What’s your website’s You-to-We ratio?

What’s your website’s You-to-We ratio?

To sell John Brown

Have you ever been to a social event, maybe a wedding reception or party, and got talking to a total stranger?

Now, sometimes that can be great. Many friendships and romances have started that way. But often, I bet you’ve ended up being talked at by someone who went on and on and on about their travels, their house, their career history or, if you were really unfortunate, their rare collection of coins.

(Oops. Sorry if you do actually own a rare collection of coins. I’m sure it’s really quite interesting. Just maybe not with random strangers at parties, eh?)

The chances are, they soon had you bored absolutely rigid and longing for an escape route. You stood there, hoping that someone – anyone – would interrupt and save you.

When you finally got away, did you feel you’d made a connection with this person? No. Because they had no interest in you. I think you’ll agree, it’s only in a two-way conversation that you can really form a bond with someone.

Now, what about sales people?

A lot of them really don’t have much of a clue. Every now and then though, I come across one that I have to admire.

For me, a really good salesperson is friendly without being over-familiar, not fake and genuinely interested in what they’re selling without being pushy. Most of all, they need to be tuned in your needs and wants.

The true professionals don’t push products or services at you, but instead engage you in conversation and learn a bit about you.

What they’re doing goes beyond finding the right product for you. They are working out how they can talk about it in terms of your own situation.

I think we can all agree that when we are able to visualise a product or service fitting into our own lives and understand the advantages it will bring us, we are far more likely to start wanting to have it.

Now, I have to ask: what sort of salesperson is your website?

Does it truly connect with visitors and make them want to buy from you? Or does it just give out lots of information in the hope that someone will latch on and become interested?

Could it even be like the person at the wedding reception, who just wants to talk about themselves to any poor victim they can box into a corner?

Now I’m not suggesting your site is like that. But there are an awful lot of websites that talk one-way. There’s one word above all others that tends to feature: “We”.

You know the kind of thing. “We are the leading provider of…”. “We are a family-owned business…”. “We provide…”. “We deliver…”. “We are proud to…”.

I’ve seen quite a few on which every paragraph begins with “We…”.

What does this say? Well, essentially, the site has been written from an internal point of view, and with very little thought for the reader.

It’s not hard to see how this happens. Anyone who works in a business sees it and its products from an internal viewpoint. This is magnified massively if you’re the owner.

I’m a business owner myself. I find myself thinking about my business when I’m lying in bed, having a shower, eating my breakfast, driving somewhere… you get the idea.

It would be great, wouldn’t it, if the people we’re trying to reach cared and thought this much about our businesses. But they don’t.

A while ago I saw a diagram at a copywriting conference. I can’t remember now which speaker used it, but it stuck with me. In the middle was a stick figure, representing the customer. Circled around it were various phrases. “My job”, “My children”, “My bank balance”, “My holiday”, “My insurance policy”, “My car”, “My free time” etc.

It was a simple but powerful reminder that every person sees the world mainly in terms of themselves.

When you talk to someone else about them, you always use one key word. “You”.

It was the second word I used in this article. I put it there because I wanted you to take notice. I figured you were more likely to do that if I talked about you instead of me.

I wanted you to remember a situation. I chose something I was pretty sure you must have experienced. I wanted you nod along and say “yes” inside your head as you agreed with me and realised I understood it from your point of view.

One of the most successful and revered writers of direct mail (or, as he preferred to call it, “junk mail”) was the lateBill Jayme. When the New York Times asked him what made his sales messages so powerful, he put it down to one trait: empathy.

Empathy. That’s a bit harder than talking about yourself. But it’s not impossible. You just need to think a bit more before you write.

The more empathy you can show with your reader, the more likely you are to get them nodding their head and saying that internal “yes”. It’s only then that your message will cease to be a one-way broadcast and start to become truly engaging.

There’s a piece of marketing advice you’ve probably heard many, many times before: talk about the benefits of your product or service rather than its features. The reason of course, is that by talking about benefits you are explaining to a reader what they will get for themselves.

This basic advice often gets ignored. Why? Because for all of us, it’s very easy to fall back into seeing the world from our own position.

One way you can assess the likely effectiveness of your written message is to measure what I call the “You-to-We” ratio. It’s quite easy to do.

You just go through and count up the number of words in which you are talking about yourself. That’ll be “We”, “Our”, “Us” and your business name.

Then, count the customer-focused words. That’ll be “You” obviously, and also “Your”.

(OK, now this is the bit where, as a words person, I try to do maths. Wish me luck…)

If you take the number of customer-focused words, divide it by the total number of words you counted up, and then multiply the answer by 100, that’ll give you the percentage.

(I think that’s right, but if not, ask someone from the financial sector.)

My own preference is for the ratio to be at least balanced, or leaning in the direction of the customer. It doesn’t need to be overwhelmingly so: I’ve seen some very good material in which the You-to-We ratio is around 50/50, or 55/45.

However, I’ve also seen many messages where the ratio is 15/85 – or even worse. In those cases, the business invariably comes across as bragging at its readers, instead of talking to them. It’s all a bit “We-We-We”.

This isn’t an exact science. I’m certainly not saying that “We” is a bad word. But when you use it, it’s far better if you are talking about yourself in the context of that all-important “You” – your customer.

I call it the You-to-We ratio, but there are other ways to describe it. I found an American marketing agency called FutureNow who have what they call a “WeWe Monitor“. You can find it ontheir website.

If you do end up concluding that your own website, or other written content, contains too much “We” and not enough “You”, don’t despair. It’s an opportunity. If my own experience in researching these things is anything to go by, I’m pretty sure you’ll find many, if not most of your competitors are doing the same thing.

Far from this being a negative, you’ve gained an awareness. You now have a chance to separate yourself from the rest and have the website in your sector that causes potential clients to stop, start reading, keep reading and then take action

Oh, hang on. You didn’t think I was going to letJulia get away without being assessed, did you?

Of course I’m not!

I’ve just done a word count of the copy on theGreen Umbrella landing page.

Customer-focused words:

“You” = 16 (including 3 on the headline)

“Your” = 6

Total = 22

Internal-referencing words:

“Our” = 1

“Green Umbrella” = 1

Total = 2

(There are zero instances of “We”.)

That’s a You-To-We ratio of 92/8.

So, according to that, Green Umbrella greet their new visitors with a message that feels like a conversation, and which refers to the prospect or their business 92% of the time. They only mention themselves twice.

And on the two occasions when they do talk about themselves, it is in the context of the client: “…you have landed on our website” and, “Let Green Umbrella show you…”.

I think you’ll agree, that’s a very social style of marketing. I bet it works as well.

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