep even the box from loading before readers have either read the full text or indicated that they’d rather watch a video.
It’s hard to say this often enough: Videos are bad. Videos. Are. Bad. Videos are bad. Videos are bad. VIDEOS ARE BAD.A lot of people liked television; apparently a lot of people like web sites that are set up to resemble television. But a lot of people in cyberspace did not and do not like television. If your web site resembles television in any way, we…are…gone. You’re telling me you’ve spent a lot of money to make sure your web site will not work for me at all. For me a video-cluttered blog is the online equivalent of a store employee yelling “I don’t want your business! Don’t come back!”
And before I entered cyberspace I worked with a gifted blind man on a series of informative “FacTapes” for blind people, right? I’m all in favor of web content being audible to people who need it to be. The minority of people who read with their ears and/or hands is likely to grow as the largest demographic generation in the U.S. grows older. And I even like music, even though invitations to work online in places where it wouldn’t have been intolerably rude for me to listen to music have been few and far between—which is as it should be. You should, however, expect that most people in cyberspace (1) read with our eyes, (2) mostly in public places, where nothing should ever be audible, (3) on older and/or stripped-down devices that don’t replay sound. Make sure your site can’t cause any noise to come out of a device before visitors “tell” the device to play any sound.
Save your breath before you launch into that routine about how different “people” are from me. I’ve heard it many times, and when I’ve bothered checking I’ve found that generally six or seven of the first ten people I ask are likely to feel exactly as I do. Or, in the case of distrusting anything involving the Internet, more so. Literally hundreds of people in my neighborhood still think the Internet is all about porn, spam, and scams, mostly scams, and say they would never buy anything online. (And I tell them, “Good for you. Legitimate businesses use the Internet but we should absolutely definitely keep all transfers of money on a business-to-business basis with no home addresses or individual names or anything of the kind, because there is in fact a lot of porn, spam, and scam activity out there, and always will be.”) In cyberspace I keep reading that “we today” spend a lot more time and money on plugging into the Internet than I ever intend to spend, yet in real life I keep hearing that the real-world “we” around me either spend a great deal less time online than I spend, or spend no time or money online at all.
Also, Skype is bad. All “chat” is bad unless it’s live customer support and your company policy is to use any chat as an indication of something that must be fixed before anybody thinks about any further developments. Even then, e-mail is preferable to chat.
Also, Facebook is bad. Any site that allows people to post real names, home addresses, residential or cell phone numbers, etc., is very very bad. You build trust with me by being able to do business online in a completely impersonal way. No “special deals for people who fit into this or that category.” No “we can serve you better if we know all about your personal life.”
One reason why that kind of thing inspires distrust is that, even if you sincerely want to know what other things interest the people who use your service, purely for inspiration when you think about new ideas…even if it’s as simple as trying to guess ahead of time how many people are likely to buy the colors that go with Team A’s or Team B’s souvenirs, you build trust, with me, by just asking the question and not snooping for clues. Because clues, especially the ones that are useful to junk mail or sales call pests, may also be useful to evildoers, and the best way to keep that information away from evildoers is the same way you make sure nobody steals your friends’ personal possessions from you—you just don’t have it.
In a larger sense…legitimate businesses don’t poke and pry into customers’ personal lives; they take the risk of putting things on display and seeing who buys them. My home town’s good-old-boy, everybody’s-a-relative attitude is killing our economy because people do know too much about the people with whom they do business, or think they do. (Often even the “harmless, legitimate local news” that gets passed on in local stores is inaccurate; at least three people I knew were reported dead, to me, before they died, and two of those people are still living.) As a result many of us won’t even stock up on things we use when they’re on half-price sale at a local store, because who wants to spend the next three weeks having inane conversations about why they bought so many toothbrushes or light bulbs or boxes of Cheerios? We go to the city instead. If we’re going to do something that catches attention, like stocking up on half-price canned goods, we want to do it where we’re known as “just another cash customer.”
Personal relationships with clients are bad for business if they affect the way the business deals with the general public. It’s all very well to give someone a special price or even a freebie, in a real-world store, if nobody else knows about the transaction. If anyone finds out, then all the customers who don’t get the same benefits are offended. In cyberspace, where distrust is appropriate, this effect is actually greater, not less.
As a blogger you might want to know which state your U.S. readers live in purely because, if you knew you had a lot of regular readers lurking in Kansas, you’d read and share more content about Kansas—but if you also sell things online, and you ask which state your readers live in, readers like me are going to think “So, to which state do they give better deals than they give me?” Automatically. So it’s probably better to remember that if people are from Virginia (or Texas, or other places where the same saying may exist) they’ll tell you which town, and if they’re not, why embarrass them.
Or you might think it would be nice to deliver “personalized search results.” Bing does this…and I haaate it. One quick example: I’m from Virginia, so if I’m searching the Internet for “hotels in Alexandria,” wait, let me finish—I have a favorite hotel in Alexandria, Virginia. If I wanted to know more about that hotel, I’d just call them. So if I’m searching the Internet, I’m doing research for a client, and I probably do want to know about hotels in Alexandria, Egypt.
How, then, do you build trust between your web site and people like me? The three steps I'll post about tomorrow, Thursday, and Friday should be very easy if you are honestly selling a good product.
(Can I find an Amazon link for this post? Why not? I've not read the book, but the title states my case well:)