Monday, February 25, 2013

10 Commandments of About Us Pages

Commandment 1: Know thy audience. Who’s most likely to look you up? Friends, advocates, opponents, information‐seekers? Figure it out and talk to them. Design separate pages for specialized users. DO let your org’s personality show. DON’T blather on. Think elevator speech. Wrap facts in an enticing overview.

Commandment 2: Thou shalt not generalize. Your mission statement may contain noble abstractions. But to hold the attention of fickle web‐surfers, About Us pages need specifics. How many products or services do you offer? How long have you been doing it? What awards have you won? What do clients say?

Commandment 3: Reveal thy personality. Photos are good. Quick, solid info about your people is better. Who was your founder, and what DNA did he or she impart? (From Walt Disney on down, we’ve yet to encounter a company that didn’t reflect its founder’s interests and quirks.) Where is your current CEO steering the company? Who’s on your management team? What are your employees’ aggregate strengths?

Commandment 4: Don’t take your own name in vain. Readers may find all kinds of things about you on a Web search. That’s why, on your About Us page, you should refer visitors to outside sources who can testify to the value of your products, your management, your expertise, and your good works. When objective third parties confirm what you’re saying, your credibility is increased.

Commandment 5: Honor thy readers and their attention spans. Hurried visitors will be more likely to finish your page if you ruthlessly cut non‐crucial copy. Can’t bear to part with pretty prose? Move it to another page and add a link. At the same time, give good material its due. Some topics need explication, and some audiences (especially literary folks) enjoy longer copy.

Commandment 6: Honor thy graphics. A solid block of 9‐point Verdana tempts visitors to click and move on. Break the text into paragraphs or themes or timelines. Use subheads. Add photos, both current and archival, and generously lace them with captions. People read captions.

Commandment 7: Keep navigation easy. Once you’ve got great content, attractively presented, make it easily accessible. Your navigation bars should look like navigation bars, and they should provide site‐wide access. About Us page text should include links to relevant subpages or to other pages on your site.

Commandment 8: Remember to make yourself and your organization easily accessible. Give visitors a variety of ways to contact you. Make the contact information easy to find from any page. Reminding visitors of why they want to contact you is a great way to end an About Us page.

Commandment 9: Worship clarity. Check your grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other fine points. Errors here are “broken windows.” They suggest you’re careless with details—that you may be as indifferent to a misplaced decimal point as you are to a misplaced apostrophe.

Commandment 10. Remember to keep holy the updates. Once your “About
Us” pages are polished, keep them fresh. A copyright date from even one year ago suggests that no one’s minding the store.

Having just freshened our own website, we felt it was timely to repost our 10 Commandments of About Us pages. Need a PDF to share with decision-makers at your organization? Glad to oblige.

© 2013

Monday, February 18, 2013

Taylor Stitch: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Taylor Stitch, a San Francisco-based company founded in 2008 by Michael Maher, Barrett Purdum, and Mike Armenta, originally produced custom shirts to modernized designs. Two years later, with hundreds of measurements on file, they began selling ready-made shirts that are updated versions of classics such as button-downs. Taylor Stitch operates a shop in the Mission District, a website, and pop-up stores. The company was written up in Entrepreneur magazine (December 2012) as “Tailor-made Transactions.” Its About Us page is here.


Products/Services: B
Under the heading “Our Story” on the About Us page, we learn why the founders started the company, how they arranged reliable manufacturing, and how they refined the styles and sizes available. Bravo: this is precisely the sort of factual corporate storytelling that might persuade us to buy a bespoke shirt from them. To intrigue us further, we’d love to see diagrams or photos that contrast the details of a shirt from Taylor Stitch with the same item in a mass-produced brand.

The company cashes in on its growing reputation with a Press page of links to media coverage. We recommend adding the title and date of the article below the name of each publication, so that if a link is broken, we can still search the article. If we’re interested enough to get to this page and click on a link, the revamping of someone else’s site shouldn’t be allowed to thwart our curiosity. Remember our Commandment #7 of About Us Pages: Keep Navigation Easy.

Accessibility: B
If your business offers custom rather than mass-produced goods, it’s especially important to give contact information frequently. Taylor Stitch includes their phone and email at the end of the “Our Story” section on the About Us page.

Personality: C
One odd omission: the About Us page speaks in first person plural, but never mentions the names of the founders of the company. Is that them in the photo? Why not add a corporate storytelling caption that gives names and explains what’s up with the bicycle and bearskin? We do like the subtle reinforcement of the company’s tagline: Handmade in America.

Taylor Stitch’s About Us page focuses not on the company history, but on the ideas that inspired the company and continue to drive it. Actually, that is corporate history. This is a good choice for a 5-year-old company: well done.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company. To talk about your About Us page, contact us!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Ethan Allen: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Ethan Allen Global, Inc., is one of the largest furniture manufacturing companies in the United States, with almost 300 stores and revenue of over $700 million. Founded in 1932 by brothers-in-law Nathan S. Ancell and Theodore Baumritter, who named it for a Revolutionary War patriot, the company was sold in 1980 to Interco and went public in 1993. Its headquarters is in Danbury, CT. The company’s About Us page is here.

Ethan Allen’s About Us pages offer almost no information about the company. The main About Us page automatically runs a video of Chairman, President, and CEO Farooq Kathwari. While we are usually happy to hear a company’s leader discuss his goals, the video window takes up all the “above the fold” space on this page, with no option for fast-forwarding and no indication of running time. Closing this window brings up a photo of Mr. Kathwari that takes up the same large amount of screen real estate. The only text outside the header and footer are the captions for many more interviews with Mr. Kathwari. This is a huge violation of one of our key commandments for About Us pages: Thou Shalt Not Generalize.

This page desperately needs a tagline, a summary of what the company does and how long it’s been around, images of Ethan Allen’s product, and links to lure us to pages with further information. In short, it lacks any sense of corporate storytelling.

Products/Services: D
The main About Us page has no still photos of Ethan Allen furniture, and its Timeline is another missed opportunity. On the timeline screen for any given decade, one or two items about Ethan Allen are scattered among 3 or 4 events of world history. Why are the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, Dolly the cloned sheep, and the launch of Facebook worthy of mention here? Photos of the company’s products vintage ads and earlier designs would be much more to the point.

Personality: D
The text of the About Us pages is written throughout in a fragmentary style. For example, the Corporate Profile page begins, “A strong American brand with global reach. A design authority with a modern attitude. A high-quality manufacturer. An innovative retailer. A destination for the one-stop shopper. A full-service design center staffed by design professionals who make house calls.” Using occasional fragments for emphasis can be very effective. Overusing them makes your writing disjointed. More polished and traditional prose would be appropriate here, given Ethan Allen’s reputation as a maker of solid, traditional furniture.

Accessibility: C
The footer of every page offers a toll-free number and an email address. The Customer Service page provides links to recalls, design consultants, financing, and so on. However, the order on the page needs revamping: why should Facebook appear before Online Services or Gift Cards?

Wake up, Ethan Allen! Your “About Us” pages look as tattered as the sale banner over the marquee of your Paramus, NJ, store when I drove by it last month. Corporate history simply goes missing here. These pages offer too few images and too little content, and they’re written in a style that is at odds with the traditional craftsmanship and quality on which the company built its reputation.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). Contact us if you’d like to have your site evaluated. Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Happy 100th, Grand Central

Fantastic campaign befitting one of Manhattan's noblest landmarks ...

...right down to the logo (left), showcasing the clock which featured prominently in The Catcher in the Rye and hundreds of mid-century movies ("meet you under the clock").

Looks as if they didn't stint on the book, either. Bravo for preserving this business history in printed format. Website is gorgeous too.

All in all, it's an example of a public-private partnership at its best -- one that will benefit everyone who uses or loves Grand Central Terminal. Here's to the next 100 years!