Does your website have a consistent site narrative?
If you have to ask, the answer is probably no. Without a narrative, visitors to your site are choosing their own adventure. They might get lost or, worse, end up having a bad user experience.
That’s not what you want.
Let’s talk about what a site narrative actually is and why it should matter to you.
Every Site Has a Narrative
Intentional or unintentional, every website has a narrative. A site’s narrative is like the story it tells. It’s more than just the words on the page or the tone of its embedded videos. It’s how all the elements of the site work together to create a cohesive experience.
If you don’t give your site a narrative, the content you put on it will create one for you…and then you could have a mess on your hands.
Your site narrative sends subtle signals to every visitor about whether or not they’ve reached the right place.
Why Does a Narrative Matter?
People aren’t dumb. They know how to use websites. But if someone ends up on a page of your site and the experience doesn’t make sense to them, you’ve got a problem. Confusion, frustration, and inaction are all the results of poorly-defined site narratives.
You should care because all those things will drive people away from your website. Worse than that, they’ll steal your brand equity.
Without paying close attention to the way a typical user will traverse your site, you’re losing sight of their buyer journey. No one webpage exists in a vacuum. It feeds off of the pages around it and the elements that surround it like the H1 and H2 tags, the sidebar, the header navigation, and more.
How to Create a Site Narrative
A site narrative isn’t a single sentence or a quippy tagline you might use to pitch your business in an elevator. It’s a cohesive strategy for how you’ll communicate with visitors to your site using images, technical features, and words.
Sure, you can distill your idea(s) for a site narrative into a couple of words or phrases (“Bold!” “Forward-thinking”) but that’s all just marketing gobbledygook.
What you need is a plan.
Start by considering how people use websites.
When you imagine your site, it’s easy to think of your homepage as the front door. Visitors come in, they have a look around, then they find the menu item that suits their needs and presto – they’re the page with all the answers they were looking for!
Yeah, that’s not how it usually works.
It’s so important to remember that a lot of people will come to your website through internal pages. They might click on a blog post you shared on social media, or they may end up on your “Services” page via an organic search they performed (good for you, using SEO the way it was intended!)
When you walk into an Italian restaurant, you know it’s an Italian restaurant, right? The red walls and light accordion music and the smell of garlic give you clues.
If you land in the middle of a website you’ve never been to before, you should still have an immediate sense of what that website is all about. A lot of factors will influence your perception like color, stylistic choices, and the amount of words on the page.
This is why it’s so important for every page to be part of the overall site narrative.
Next, consider your buyer personas.
You should always have at least two comprehensive buyer personas in-hand before you ever attempt to work on a site narrative. Why? Because you can’t possibly communicate effectively with someone you don’t even know.
Your buyer personas should drive the site narrative creation process.
Your first order of business is to figure out where your buyer personas overlap. What do these two (or more) people have in common? Are any of their goals the same? What about their motivations? The more directly your site narrative can speak to that intersecting area of the Venn diagram, the better.
That said, don’t drive yourself crazy thinking your site narrative has to reach every possible iteration of your ideal customer. It’s not going to happen! One of the biggest problems I see in my line of work is businesses trying too hard to say everything to everyone all the time.
Your website is your online business card, not the Encyclopedia Britannica of your company.
You’ve already done the hard work of whittling down your buyer personas. Trust what you’ve accomplished and move fast in that direction.
If your buyer personas are so very different that you have to make a choice about who to talk to (i.e. one is an end-user and the other is a B2B company), choose the one that drives the most revenue for you, or the one you want to drive the most revenue for you.
A good site narrative moves the customer farther down the purchasing funnel, so that might as well be the customers who make you the most money.
Finally, craft a great site narrative.
What does this process look like, specifically? Here are a few things I like to have on hand when I’m crafting a site narrative:
- Sitemap A list of the main, top-level pages of the website
- Word Cloud: A running list of words and phrases pertinent to the brand (and the customer)
- Buyer Personas: Extremely comprehensive distillations of the ideal customer
From here, you should work the site narrative process backwards. Don’t ever start with the homepage! Breaking your site into smaller, more manageable pieces (like individual internal pages) makes it a lot less likely you’ll get overwhelmed. Once you’ve spent time chewing over all the specifics, your overarching thesis statement will begin to crystallize, and you can go back to the homepage.
Your job now is to create H1s and H2s for every top-level page on the site. The most important part of the site narrative to get right is the actual content; elements like color, imagery, and design can be tweaked down the line and are far more intuitive to produce.
The words are what matter right now.
Remember that the words you choose at this stage will set the tone for the rest of the content on the page. Web users don’t spend much time sniffing around for what they want, so the H1s and H2s of your website might be all you have to make an impression on them.
This is a good time to draw from your word cloud, and also to go with your gut. Does something feel too wordy? Cut it. Feel the need to speak in complete sentences? Stop it…this is the Internet. Want to make sure you mention that one thing that 4% of customers asked about two years ago? Now’s not the time.
Site narrative is high-level. It’s general. Its only job is to capture the attention of the customers you’re interested in and weed out the ones you’re not.
Here are what your results might look like:
See how that works? When your site narrative gets too clunky, your site gets clunky. Try your best to keep it clean and simple. Choose the right words for what you’re trying to say, not the most words.
You want these narrative snippets to be exactly the kind of catchy one-liners that appeal to your target audience, i.e. the people in your buyer personas. Ask yourself how they talk, what language they use, and always refer back to what drives their decision-making process.
It should drive yours, too.
Stuck on your site narrative?
I can help with that. Reach out to me so we can talk about how to connect with your customer.