Does your website tell a story or simply list a bunch of facts?

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A History Lesson

I grew up hating history. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed school and did well, but history classes were the bane of my existence.

Now that I’m old enough to have hindsight, I recognize a theme among all of my history teachers: none of them were good storytellers. They knew facts, understood timelines, and could list all the economic ramifications of any given event, but they bored me to tears.

I left their classes with bits of facts (which I quickly forgot), no appreciation for the past (Would I be doomed to repeat it?), and no clarity about how all the pieces fit together. It wasn’t that my teachers and professors didn’t know the subject matter. Quite the contrary. They were experts in their fields. It boiled down to the way they presented the subject matter.

I read textbooks, listened to lectures, learned dates and names, and regurgitated the information. Rinse and repeat for state history, American history, and world history.

The Power of Story

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Had any one of those teachers encouraged me to read the story of a handful of individuals who lived during that period of history, I would have learned more, retained more, cared more.

Stories matter because they appeal to emotions and empathy.

Facts alone are cold and unrelatable.

The principles that apply to teaching history also apply to web content. Does your website tell a story? Or does it only display facts? It needs to do both to keep visitors engaged.

So how do you do that? How do you include all the relevant information in an easy-to-navigate fashion within the context of a story that holds a visitor’s interest?

I’m glad you asked.

“And the Oscar goes to…”

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Think of your website as you would a new blockbuster movie.

The home page is the trailer. It highlights the entire story without giving away so much that nobody wants to see the actual movie. If, after watching a trailer, you don’t know what the movie is about, you probably won’t bother to see it. The same holds true for websites. If your homepage doesn’t connect and grab your target audience, they’ll leave and go somewhere that does. As an example, look at the Cendera Funding homepage. It gives visitors a taste of all they’ll encounter in the mortgage process as they continue to browse the site.

The secondary pages are the movie itself. Those are the people who were intrigued enough by the trailer to pay to see the film. These folks become leads for your marketing team.
Tertiary pages are the movie reviews, bloopers, cut scenes, director’s interviews, and behind-the-scenes stuff that only true fans really want to know. Ideally, these are your clients and your word-of-mouth grassroots marketers.

All good stories contain the following:

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Setting.

This is the context in which the story takes place. On websites the context may vary from one visitor to the next. For example, let’s say you are a CPA and your website markets your accounting firm. One visitor may be an individual looking for help with income taxes while another might be a business executive looking to hire a firm for monthly services. Your website story needs to fit within both contexts. It’s a multidimensional story. To determine the setting of your website, ask yourself, “What motivates people to perform the search that leads them to your site?”

Characters.

There are two main characters in a website story: your customer avatar (also known as the target audience member) and your company. It’s important to have a clear understanding of both characters before crafting your website. Have a clear vision of what they value, the struggles they face, and how they respond to certain situations. (For help crafting your customer avatar, use this free worksheet from Digital Marketer.)

Plot.

This is the body of the story. Characters work together to overcome obstacles to a specific goal. The basic plotline of any website should be the buyer’s journey. (In the case of a non-profit organization, the client’s journey.) What questions will your avatar ask along the way? What objections will you have to overcome to transition them from a site visitor to a lead or a customer? Those questions lead directly into the next story element.

Conflict.

Over the course of the story, your customer avatar will experience a pain point, a crisis, or a problem to solve. Sometimes the conflict is what led them to your site and sometimes the site reveals the conflict. This is an opportunity for your website to step in and save the day by resolving the conflict. Your website resolves conflicts by either answering a question, providing a remedy for perceived pain, or helping visitors overcome an obstacle. The site >Ardent designed for CK Family Services does a great job of presenting a problem (kids who need foster care) and giving visitors actionable steps they can take to address the problem. It elicits just enough of an internal conflict to motivate visitors to do something.

Theme.

For the sake of web design storytelling, a theme is the general feel a user has while on your website. That covers both how they felt when they initially searched for you and how they feel while on your site. It’s not just fluffy emotionalism. One of the reasons people enjoy movies is because of how they make them feel: inspired, happy, educated, sad, angry, etc. How do you want people to feel when they’re on your website? The answer to that question should be taken into account when you choose colors, create the tone for your content, and add images. You’re walking the line between how you want your business to be perceived (professional, fun, reliable, creative, etc.) and how you want the customer to feel when they interact with you (a sense of urgency, relieved, motivated, safe, etc.).

Conclusion

By the time visitors have perused your site, they should be motivated to achieve their happily ever after, not be falling asleep to the drone of a boring professor. Make your brand memorable. Tell good stories. Don’t be boring.