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Writing Your Smart, Empathetic Website

by Abby Kerr

in Honors Copywriting

About this column

Pay attention, class. These tips for writing clear, concise, conversational, compelling copy — optimized for your own ideal client — will be on the exam.

This is the Introduction to The Voice Bureau’s blog post series on Writing Your Smart, Empathetic Website. This series is written with active and aspiring brand creators in mind — those of you who know that your website should be your business’s hardest working “salesperson” — and want to make that more of a reality. As brand voice specialists, we know you need doable, clear cut strategies for planning and writing web copy that will help you achieve your goals. We also know you value head (intelligence) and heart (empathy) in equal measures; that point of view is part of what makes your approach to business so well rounded. This is OUR approach to business copywriting for the web: smart and empathetic. This series teaches you to write your website in a way that will inspire your Right People to visit often, to share your work with others like them, and ultimately, to do business with your brand.

Let’s set the scene:

Writing a smart, empathetic website is a lot like carefully constructing a physical structure for people to hang out in.I live near the campus of an ivy-covered, red brick college. A campus with a creek running through it. Although this particular highly-ranked liberal arts college isn’t known for wildly raucous college house parties, living just off-campus often brings to mind my own college days. We all can conjure up the image in our mind of just that kind of wildly raucous college house party. (I should know. I graduated from a large, state university known for such things, besides being known for its stellar academic programs — ahem.)

In case you’ve never had the experience of attending a wildly raucous college house party, allow me to paint the picture: sensory overload. Loud music. Damp, humid air with suddenly drafty corners where someone has broken out a window. Bad lighting. Sticky floors and kitchen countertops. Upholstered furniture nobody (sober) really wants to sit on.

Anyone and anything goes at a party like this. The “guest list” is suspect, people are sneaking in their (often underage) friends, and you never know what those two hooligans standing near the porch are planning to get up to. Social norms are ambiguous, and the insider parlance is always in flux, and never entirely straightforward. It’s a strange milieu, one very few people actually feel comfortable in, if they’re in their right mind.

And what are most people there to do at a college house party?

Hook up. Numb out. Blow off stream.

Time to hop out of this metaphor.

Your website — and the community you welcome there — should NOT a college house party resemble.

Is that really what you want your website visitors doing on your site on a metaphorical level?

Hooking up? Okay, maybe yes to that, depending on what kind of a business you are.

Numbing out? Not unless you’re a social media interface designed to foster addictive use in exchange for an influx of advertising dollars. [AhemFacebookahem.]

Blowing off steam? That sounds potentially . . . fraught.

Blueprints for business owners

At The Voice Bureau, we have a strong point of view on what sort of place a business website should be.

We think your website should be a thoughtful, gorgeously appointed structure built to appeal to your exact Right People readers and potential buyers.

There’s a fundamental structure to every solid small business website, one without a lot of bells and whistles.

Once you learn this structure, you are free to adapt and iterate it to suit your brand conversation, your business goals and objectives.

There’s a framework for understanding how certain pages connect to certain next pages (in a progression of emotional logic), and why a certain type of Call To Action works better on one particular page than on another.

Once you learn this framework, you can strategically intuit what will work best for your Right People.

Smart and empathetic?

In this blog post series, we’ll teach you how to write (or rewrite) a smart, empathetic website for your business brand — one that feels like just the kind of place in the world you’d like to invite your Right People to come hang out.

When we say “smart,” we mean, let’s assume that both you, as brand creator, and your Right Person site visitor, are equally intelligent. No talking down to them. No flicking at their pain points. No irresponsible, puffy-sticker promises of something you can’t actually guarantee (because no human being could). No histrionic adjective-spangled prose that no sane person can actually live up to in delivery.

When we say “empathetic,” we mean, you, as brand creator, make the choice to step out of your own well-worn shoes and into the shoes of another — namely, of the person most likely to engage with your brand (read: read, share, or buy).

Only you can decide exactly what kind of place you want your website to be. But we can give you a framework to help you do that. Throughout this series, we’ll share loads of cues, clues, and insights with you based on our own Voice Values methodology, which draws on well-documented marketing frameworks, the universal empathetic approach to stepping into the shoes of another person (seeing the value of what you do through someone else’s eyes), and the world’s most renowned personality typing systems.

Your website might end up feeling like a luxe lounge, or a boho treehouse. It might feel like a minimalist meditation space, or like a vintage-industrial warehouse workshop. It might feel like a grand, welcoming, well-appointed manor, or like a slick penthouse office overlooking an impressive view.

The vibe is yours to create.

Here’s the rundown of what we’ll be sharing in this series over the next couple months.

(As we publish each post, we’ll update this list with links.)

In the comments, we’d love to hear:

Do you ever visualize your website looking like a physical place? If so, what does it look like? Paint the picture for us. And — where could you use help translating that vision into your website and content plan?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Leslie September 24, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Clearly my brand is a frat house! The call to action is an invitation to challenge me to beer pong and then make out on the damp-ish couch! Dude… that. would. be. awesome.

All joking aside, this post is brilliant. If I think about my brand as a physical place, it has two rooms. They are connected.

One is a living room decorated with colorful memorabilia from around the world: photos of Patagonia, pillows made of batik from Thailand, photo albums on the table, an open invitation for friends to come and visit and chat about their adventures and goals and dreams. This is all about international careers, how to live and work abroad, especially while balancing your ambition and your wanderlust.

The other is a classroom. It has a big table surrounded by chairs (students and teachers sit at the same level) and lots of colorful materials to build things with. The white board is full of scribbles and pictures and arrows connecting words in multiple languages. This is all about innovation and education, specifically creating a bridge between big ideas (that might have originated in this classroom, or perhaps on the other side of the world) and the local culture. The dialogue is open and far-reaching. Everyone is encouraged to use visual communication, to communicate these big ideas in a concrete way.

I’m curious to see where other people take this analogy.


Abby Kerr September 24, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Leslie, thanks for the gorgeous visuals here. I can feel myself in this space you’re describing, and I kind of want to buy you candles and snacks as housewarming gifts!

I love the thoughtfulness you’re bringing to your upcoming site transformation, and appreciate the response post you wrote to this one over on your site.

Yes, would love to hear from others, too, with this analogy.


Janina September 25, 2013 at 3:40 pm

“Damp, humid are with suddenly drafty corners…” I’ve been there. Yuck. Abby, you’re hilarious! You manage to discuss ethics, cruelty, and intentionality while making me laugh out loud.

Your question sparked this website imagery: An old fashioned apothecary in the front giving way to a generously sized, comfortable lounge toward the back, with comfy couches, plush rugs, and wingback chairs. Bookshelves cover some walls. A door on a side wall is closed but not locked. It’s marked with a bronze plate that reads “Laboratory”. Out the back door is a shaded patio and beyond that is a large garden to wander in filled with beautiful plants, insects and birds. The wilderness that borders the garden is populated with talking beasts.


Abby Kerr September 26, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Janina, I want an instant transport to this place you’re describing. Also, if your skincare products can give me that feeling — sign me up!


MJ Bush November 27, 2013 at 10:21 pm

I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series.

I want my website to be a moonlit enchanted garden with deep fountains connected by floating lines of light through gazebos, flower beds, hedges, and streams. As you progress, the lines of light become part of you and you know instinctively how each fountain fits into the overall pattern.

I think my content plan fits this, but I’m having trouble setting the right expectations through my copy. I’ve been focusing too much on one or the other, the fountains or the lines of light. I’m also not sure about my theme.


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