Is it ever OK to talk about yourself?
When you first start out in direct response marketing, you’re quickly taught to address your audience a certain way. You learn that the best copy speaks directly to them with action-oriented language, explicitly connecting their need to your product:
The new GymBlaster5000 has over 100 new features! Try it for 30 days, risk free.
Start hitting your fitness goals today. Try the new Gymblaster5000, with over 100 new features, in your home. Get results in 30 days or your money back.
This isn’t mere dogma. These principles have been tested and refined over the years and they’re still applied today because they usually work.
It’s through this lens that I approach the ubiquitous “About Us” page. If a business owner is leading content development for their site, “About Us” is probably the first part of the copy deck to get done. It’s understandable! In the uncertain world of a new business, “Us” may be the only thing you know anything about. It’s easy, it’s comforting, and it feeds our egos. As far as direct response theory goes, however, “About Us” is a terrible concept. It doesn’t speak to the customer and their needs. It’s not action-oriented. It’s a waste of time.
Defending the Indefensible
Here’s the thing: I have to admit that I really love “About Us.” When I’m beginning to engage with a company, I often want to know their story and how they perceive themselves. I want a connection. But who cares what I want? Indulging opinions is dangerous territory for a data-driven marketer. We need to find some numbers.
I took a look at some basic Google Analytics data for a site that I work with regularly. Less than 3% of visitors visited the “About Us” page, despite it having a prominent spot in the main nav. It’s the least-clicked of any of the main nav options and not even in the top 25 most-visited pages across the entire site. At this point, “About Us” doesn’t look like it’s justifying its prime spot.
But, I recently put Visual Website Optimizer on the site and decided to check out its heat mapping function. Turns out, lots of users are mousing over “About Us,” which means that they’re thinking about clicking it, even if they aren’t following through. Now, it’s looking like a candidate for optimization, rather than replacement. Since hovering over “About Us” causes a sub-menu to appear, my guess is that users think the sub-menu options suck.
Next, I went back to Google Analytics to look at the behavior of users who clicked on “About Us” or any of its submenu options, and that’s where things got really interesting. The conversion rate of those pages, collectively, is 4.5x higher than the site average.* That means we have a prominent section with above-average interest, below-average traffic and an off-the-charts conversion rate. Sounds like a great candidate for optimization.
Maybe I’m not the only one who’s looking for a little substance. Seth Godin, who frequently reminds us about the importance of being remarkable, recently wrote a post called “Humanize It” that argues,
The only alternative [to being a commodity] is to humanize our work. To create something that only you could have made, or said, or conceived of. When it looks and feels like you, when you are the trusted source (not an anonymous trademark) then you are on the spot, under pressure and deservedly valued.
He’s referring to workers, but I think his point applies to innovative businesses, too. If you want to succeed, you must be remarkable. If you’re remarkable, you should tell your story, because your story is a part of what your customers are choosing to buy. In an ideal world, the story would be subtly integrated into every part of your customer experience. But, maybe all of this suggests that there’s room to break a direct marketing rule and talk about yourself a bit. So take some joy in writing that “About Us” page, as long as you keep two things in mind:
- It’s about you, but it’s for your customers
- Nothing is excused from testing & optimization
*The goal in question is a contact form that’s on every page of the site. Even though only 3% of users visited “About Us” and its children, the site has enough traffic that conversion rate of that 3% isn’t being significantly skewed by a small sample size.