Does your website tell your story?

Andrea Ferguson

President at AndiSites Inc.
Andi is founder and President of AndiSites Inc. She writes about website design and development, best practices, and random stuff her busy brain thinks would be useful.
Andrea Ferguson

Storytelling, Visualized

In a recent TED Talk, Andrew Stanton, the Pixar writer/director of Toy Story and Wall-E described his golden rules of storytelling.  The talk was then turned into a brilliant poster by the graphic artists at the Brazilian culture and science magazine Superinteressante. The poster transforms the golden rules into a gripping, exciting, engrossing illustrated journey from ugly duckdom to beautiful swanhood.  A familiar story, but one that gets us every time.  So what does that have to do with your website?

Your website is usually your first point of contact with those seeking information about you and your company.  If it’s outdated, out-of-style, or difficult to navigate, it’s not helping you. Too much information or difficult navigation means users see nothing and can’t find anything, so what is there must be intentional.  Most of all, you want your website to tell your unique story in a way no other venue can.  Take advantage of your most public forum to let people get to know you, how you came to be, what you’re about, and where you’re going.  Tell your story, so that others will know it and want to tell it as well.


Applying the Rules of Storytelling to Your Website

We know that it takes milliseconds for a user to form an opinion about you after opening your home page. Color palette, typography, layout, and imagery contribute to those opinions long before they read a word of your text. And if there’s too much text, they may not bother reading anything at all. So given the short time you have, how can you tell a good story?


Rule #1: Make Me Care

With over 860 million websites on the Internet (according to the Netcraft January 2014 Web Server Survey), competition is high. Websites in themselves are nothing special anymore, so users will need a reason to visit yours…and a better reason to stay.  A good story draws the sympathy of the audience; a good website piques the practical and emotional interest of the user.  On your home page use a single striking image that shows why caring people should learn more. Find a symbolic image that evokes an emotional response, perhaps a photo of an actual satisfied customer loving your product or service. Avoid stock photography if you can…shiny happy people shaking hands has been overdone.


Rule #2: Take Me With You

A good story provides a promise (a journey, mystery, or problem) that makes it worth the audience’s attention. Let the home page of your website provide a glimpse into what’s inside (rather than saying everything right there). Entice your users to explore further.  Unless your home page is a true “landing page” (meant to convert users to leads by filling out a form or taking another single action), it should work as a beautiful and welcoming front door that visitors can’t wait to walk through.  Let the home page declare that there are even more amazing things ahead. Make the web journey easy through simple, intuitive navigation and a design that respects web page expectations (e.g., clickable logo in upper-left; navigation at the top or along the left-hand side; links that are styled differently than regular text, etc.).


Rule #3: Be Intentional

Good story protagonists have a goal in mind, and the story carries them towards it.  Your website protagonists (users) are the same: they need something, and they’re hoping you can lead them there. Knowing your users’ goals—and the problems they are looking to solve—will help guide the design and content of your website. It will focus everything you show and say on achieving those goals and solving those problems.  Proper research and a strong knowledge of best practices will help you identify why users come to your website and what they need.  Cohesive design elements and selection of information will carry your protagonists towards their goal and give them the confidence they need to engage you as their trusted guide.


Rule #4: Let Me Like You

In a good story, the audience can relate to and appreciate the characters, making them worthy of attention. Your website can certainly tell your users what you do, why they should care, and how you can help them, but it’s also an opportunity to let your company’s personality shine through. Do you have customer testimonials talking about how great you are to work with?  Feature them prominently on your site.  Is your company making the world a better place? Showcase your affiliations with beneficial organizations, and link over to their websites to spread the love. Your About or Staff page is another place to help your users like you; show happy photos and include “real person” details in bios (i.e., hobbies, quirky facts, unusual talents, etc.).  Remember that a business relationship is still a relationship, and people want to work with people they like.


Rule #5: Delight Me

When the ugly duckling becomes a beautiful swan and finds acceptance, we are delighted.  When the protagonists of a great story find the treasure, or true love, or peace at last, we celebrate with them. While you may think it difficult to achieve the same level of delight with your website, you can show your users the light at the end of the tunnel, suggesting how happy they’ll feel if they work with you.  Your users need a problem solved, or they need more time in their day.  Maybe they’re looking for the perfect fill-in-the-blank, and you just happen to have it.  Whatever your users need, your website should tell the story of how they’ll get it with a minimum of effort on their part—you’ll do the heavy lifting. They’ll look good to their boss, they’ll have more time in their day, they’ll have fewer problems. Whatever the outcome, it will be positive, and positive outcomes are delightful.



Tell Your Story

You know your story better than anyone, but ask around and see what others have to say as well.  What do they love about your company? Why are they proud to be associated with it? What do they think are the best parts of your story? Write down their ideas and feature them on your website—not just in written text (remember, too many words mean people don’t read anything) but also in evocative images. If part of your story is that you’re friendly and welcoming, make visiting your website a friendly, welcoming experience. Make it easy for people to find things. Don’t frustrate them. If part of your story is that you prepare your clients for the future, feature some success stories of your thrilled clients. There are reasons why your company is special and your story is unique. Make sure that your website tells that story—and encourages people to become a part of it.

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