Sipping on a cup of coffee on a Wednesday morning in the lounge of the local bowling alley last summer, surrounded by shop keepers and insurance salesmen and other small business owners, I hand out my business card. Most of these merchants have actual places I can visit, while all I have are pages they can stop at. It’s a meeting of the local Main Street Association, and most of the attendees are located on Main Steet.
I’m less than a block from Main Street, but I might as well be miles away. I have no receptionist. I have no sales counter. There’s no waiting room or window display or open sign. I’m an online business person, and my web site is the portal people use to enter my business.
I’m at the meeting because I’m interested in my community, and I’d like to volunteer my services to help the local merchants learn more about the online world, and how it can help them. But first, I have to get them to listen to me, to trust me as someone who knows what he is talking about. My business card has my URL on it, and so does my letterhead, my invoices, my emails, and anywhere else I can think of that might let people know where they can find me.
But what do they find once they visit?
A number of columns, blog posts, and articles that I’ve been reading recently have suggested that websites should block the flow of PageRank to certain pages on their site that are linked to from almost every page with the use of a nofollow value in those links. Those might be contact pages, privacy policies, or about pages. I think, in many instances, that’s a mistake.
I had visited the shops of many of these merchants and seen them behind their shop counters or their decorated storefronts, but had never met them in a setting as a peer. I knew where many of these people in the meeting worked and what their offices looked like, but they had never stepped into my online world. I hoped during the meeting that I could impress some of them enough so that they would type in the URL from my card into a browser address bar and come visit. I also hope that someone searching for the kinds of services that I offer through a search engine can find me, and step into my office to learn more about me.
An About Us page and associated pages are places where others can learn about a business, and the people and history and story behind that business. People looking might be potential clients or customers or partners, possible investors, vendors, competitors, reporters, or just folks who might be curious. What do you tell them about yourself, and why do you tell them about yourself?
Controlling Your Online Identity
There’s possibly no place on the Web where you can have more control over the impression that your business makes on people than on the pages of your own website. You can show them a brief message about your business, or you can provide a richer experience that can also fulfill a number of other needs. Your About Us page doesn’t have to be something that looks like an afterthought, added to a site because it’s felt to be required. Instead, it can be a showcase that helps you on some different levels:
Credibility – one of my favorite resources to point people towards are the Credibility Guidelines from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Labs. A number of their guidelines focus upon building trust and showing off your expertise. One of them tells us to “Show that there’s a real organization behind your site.”
There are a number of ways that you can do this that can have an impact upon a visitor, from photos of your office or employees (or yourself), to a history or timeline of the business, to descriptions of community involvement or membership in local organizations and mentions in the news. Letting people know something about the who, what, where, when, and why of your business can make them feel comfortable doing business with you. Showing signals of connectedness to the outside world such as membership in the local chamber of commerce, a better business bureau logo, mentions of partnerships with other businesses, or testimonials from satisfied customers, can augment that impression.
Findability – the section where you share About Us information can include more than one page. It can be a section that includes a page about the business, pages about employees, information about community involvement, a press release or news section, information about locations and directions for businesses that want visitors to show in person, and hiring and employment opportunities. Having these sections of the site open to search engines can broaden the ways that your business can be found.
If you let people know where you are, what you offer, what you’re near, and when you’re open, that’s a good step towards being found in local searches. If you provide interesting and well labeled pictures with informative captions and alt text, image search may lead people to your site. Videos showing people what you do, how you do it, and why you do it, or exhibiting your expertise or interests may provide a channel through video searches to your pages.
Your page or section about us provides a way for people to find you that isn’t so much about the goods or services that you offer as it is about your business, your expertise, and your place within the community and at a specific location. Use these pages to help people find you.
Likability – Make a good impression with your About Us pages. This goes beyond showing that you are credible, When you step into the waiting room of a doctor or auto mechanic or other service provider, what do you learn about them? How comfortable do they make you feel? Are there comfortable chairs to sit in, paintings on the walls, coffee to drink? Are there signs on the walls that tell you something about them? When people visit the pages of your site about you, what kind of impression do you make of them there?
After my meeting with the Main Street Association members, how many of the other attendees stopped by my website, and looked around to see if they could find out more about me? What kind of impression did I leave upon them when they visited? How likely would that lead to a positive reaction the next time we met face-to-face? When an online visitor stopped by my site from a search and wanted to know more about me, what might they learn?
Want to know more about how people might react to your About Us pages? Try asking people – your friends, your neighbors, people from online design forums. Let them go through your about pages and have them tell you what they learned and what they might have wanted to see.
Some Suggestions for About Us pages
These approaches can be combined together in one manner or another, but they are some things to think about when presenting information in pages about your business.
Journalistic Approach – This can begin by quite simply answering the questions; who, what, where, why, when, and how. It’s suggested that it be fleshed out more to show things like how the business might be socially responsible, what kinds of expertise or experience members of the organization might have, what kinds of awards or acknowledgments the company might have received, and so on.
Historical Approach – This method of presentation might best benefit individuals or companies with a long and interesting history of past achievements and changes, rather than a small business that might not have been around too long. It can feature time lines, news and photos from a company archives, and tidbits about the development and release of different products. In many ways, this is a way of “showing” people what a business and the people behind the business have accomplished instead of just telling them about it. This approach can be combined with the journalistic approach, as an added element of providing information about the business.
Tour Guide Approach – A more visual way of showing, this approach can include images, photographs, illustrations, and descriptive passages of where a company works, whom they’ve interacted with, and what kind of work they do. An architecture firm might show photos of buildings taken with their architects, a home builder might show images of homes with the build crew in front of them, a plumber might show off his van, a woodworker his workshop. Designers and developers might show screenshots and case studies of sites they’ve worked upon. Images can be powerful, and images that reflect a person in his element can be more powerful than a simple headshot.
Personal Approach – A business may have started out as a labor of love, a reaction to an event, inspired by a family member or friend or personal hero. In the appropriate settings, letting people know about the motivations and inspirations behind a business may be a beneficial way of letting them learn more about a business that they may build a relationship with, whether as a customer or partner or reporter. Narration and storytelling can be ways of leaving memorable impressions that can be shared by word of mouth.
What kind of impression do you make when you tell people about you on your web site?
Bill Slawski is Director of Search Marketing at KeyRelevance, Inc., blogs at SEO by the Sea, and has been one of the Business and Marketing Forum moderators at Cre8asite Forums for the last five years. The Small Is Beautiful column appears on Thursdays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.