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by Gerry McGovern
Author, New Thinking

I was born and raised on a small farm in rural Ireland. Every year we brought cattle to the Granard mart. When they entered the selling pen, expert buyers judged them. Mostly, good cattle got good prices, poor cattle, poor prices. Quality came out.

Selling on the Internet is based on promises. If you met a potential buyer the day before the mart there was no point in promising him that you had fantastic cattle if they were not indeed fantastic. But when writing about your product or service on your website it's so easy to reach for 'easy-to-use,' 'innovative,' 'unique,' 'trouble-free,' 'comprehensive support,' 'fantastic.'

A critical problem that the Internet economy faces is that of over-promising with its words and under-delivering with its products and services. If we can't tame our urge to hype, then the customer will become increasingly cynical about the information they find online. If the integrity of the information the Internet delivers becomes seriously undermined, then the very function of the Internet becomes seriously undermined.

To repeat the obvious: the function of the Internet is to deliver information. The first question that I instinctively ask myself when I visit a new website is whether I can trust the information it is offering to me. That is often a difficult thing to judge and is perhaps one of the reasons I visit very few new websites. I suppose I'm conservative. If I want to see what's happening in the world today, I'll go to CNN. If I want to buy a book or CD, I'll go to Amazon.

When I arrive at a new website I'm in a very sceptical mode. I read carefully, watching out for the tone, style and balance. I'm there for the facts, and if I get a sense that I'm being over-promised I back out. When I read about product limitations, I'm impressed. I feel that if the website is up-front enough to tell me about the limitations of what it offers, then maybe it's being factual about the benefits.

Here are 10 Rules we should follow when writing for the Internet:
  1. Be honest. Paper never refused ink. Websites never refused hype. If you can't deliver within twenty-four hours, then don't promise to.

  2. Be simple, clear and precise. Time is the scarcest resource, so never use five sentences when one will do. Avoid jargon. People are confused enough today.

  3. State your offer clearly. What exactly is it that you sell?

  4. Tell them about your products limitations

  5. Have a clear call to action? If they like what you have to offer how do they go about buying it?

  6. Tell them quickly if they're not a customer you can supply. There's nothing I find more frustrating than finding out at the last moment that they can't deliver to Ireland.

  7. Edit! Edit! Edit! There has never been an article that cannot be made shorter.

  8. Give them detail. If they feel like finding out more about a particular product feature, then give them that opportunity. (That's what hypertext is for!)

  9. Write for the Web. Avoid the customer having to download Word documents, Powerpoints or PDF

  10. If you want to create a "10 Rules" but can only find 9, leave it at 9.

� Gerry McGovern, New Thinking. All rights reserved.

Gerry McGovern is the author of New Thinking, a weekly column which has received numerous accolades and a book, THE CARING ECONOMY

The Caring Economy
Order Today!

The Caring Economy, by Gerry McGovern, is published by Blackhall Publishing of 26 Eustace Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. ISBN 1-901657-61-2 Price _27.50 or US$35.95
Email: [email protected]

It is also available in the United States from Irish Books & Media, 1433 East Franklin Avenue, MN, USA 55404-2135. Call toll-free: 1-800-229-3505.

Email Gerry McGovern at [email protected]
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