Effective web content: Rethinking your About page

About Us pageI’m working with three clients on small-business websites and we’re getting hung up on the About pages.

So I went off and did some research on About pages (specifically for small-business websites). I found several types, each with their own benefits and limitations, and thought the information worth sharing:

  1. The “all facts” page. There’s nothing wrong with an About page that is, essentially, your resume. Facts make prospective clients and partners feel comfortable; facts (about where you went to school, where you worked, your skills, your past projects, a bit about why you do what you do) provide ways to connect your world with their worlds. The danger of an “all facts” page is its dryness. An about page that’s too close to a resume risks making your business look like something you’re doing while hunting for a “real job.” If you use an “all facts” format, try pruning the information to emphasize information that relates specifically to your business.
  2. The “too much information” page. I’m seeing a lot of About pages that make me feel as though I’m trapped at a cocktail party with an enthusiastic nut case. When people go on at length about how passionate, ethical, environmentally aware, and socially conscious they are, I get nervous. In part, it’s because they could be lying through their teeth. I’d rather look at their portfolio and their client list and their testimonials and see that these passions and commitments are evidenced in their work and in the clients and partners they choose to work with. The “too much information” page is often characterized by a regrettable photo of the business owner doing something recreational rather than professional — or, worse, a studio portrait that looks more like a brooding, self-involved artist than a business person.
  3. The “connections and keywords” page. This is a version of the “all facts” page that emphasizes not projects and experience but the business owners’  connections to clients, partners, educational programs, and professional organizations. It reflects the influence of LinkedIn, which uses a format that identifies you by these connections. This is a great framework to which you can add a bit of personality. Again, as with the facts page, you’d do well to give greater emphasis to those connections that have something to do with your business.
  4. The “short and sweet” page. These can be some of the best About pages. Given that most people will spend only a second or two looking at an About page, keeping it short (three sentences, max) vastly increases the chances that a prospective customer will actually read what you have to say about your business. If you say something that is genuine and moderately engaging, you’ll have achieved a huge win. Of course, there are a few About pages that try so hard to be cryptic, provocative, and clever with their brevity that they leave visitors scratching their heads.
  5. The “story” page. Storytelling was all the rage in online communication two or three years ago. I’m finding that, like many online communications fads, storytelling is rapidly losing its patina. That’s because so many people have abused it. They’re abusing it by telling stories that are inappropriate, boring, or pure fantasy. If you are determined to use the About page for your business website to tell your story, make sure there is a real story to tell. It should have information about who did what, when, where, and why. And make sure the story is about the business at least as much as it is about you. Most importantly, focus on what you’ve done, not on what you intend to do. You want to sound like a solid business person, not a dreamer.

Here’s are some observations by marketing communications experts on effective About pages and why business owners have such difficulty writing them:

What About…Me?

So…what type of “About” page did I use for WriterWay?

#3, the “connections and keywords” page.

Most of my business comes through referrals. I find that nearly every prospect who contacts me makes a reference to some client or organization they saw mentioned in the top third of my About page. We then go on to discuss that common connection.

People never mention any of the weirder stuff I have near the end of my About page, so my guess is that they aren’t reading it — I’ve got too much stuff on the page. (See “short and sweet,” above.)

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