Content Rules. Say it again

Content Rules, Ann Handley

Content is finally (once again) recognised as the priority when aiming for maximum results from your web strategy. Sure, the objectives remain relatively the same across the board: “modernise our corporate or brand image,” “increase sales,” “generate leads and contacts,” “improve visibilty in search engines,” and so on. Sure, the user experience must be positive, even unique. But the web is becoming more and more of a commodity whether we like it or not. Hence user experience techniques and designs are becoming more status quo (don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of room for innovation and creativity).

The fact of the matter is, it’s the content that truly differentiates one site from another. It’s the content that in the end will make or break a site. And everything is content, be it text, video, image, documentation, everything. So, the devil is certainly in the details. Ergo, as Ann Handley says we must write excellent content. Because excellent content begets excellent design and excellent fuctionnality.

Write killer headlines

It all starts at the top. In Content Rules, Ann has a small chapter called “Learn How to Write Killer Headlines.” She says: “The headline is the most important part of your post. Spend as much time on it as you would the whole post, if you need to (don’t just slap it on as an afterthought), and learn to do it well.

By “headlines” we can also refer to “titles” in general, especially for corporate websites looking to create a little personality. Why is it we always say “About us”? Now I understand, there’s a little “Don’t Make Me Think” issue here. We can’t just arbitrarily name something it isn’t, and cause confusion. But then again what’s in a name?

C’mon, talk to me

When you’re trying to add personality to your site, tone and voice are an integral part of the strategy. The jargon you use, the first-person or second-person narrative, everything is calculated. But you always have to talk the language of your audience. Be too cute, and people miss the call to action. Be too stoic, and we’re often bored or indifferent to the content.

Even within the corporate world, speak to me as a person. This is the underlying theme when giving a site personality. The web is truly a one to one interactive platform, so each user will look for their individual connection to your world. Using everyday language helps, along with sincerity, empathy, honesty… all values Ann highly recommends.

Personality should be homogenous throughout the site, no matter the size. One unique voice, that everyone can cling to and trust, will always help keep your reader’s attention. And dare to be different with your words. Separate yourself from the crowd, and focus on quality driven content. Giving personality to your content will therefore inspire your readers (customers) to come back and also to share.

A book within a book

Ann quotes Rohit Bhargava from his book “Personality Not Included” :

« Personality is the key element behind your brand and what it stands for, and the story that your products tell to your customers. »

A case in point with TRX (, a rebalancing software editor. First, they focus on a specific target market, in this case RIAs that do not yet use any rebalancing software (but use perhaps excel). Their story is precisely that RIAs who convert from a manual based tool, with potential errors, to an automatised program that does the work for you would save them time and give them better results. They just have to make the change.

TRX wanted an informal tone, with confidence. The core message was that the software does the job for you. To bring this message out on the homepage, TRX wanted something directive, yet playful, hence the term “forget about your spreadsheet” (give it your best New York accent) something most everyone can grasp, and hopefully get them curious. Throughout the site, TRX continues one-liners, easy to remember, while offering the user to schedule a demo.

Above all, TRX succeded in telling the story of an RIA that was stuck behind the computer crunching numbers over and over, without even applying all the factors. TRX became a brand that understands, and offers poignant solutions for a specific need.

Having a personality is not the bottom-line when building your site. But not having a personality is a potential pitful to having a site no one really cares about. On the web, that’s a big reason for failure.

Publishing info

Title of ebook: Content Rules (revised and updated version)
Author: Ann Handley & C.C.Chapman
Date of publication: 2012
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons
Where you can buy it: