The Difference Between a Mediocre and a Great Website

image of golden

The year is 1962. The public approval rating for US president John F. Kennedy is dipping. And dipping fast. It’s fallen from the once incredible 83% to a merely average 62%.

That’s the time when his old friend — and Republican Party member Clare Boothe Luce — gives him a piece of advice.

Her advice is simple: stop doing so many things. Stop catering to everyone. Concentrate.

A great man is one sentence.
~ Clare Boothe Luce

Clare tells the president that a great man’s life can be summed up in one sentence. And, that when a person hears that sentence, they don’t even have to hear the name of the person to know who is being talked about.

  • “He preserved the union and freed the slaves.”
  • “He lifted us out of a great depression and helped to win a World War.”

You probably don’t have to be told that the above sentences are describing the work of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, respectively.

By trying to do everything for everybody, John F. Kennedy was spreading his resources too thin. He was being an ineffective leader. His leadership couldn’t be summed up in one sentence. It required a jumbled up long paragraph.

Is your website like that?

Does it require long paragraphs to explain what your website is about?

How an unsuccessful cartoonist turned it all around

Scott is a young cartoonist.

He creates a comic strip about an engineer creating bizarre inventions. The comic also features a dog as his sidekick. Scott puts the engineer and his dog in all sorts of funny settings and themes. His comic involves everything from social commentary, to political humor, to weird science experiments, to personal life screw ups.

Unfortunately for Scott, the comic strip doesn’t do well. In the first year, only a handful of newspapers print his comic.

But things change when Scott makes one change.

Instead of putting the engineer and his dog in a lot of different types of situations, he starts putting them in only one kind of situation: workplace settings.

Scott realizes that when his comic strip is around a workplace setting, he receives the highest number of fan mail. And so, he starts listening to his readers.

Slowly but steadily, he gets rid of all other settings and narrows down the comic strip’s focus on office humour alone. And because of that, Scott Adams’ comic strip Dilbert starts becoming hugely popular.

Today, Dilbert appears in over 2000 newspapers in 65 different countries. It has spawned several books, an animated TV series and a videogame.

How to use the Dilbert strategy to improve your blog

When most people are struggling with their blogs, they try to think about what they can do more of to improve their blogs. But what you actually need to do is think about what you can do less of to improve the blog.

To make the soup more flavorful, you don’t add more spices to it. Instead, you boil the excess water. That’s what you have to do. Not add new elements, simply subtract boring ones.

Do what Scott Adams did to turn Dilbert from a mediocre comic strip to one of the most syndicated and successful comic strips out there. Listen to your audience. Focus only on those topics they like the most. And cut everything else out.

How?

Ask a simple question to your blog readers. Ask them to nominate their favorite post on your blog published in the past 6 months. Based on their responses, narrow down the categories you write about. (Make sure you take the recency effect into consideration. The most recent posts will be voted as being the best by more people just because they’ll remember it better.)

What if I’m more than a “one-trick pony”?

Al Ries and Jack Trout talk about the Mennen company in their classic book Positioning.

Mennen was one of the first companies to introduce a product that was a combination of shampoo and conditioner. They named the product Protein 21, and within no time, Protein 21 grabbed a 13% share of the shampoo market.

But then Mennen extended their product line.

They came out with Protein 21 hairspray. And Protein 21 conditioner. And Protein 21 concentrate. Eventually, the market share of their Protein 21 shampoo declined from 13% to 2%!

People will only remember you for one thing. If you try to force them to remember multiple facets, you’ll never make room for yourself in their brain (or heart).

But what if you have more than one thing to talk about? What if you solve more than one problem?

If you solve more than one problem, you’ve got to do what Apple does.

Apple sells more than 30 products in varying product categories. Macbooks and iPods and iPhones and iPads. But they unify all their products under one element: the undeniable user interface.

Apple does not sell computers and mp3 players and phones and tablets. They sell gadgets with an undeniable user interface.

You have to find your own umbrella. The core element under which you can unify all your products and solutions.

Wiley Publishing Company did something similar when they wanted to start publishing books about internet marketing. They created the “An Hour a Day” umbrella.

They approached experts in various internet marketing sub topics like search engine optimization and social media marketing and video marketing, and gave them a guideline: write a book on your field of expertise. But they required each author to structure the contents of the book with action points that can be accomplished in only one hour per day. Each chapter of the book could only talk about one thing that can be done within an hour by the reader.

This is the strategy they used to publish:

  • Youtube and Video Marketing: An Hour a Day
  • Web Analytics: An Hour a Day
  • Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day
  • And 9 other books about internet marketing

Without the umbrella brand (An Hour a Day), Wiley would have required a ton of long copy to explain why their book on video marketing is better than other books on the topic. Or, why you should buy their book on twitter marketing strategies instead of all the others on the market.

They would in essence, need a book to sell all their other internet marketing books.

But by creating an umbrella brand, they turned their long convoluted paragraphs into one short sentence: buy our books because they teach you basic online marketing principles that work in just one hour a day.

Your one-sentence summary (in a few sentences)

  1. “By trying to do too much, you risk not doing enough.” ~ Peggy Noonan.
  2. Focus your efforts on one thing. Ask your readers to let you know what you are best at. And then focus your website on that topic alone.
  3. If you solve a lot of problems, then you need to find one core umbrella element under which you can unify all your solutions. Otherwise you’ll never be able to create space for yourself in peoples’ minds.
  4. Be a focused sentence. Not a convoluted paragraph. Can your readers describe you in one short sentence?

Is your website attempting to do (or say) too much?

Are you confusing your customers, and your potential customers by not being specific enough?

What have you done to bring all your offerings under one understandable “umbrella”?

Let’s brainstorm in the comments …

About the Author: Ankesh Kothari in one sentence: Where strategy meets story telling. He is launching his new app: Promotioner.com on 20th June. You should signup for its launch if you want to know how to turn your visitors into active evangelists and drive traffic to your website.

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  1. Hey Ankesh,

    Great post! I was actually talking to a manager of mine about this principle just yesterday.

    I really like the story told in Michael Port’s book of the old man, the boy, and the donkey. (Google it if you haven’t heard it.) It ends saying that in marketing, if you try to please everybody you might as well kiss your ass (donkey of course) goodbye!

    I have been doing my best to try to focus in my efforts on my own blog and side-hustle to be more specific. When you’re starting out it is very hard to not try to please everyone, but you have to realize that there are billions of people on the internet, and the more you can resonate with one very specific demographic, the more successful you will be!

    • Thanks Brock for mentioning the classic story about the old man, his boy, and his donkey.

      I’ve not read Michael Port’s book. But I do remember that story… its originally from the Aesop’s fables. (Link: http://www.bartleby.com/17/1/62.html for others.)

      Its pretty funny as well as poignant. Listening to everyone and giving equal priority to all feedback is the worst thing you can do. Talking from experience – it led us in spending months creating features that only 3-4 people use. Prioritizing and focus is essential for rapid success.

  2. Nice way of using metaphors on how to blog better. All stories have found changes and solution to their current situations and adjusted. Too many people are stuck in one way.

    Evaluate and make changes accordingly. Try this and try that in order to achieve what you are looking for. Excellent article.

  3. “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” – Archilocus

    For me, this comes with the convergence of:
    1. An Audience/Market
    2. A Need/Problem/Challenge/Question
    3. A Passion/Dream/Vision/Calling/Purpose/Goal/Benefit

    • Love that quote, Jared.

      And, to boil down your convergence steps even more, here’s something I stole from Michael Martine (I think):

      People
      Problem
      Product

  4. Woah, this was a great article. So great, in fact, it made me get my butt out of Google reader to leave a comment. “A great man is one sentence.” That is what left the greatest impression on me. Thanks for the great article, Ankesh!

  5. Excellent quote Jared :)

    My marketing professor in college used to say: either focus on a specific demographic. Or focus on a specific psychographic.

    I like your convergence bullet points better. They form the problem – solution – target audience triad.

  6. Loved the boiling down the soup word picture. Perfect way to drive it home!

  7. There is nothing wrong with being an expert in one thing. I think too many people try to dabble in a little bit of everything, but being a jack-of-all-trades does not set you apart from the pack. You have to define yourself around one concept and run with it.

  8. Great stuff! Thank you!

  9. Ankesh,

    You’re right. Most people do think of what they can do more of instead of doing less. Sometimes, it does come down to “less is more.” I have a client who keeps reiterating to me how my freelance writer website is ‘nice and clean.’ It’s easy to navigate and my writing samples are easy to find. I try to put myself into the shoes of my clients. I know their time just like my time is valuable. I don’t want to send them on a wild goose chase when they visit my website.

    BTW: Sometimes, you can’t be everything to everyone. You may need to ‘boil down’ your niche and go from there. I agree with Nick. Being a Jack-or-Jill-of-all-trades may not work for you or your target audience.

  10. Are you suggesting we survey our audience to find out what we are good at?

    • Thanks for the question Brad.

      Yes surveys or questionnaires are a great way to help you know which of your stuff the audience loves the most. This may not be things you’re best at. But these are the things they show a strong interest in – and think that you do a good job in delivering.

      Eg: Scott Adams was equally good at drawing cartoons about office humor as well as social humor. But the feedback he received was stronger and more positive regarding office humor. And so he focused on that.

  11. I am currently working on coming up with a better tagline and want to zero in, like you said, on my target niche better. My handle is “your health is your wealth” and my current tagline is “helping you connect the dots of your life and health.” however, I think that doesn’t have much meaning to people without an explanation. I’m wanting to do something more like “helping you take your next step toward living a healthier life” or “helping you achieve better health one step at a time” or “helping you take your next step on your path toward healthy living.” Since you said to brainstorm, I thought I would pick your brain. I’m brainstorming here and asking for input. Anyone? I’d really like it to have more of a punch too. I am wondering about targeting baby boomers but don’t know if that should be in the tagline.

    • Thanks Amy for asking.

      So as Jared points in the comment above, you can narrow your focus in one of 3 ways.

      1. Target audience. Like you said: focusing on providing solutions to baby boomers.

      2. Problem. Eg: Many people fear the dentists because of the pain. And so the dentists who focus on painless dentistry alone do extremely well.

      3. Solution. Eg: There are many Yoga gurus who preach their own techniques. Out of all of them, Bikram Yoga stood out because they focused on “hot yoga.” The differentiation comes from the solution – or the process itself.

      So here is what you do while brainstroming. Take a long sheet of paper and divide it into 3 columns. Target audience. Problem. Solution.

      Then note down every which way you can think of narrowing down your health services offerings – under those 3 columns.

      Creating a tagline comes much later. First zero in on your offer. Then validate your offer by talking with 10 people. Or maybe pre-selling and getting a few clients to hire you. Once you have the first 2-3 clients, you can work on the tag line and other marketing material.

    • Amy – I’ve a similar issue, as a bodyworker I am looking to help people who are in pain; yet whenever I try to define my target audience or ideal client – people in pain – it never seems to be specific enough for marketing exercises/purposes to get what I do across so concisely as a single sentence.

  12. Really great post – the examples really drive your point home. It wasn’t about what I thought it would be when I read the headline though. You’re talking about something much more big picture than your website. It’s about your whole philosophy towards your business!

  13. I write sweet romance novels. I created a blog with the intention of targeting readers. The problem is that most people who follow my blog are other writers, and posts about the craft of writing are by far the most popular. While I’m aware that writers are readers too, I really want my blog to reach a broader audience readers who enjoy sweet romance novels. I’m not sure how to do that. Any advice?

    • There are a couple of things you can do Julie.

      1. Firstly, figure out where people who love romance books hang out. And then make your presence felt there. Maybe sites like wattpad.com or others are a good way of finding interested people and building an audience?

      2. More immediately, your readers are writers. They have their own set of readers. You have a perfect base to partner with them and create joint products / short stories / collections / anthologies so that they can let their readers know about you.

      Maybe run a “write a short story on this picture” contest. Compile the top 12-15 responses together in an ebook – with yours being the first one featured. And ask everyone involved to promote it. Everyone brings their own audiences – and everyone grows a little bit.

  14. This is so true and I bet if you put these ideas to work it would work for you. People nowadays do not have the time they would like to have therefore they want simple this and simple that. Simple quick but good-tasting recipes. Simple routines everyday to follow. Simple and non-drama queen and king relationships plus when they read they want it to make sense and read it in less than an hour and then carry on to the next day and the next hour. Great advice for writers in a different world.

  15. Great post Anklesh. Really good one, for a moment i thought this one came from Brian :)

    Indeed good and a very helpful one too.

  16. Hola Ankesh -

    Thanks for the reminder! Great post. Reminded me instantly of Hemingway’s 6-word story “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

    Also, loved your idea of staying focused. I recently heard Danny Iny talk about when Derek Helpern told him the same thing; it’s the halo effect!

    I needed to remember this. I like to go on and on and on…

    Jess

  17. This is so true. I still have much work to do in this area, but I’m learning. I’m working on refining my voice in the area of reflection, faith, and pop culture. Eventually, it may have to be more refined. I plan on asking my readers what their favorites are after reading this.

  18. AMEN! Summing it all up in one sentence is very powerful, but it can take lots of effort.

    I spent more than six hours editing everything I needed to say into just 12 words:

    “Spare your family 15 hours of angst & confusion for just $15-”

    • Thanks Mark for your comment.

      “Spare your family 15 hours of angst & confusion for just $15-” that is a pretty good headline. However its not the one sentence that defines you. The one sentence is different from a tagline or a headline.

      What is the one sentence that people use to describe you / your website / your product offer to their friends? What is the one sentence that when people hear – they remember you?

  19. Stellar advice. From someone who wants to be all things based on what I want as opposed to what readers want — too many wants? — I needed to read this. Thanks. Now if I can juuuuust put it into action.

  20. Thank you Ankesh. I am a new blogger and this was very helpful. I am an Africa addict so my blog has travel tips, adventure stories, animal and nature facts. I have been trying to focus but for me I think I am more in the umbrella category. My umbrella being that I connect people to Africa.
    Is that way too vague and broad? Advice would be so appreciated.

    • I don’t think African adventures is too vague or broad. You could narrow it down if you want. For eg: luxurious African adventures. Or backpacking across Africa. Or maybe even take people on a tour where they can see wonderous “inventions from Africa.” (Inspiration: There is an institute in India that does really well with tours of inventions from rural India.)

      But even if you don’t narrow it down, I think African adventures is concise enough to be an umbrella.

      What I would try to do is take a page out of Wiley and their “An hour a day” series. Maybe you could have special sections / stories / ebooks / tour packages on:

      Adventures in Botswana
      Adventures in Congo
      Adventures in Zimbabwe

      and so on and so forth. Create a unique style and go deep. Maybe be the anti Lonely Planet for these countries. Maybe create a picture book + travel guide + stories = all in one adventure books.

  21. Ankesh! That was fantastic. It was one of the most informative and helpful posts I’ve seen in days. Especially for me–an entrepreneur who runs off creativity and not so much organization. Very helpful and much appreciated.

    Best,
    Shelly

  22. This article expresses exactly what I have been battling the past few months!

    Since I decided to become a writer (or accepted the fact that I am a writer :-), I have grappled with my area of expertise. I have covered numerous topics on a variety of blogs but haven’t yet found my “umbrella”. Without a large following, though, I don’t have many people to bounce my ideas off of and survey.

    This sounds to me like, what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Do I grow a readership and then narrow my focus? Or, do I find my focus to build a readership around that?

    Thanks for some great starting points. I will be putting them to use in the coming days to try to narrow my focus, or discover my “umbrella” term!

    • Thanks Sara for accepting that you’re a writer.

      1. Is there a theme or a particular style to all your writing? (My example: I write on quite a few topics too. But my writing is defined by story telling.) If yes – then thats your umbrella. If not – then try this:

      2. Go through the last 15 posts you have written and see which one has received the most response. If nothing stands out even then, then try this:

      3. Merge 2 fields to create your own voice and identity. For eg: CopyBlogger became popular because it bought the techniques of copywriting and marketing to bloggers. So pick two hot ideas. Mix them up. And make it your own.

  23. A superb post. Too often, a company is excellent at providing a particular service, and then they branch out to other areas and end up weakening their brand. We all have our “sweet spots” that capitalize on our natural talents. There’s no need to be all things to all clients. Thank you, Ankesh.

  24. I am learning a lot from this article… and all of you. Thanks for the great ideas and methods.

  25. Thanks for the great article. Why do you think focusing on one thing is so many people’s greatest challenge?

    I think it’s a combination of procrastination, lack of confidence and boredom. We procrastinate because doing the actual work is hard. We lack confidence in our choice of focus so we’re always looking at the next shiny object in the hope that it will be easier, make money quicker or lead to more prestige or excitement., Or,we just get bored because we aren’t doing something we’re passionate about.

  26. Thanks for a great read, Ankesh.

    We oftne hear of ‘elevator stateemtns’ and finding your niche, but I like this idea of finding your one sentence.

    A fine focus or an umbrella focus – alos good analogies of getting yourself sorted with a clear message.

    I can think of my umbrella focus sentence (encourages clear and effective communications for businesses) but now I willspend some time looking at my blog/site toe see what is too much as I love minimalist and ‘less is more’!

  27. This is something I’ve been trying to figure out offer the last few weeks. It’s hard to figure out your umbrella when you are pretty new to this. My last few posts have been about being more productive… And I have a few other posts coming up about being more productive. Maybe I accidentally wrote myself into an umbrella without even planning to.

  28. Man that is good stuff! Thank you for this article. It confirmed for me what I thought I needed to do to narrow my efforts.

  29. Great article – do not try and be all things to all people. Instead, focus on the individuals who want to hear YOUR message!

  30. Great post. Great quotes. I will definitely review my site to see what can be deleted. Simple and concise seems to be the best approach. Thanks!

    Lark B.

  31. This has been absolutely playing in my mind for a number of months until I finally decided to focus on one niche for my blog. I was quite hesitant at first since I’m thinking, would my visitors be interested in this? But yes, you’re right we have to listen to our readers and take it from there. My blog is still just on it’s take off stage but I think based on what you said, a focused site/blog will make a mark on the internet community than one which tries to convey a lot of messages.

  32. John Tanaka :

    Point taken but JFK analogy is a fail.

    “Averted WWIII by resolving Cuban missile crisis.”

    • Averted WWIII (and set deadline for man landing on moon…)
      Averted WWIII (and championed civil rights…)
      Averted WWIII.

      I think JFK’s definitely a one-trick pony. His life is a perfect one sentence. It even has one point, unlike Lincoln and Roosevelt who have multiple facets, so JFK is not really a fail at all.

    • Thanks John.

      I have to say, its not an analogy. Its a true story of a discussion between JFK and Clare Booth Luce. Also… as they say – hindsight is 20/20.

      (However, I thought JFK was known more for his moon landing mission – inspiring an entire nation. Not being an American, I’ve not heard a lot about the Cuban missile crisis. Thanks for teaching me something.)

  33. Love the idea of “what can I do less of” rather than more of. It’s so easy to over complicate the message.

    Thanks for a great , thought provoking, blog.

  34. I love this post! It’s really given me some food for thought. I’m going to come up with my own umbrella. And that’s my Flag Day resolution! Thank you.

  35. Ankesh,
    your post reminds me of the book, Made to Stick, you perfectly use the elements SUCCESs (simple, unexpected, credible, concrete, story). This is really well-crafted.

    • Thanks Jerome for your kind words :)

      I love Made to Stick. An awesome awesome book that everyone should read. Another book from the same authors: Switch – is awesome too. The Heath brothers are awesome story tellers and I feel honoured to be compared with them!

  36. Hey Ankesh,

    It’s interesting how you always come in contact with information or an idea that has been in the forefront of your mind for a long time (thank you Reticular Activating System). I’ve been struggling with simplifying what I’m all about into one sentence. I know the importance of having a unique identity that distinguishes you from the rest of the pack, but unfortunately it’s been easier said than done.

    I take pride in being a Jack-of-All Trades. I have a massive amount of personal interests that I feel connects me to a lot of different people. Yet biggest fear is coming to the realization that only one topic I write about is what others find interesting – I don’t want to be limited or tied down to just one subject (but maybe that’s what it will take to succeed…)

    Any suggestions for moving past this mental roadblock?

    P.S. Thank you for a great post!

    • Thanks for the question Steve. You can get over the mental block when you realize that you don’t have to stick with one topic. You have to stick to one element however.

      Its like what Wiley publishing did. Published 12 books on various internet marketing topics. But focused on the time saving shtick – with their “an hour a day” element.

      So work on your one element. The feature that makes you most remarkable.

      Another example. Abe Lincoln. He was known as honest Abe. Was honesty the only remarkable element of his personality? No. He was an awesome orator. Told a lot of funny stories and could be the center of attention in any room. He was pretty smart. And very diplomatic too – making his competitors fall in love with him. And he was very melancholic too – almost every one thought he was sad most of the time. But the element he worked on shining the most light on was his honesty. When he gave speeches, you could hear the honesty in his stories and his approach. He was diplomatic – but he never lied to you to get his way. Even his sadness had a raw honesty to it.

      You don’t have to stop doing everything else. You do have to select one element to shine your light on however. Does this help?

  37. Ankesh this was a wonderful and most timely post for me. Getting the focus, simplifying things, narrowing it down all something I am grappling with right now. Why do we always tend to think we have to cover it all by next Tuesday! I for one am going to take a deep breath and put some valuable think time into exactly who and what I can be to my audience, which just takes the pressure off the to do list really when having realised I don’t have to be it all!

    Thankyou

  38. Great article Ankesh.
    Focus matters, it is like when you want to kiss a girl, you should kiss the girl.
    Not get involved in all the thoughts you might have.
    Focus and close the deal. :)

  39. Thanks – not being specific enough and trying to please everyone are probably my greatest weaknesses as a writer – out of fear of stating the obvious, I guess.

    What are your recommendations for getting users to nominate blog posts – rewarding them with prizes or allowing for private commenting? I’m asking because our blogs have many readers, but few commentators – unfortunately.

    • Good question Inger.

      There is nothing like an easy question to bring people out to comment. Prizes always help. But with something like this, few smaller prices work better than 1 big price. So maybe get an advertiser to sponsor his product as gifts. Or maybe offer something that has a high perceived value and can lead to future profits too. For eg: a great price would be holding a private teleconference for everyone who gives their input. This teleconference can be repackaged as a lead generation tool or maybe even as a frontend product to bring in revenue in the future…

      I wouldn’t recommend private comments unless you’ve just started out and have very few readers. Private conversations is just not scalable enough. And the more data points you have, the better it is for you to guage the interest.

  40. Great post. Great quotes. I will definitely review my site to see what can be deleted. Simple and concise seems to be the best approach. Thanks!

  41. First, thank you so much for allowing comments without registering for this or choosing a profile for that. It makes leaving comments more tempting.

    I finally took this advice for my copywriting company. It just feels cleaner, as much on page as in my head. As for my personal website? I’m still struggling there. I want to be a young adult horror writer, but like a previous comment said, I seem to wind up writing more for other writers or my little writing journey more than writing posts that young adults may enjoy reading. So much to consider! :)

  42. Absolutely great article! When you start reading it basically it hits you straight the face. Like a light globe going off in your head. I could relate to it straight away. Thanks for the nudge, l think l might know what’s happening now.

  43. Ankesh, this is a suberb article – as proved by the number of comments!
    I have been trying to figure out how to focus my blog posts better but I’m sitting with two full websites which each have their own blogs. My tagline is “writing to inspire and encourage” and that’s what I do. I originally had one website, but it developed into two themes, each of which eventually needed their own site. One is to encourage and inspire writers, and the other is to encourage and inspire those in the cancer valley.
    Most of my published writing is devotional or inspirational, and I have a book about to release of meditations for those in the cancer valley. (The two themes coming together.) Now I don’t know where to most promote the book. Do I do it on both sites with the same posts? How can I better focus? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    But perhaps I try to cover too much in both sites. Maybe I need to tighten my focus and spend more time ENCOURAGING and less time EDUCATING. Any thoughts on this?

    • Thanks for the question Shirley. I think that your audience is distinct on both these sites. There is very little overlap between the audiences. If thats the case, then keep the content separate. Don’t do a lot of cross posting. Cancer inspiration on cancer site. Writing inspiration on writing site.

      You could make a post on explaining how you “wrote” a book on cancer – on the writing blog. Because that is something the audience will be interested in.

      In essence: follow the audiences preferences. Think from your audiences point of view. Not your own.

  44. I know their time just like my time is valuable. I don’t want to send them on a wild goose chase when they visit my website.