Are You Using the Words Your Customers Are Using?

Numbers and words, numbers and words. Imagine Jiminy Cricket on your shoulder whispering that in your ear. Or, if you're not keen on crickets, imagine the Dallas Cheerleaders waving their pom poms as they chant that mantra over and over.

Why? Because as we say around here, numbers and words are pretty much the Alpha and Omega of ebusiness. What's it all about, Alfie? You got it ... numbers and words.

Last time we talked at length about metrics, specifically your Key Performance Indicators. Numbers. Now I want to look at words, the special words that relate to you and your business. Except I'm not interested in the words you would use to describe yourself, your products or your services. I'm interested in the words your potential visitors would use. And oddly enough, they don't always call stuff what you'd call it.

Why should you care about the words your potential visitors use?

Keywords

The first answer is pretty obvious. You aren't trying to find you. You are hoping they will find you. Except they type their words - not yours - into a search engine. The search engine then crawls a bazillion sites, looking especially for text and hyperlink matches. The more effectively you populate your copy, headers and tags with the right keywords, the more likely you are to be found. And the better will be your ranking in the results. Face it, it doesn't do you much good to be the 3,647th result in a search! I don't know anybody who wades in that deeply, do you?

Trigger Words

But there is also a more subtle answer that speaks to your ability to motivate and persuade: the sort of words that bring your visitors to your site are the same words they are going to be scanning for the second they arrive. Trigger words. The ones that reinforce connection and confidence. The ones that are the backbone of your copy's ability to motivate the next click. So they need to be there, not just somewhere on the site as words the search engine spiders see, but as the words your visitors couldn't possibly miss.

Think of it this way. Suppose you are looking for a BrandX Digital Camera. You follow a lead, and when you land on the page, you see the word "camera." You might feel a bit disappointed - camera is a big category of possibilities. But if you saw "digital camera" you might feel a bit more enthusiastic. And if you saw "brandx digital camera," you'd probably be clicking your heels.

Trigger words are not limited to keywords; they are the special words that encourage your visitors to take action. Trigger words trigger a response - and online that response is the click-through. These words constitute the implicit promise that you understand and can meet the felt needs of your visitors. They are the words that should appear prominently in your headlines and hyperlinks.

In the Trenches

We've been examining this issue with an extremely gracious client who's been with us for several years. He helps folks solve personal problems. A series of changes to his site had resulted in a delightful increase in sales. But, as we tease ourselves around here, when have you ever made too much money, eh?

So when we started on a site redesign, we hunkered down and took a fine-toothed comb to the copy. The key question in the back of our minds: How would a visitor describe his or her personal problem?

The copy talked about "emotional trauma" (this was also a hyperlinked item). It asked if you were suffering from "limited thoughts" and in search of "spiritual abundance." It was nice copy, except it didn't really use words you or I would have chosen to characterize our situations. An insider would understand - and possibly use - this sort of language, but if you ask the average Joe or Josephine what they are in need of, you probably won't hear, "Spiritual abundance."

And what exactly is emotional trauma? If I'm stressed out to the max and I'm looking for solutions, do I first think of calling my problem emotional trauma? Are those the words I'd type into a browser? Are those the words that would leap off a page, letting me know I am understood and confirming that I've arrived in the Promised Land? Yeah, right. Not!

Once we decided not many folks would resonate with "emotional trauma" as a description of their circumstance, we turned to deciding what they would call it. We got lots of minds to brainstorm the ins and outs of emotional trauma, generating an incredibly useful list full of words that did not appear prominently in the copy, yet were far more likely to be critical keywords for search engines and trigger words for persuasion. Words like abandonment, rejection, abuse, guilt, shame, workaholic, victim. And the ever-popular stress and anxiety.

Of course, it isn't quite that easy. I look at my dear friend, Lisa, and I'm convinced she's a "martyr." If I were going to find help for her, that's what I'd call her brand of emotional trauma. But you just know Lisa isn't going to call herself a martyr (except maybe caustically in a bitter moment). If she were on the trail for help, she'd probably refer to herself as a "caretaker" and think of herself as being too loyal. I tend to call a spade a spade. Lisa tends to put a more attractive face on things. Your potential visitors - different personalities with different agendas - will embrace the same range of qualitative distinctions as well.

That Old Dog Yet Again

If I had unlimited resources, I'd buy you all an engraved plaque for your desks, and it would say: "Speak to the dog, in the language of the dog, about what matters to the heart of the dog." This simply has to be the central philosophy behind every strategy you devise to achieve your goals!

Dr. Duane Lakin identifies several road blocks that inhibit effective sales. One of them, he says, is that all too often, the message does not fit the audience:

People hear and notice what is familiar to them. Words and phrases that look or feel familiar will have more of an impact on people than the unfamiliar. A philosophy professor addressing a group of industrial engineers will have difficulty speaking their language. Ideas may be expressed, but concepts will not be embraced by the audience. Too often, people talk or write the way that makes them feel comfortable and ignore what is necessary to make the audience feel good or be open to the message.1

You can't connect if you don't speak the language. So where do you go to "hear" the language your audience uses?

  • Drain the brains of everyone who interacts with your customers and hears how they phrase their own needs. This would certainly include your sales staff and any customer service representative.

  • Take the time to canvas consumer opinion forums. Read what folks write and post about you, your product, your service and anything related.

  • Invest some time in paying attention to the keywords folks type into their browsers. If you have your own in-site search feature, mine those logs. You can also turn to applications like WordTracker.

"Emotional trauma" was an in-the-trenches exercise for us in dealing with the discrepancy between the words you use and the words they use. Such an exercise is critical to helping your visitors not only find you in the first place, but self-identify once they get to you. Figuring out your audience is a core element in the uncovery process and it is indispensable to creating the prototypic persona who represent your visitors. In very human terms, it is a way you market successfully while you welcome with open arms.

It's not easy to separate your image of who you are from your audience's image. There's a healthy chunk of ego at risk. But you need to do it. So. What are you really gonna call it?

1The Unfair Advantage: Practical Applications of NLP for Sales and Marketing, Duane Lakin, PhD. 2000. p10.

Volume 94: 6/15/04


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