Why You Need to Transform Your
Website Into a Story

What's Your Story?

The role of web writers has changed. Just a few short years ago, the content on most websites was boring and factual, just a profile of monotonous company information.

Today, the content on websites that work looks very different indeed.

Effective web writers are moving away from bland, factual information. Readers won’t settle for that anymore.

It isn’t interesting. It isn’t compelling.

Facts don’t stir emotions and encourage people to take action. Facts don’t sell until people look to rationalize the buying decision they’ve made at an emotional level.

That’s why you need to transform your website into a story.

In fact, web writers themselves must undergo a transformation. They must become storytellers.

It makes sense. Stories are captivating. They draw people in with a good hook. They engage the mind, invoking mental imagery as people read the words. Good stories are jewels we cherish and share.

We all relate to stories and their concepts on very personal levels – and we remember them. When we face similar situations, we bring back the messages, the lessons, and the outcomes of the stories we bring to mind.

And we act accordingly.

Stimulate All the Senses or Lose the Sale

Stories work. Our brains retain more information when all our senses are stimulated. We can recall facts if we’ve memorized them, but we have a much easier time bringing stories to mind.

Think of your favorite memory. Can you see it in your mind? Do you remember what you noticed that day, the colors around you, the sounds that you heard? Can you recall the feelings you had in that very moment?

Think about how long you’ve retained that memory. Probably a long time, and you could most likely tell someone else the story easily.

Now think about how long you’ve retained the words of the last website you’ve read.

Business Stories Beat Bland Brochure Sites

Storytelling has become integral to content in the virtual world. From website content to sales copy to press releases, stories are increasing in number every day. Web writers have realized the value of stories for business – and there is value indeed.

Stories deliver messages in an intriguing, memorable way. Business owners want and need their audience to remember, to take the desired action. A writer’s content must paint pictures and tell stories to encourage that action.

When used for marketing, content must draw analogies between concepts to help readers understand. It must tap pain, desire and anticipation, helping readers feel something deep within themselves. Great content creates a mood so that people experience the moment on a level beyond logic and fact.

The words are just the medium; the story lingers on.

Changing Your Sites into Stories

Businesses need to tap into the potential of stories and benefit from this new age of content marketing. Websites need to move away from listing data and facts or monotone features that just don’t engage readers.

Take a moment to look at the content on your site or the words you’re writing for a client. Read them. Can you see the images in your mind? Are your emotions stirred? Are those emotions naturally tied to your solution?

In other words… is your website telling a story?

More importantly, is it a story that sells?

About the Author: James Chartrand tells the stories that make the young girls cry over at Men with Pens. Grab the feed today.

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Comments

  1. James – SPOT ON POST! Unfortunately, many small business owners have trouble composing compelling business stories that SELL products and services! It’s one thing to tell an interesting story (which is hard enough to do), it’s quite another to tell a compelling and SELLING business story. Then again, that’s what you do best! ;)

  2. It is all about stories. That’s why blogs are so much more important for business development than Web sites. Great blogs have links to stuff folks need to know to establish business relationships, but the everyday or everyweek fresh storytelling on a blog is what inspires people.

    We need to become better storytellers using all of words, audio, photos and video…. and businesses that don’t have this capacity need to hire others to do it for them.

    I’ve been sharing this for the past year with tourism businesses: There is a huge shortage in storytellers!!

    Where are they to be found? Of course they are everywhere using Web 2.0 services from podcasts, photo sharing sites and blogs.

    We need to make a business case for establishing b to b relationships with great storytellers and focus on building capacity in our own business to tell great stories every day.

  3. I’d also ask, “Does your website NAME tell a story?”

    Men with Pens. Those three little words tell quite a story, eh!

  4. Nice post. I hope all of the journalists who’ve recently lost their jobs can use their storytelling talents to get jobs writing online.

  5. Great post, James! This is so right on. Stories connect humans to humans. Just because we’re communicating electronically doesn’t mean we can forget the real person reading our words. Thanks for giving storytelling the importance it deserves in web design.

  6. Well said. Far too few marketers – and, sadly, the agencies that serve them – think about their web site as square one in the brand experience. And still fewer give consumers the credit they deserve for being able to decode it that way.

  7. This is kind of funny in an “everything old is new again” way, because I can’t tell you how many times I heard this same thing in decades in MSM. I even evangelized quite a bit about it.

    The concept was a hardsell at newspaper at times, too. “Stop with the anecdotal and just give me the facts.”

    But there’s a reason storytelling has and always will work: People want to read about people and their experiences. As you said, it’s all about relating.

  8. Story telling definitely has it’s place, but with the ADD culture these days, alot of people don’t have time to become invested in your story, they are looking for the facts. So make sure you ALSO include a quick and dirty run down of what you can do for them.

  9. @ Computer Guy – As someone who has that ADD you speak of, I can firmly say that I can absorb a thousand facts in five minutes and beg for more. But give me a story that snags my attention? You’ve got me in the palm of your hand until you say, “The End.”

    @ 9to5to9 – Ahh, newspapers… and yet, their biggest stories are the human interest ones, are they not? The news makes the page, sure, but the readers love to hear about the little girl left behind, the mourning wife, the joyous victory… Every time.

    @ Bruce – I think more people are waking up to it, certainly here on the web. It’s our time to change how business does business, after all!

    @ Todd – Speaking of web design, an even better story is one that gives the words to read and the visual imagery to make it a full consumer experience.

    @ Maria – Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

    @ Shane – Ha, thanks! And you’re right, too. Sometimes the business name is the first thing people see. What story does “weddingpicturesforsaleonlinereallycheaphireus.com” tell? Not much, I’d think.

    @ Todd – I think so too. And I think you’re right in that it’s time to start honing the craft of storytelling into its full potential.

    @ Kathy – It’s a challenge indeed, but I’ll admit, it’s a damned fun one!

  10. Good stuff here, James.

    It’s been a hard sell at times talking clients into “telling their stories,” but, invariably, when they see the results, they are sold.

    I love the blogging format because it lends itself to storytelling so well. And I know with our business name, Cat’s Eye Marketing, we have the story of its origin on our site and people years later still remember that story.

    As a freelance journalist (in my spare time) I use stories all the time. Gets readers hooked in at the beginning.

    Thanks for the great reminder to “tell our stories,” James!

  11. @James Here, here! Nothing tells a story quicker and more persuasively than an image. :) Images with words are irresistible.

  12. I love it when I write a post and then a few weeks later a super-cool blogger/blog says something similar :)

    For me, it is all about connecting with the emotions. Stories connect with emotions – and those connections are more authentic and long lasting – they outlast time and reasoning. And an authentic story earns trust – and trust is a valuable thing.

    Maya
    http://www.thinkmaya.com
    http://www.geekdance.com

  13. @ Maya – Considering the amount of people who are realizing the value of storytelling in business, it’s inevitable that great minds will think alike.

    I agree with you that emotions are what we need to tap into for their connection value. Connect with your clients, and you’ve got a winner.

    @ Todd – It makes sense, too, because adding an image to words only helps increase the number of senses you can tap into. Reminds me of that post I wrote here on smelly websites :)

    @ Judy – Very true. I remember more about the stories behind the businesses than the businesses themselves. Putting them to work for you is a great idea.

  14. Great and very very pertinent post.

    Just as 9to5to9 says so correctly, “everything old is new again” and “People want to read about people and their experiences”

    So show me the blogger who hasn’t got a story to tell!

    Yippee! Out with the vanilla and in with the substance.

  15. Everyone likes a good story. They draw the readers attention in and hook them. If bloggers can be successful at this, they will naturally gain more readers.

    Craig
    http://www.budgetpulse.com

  16. You have done a very convincing job of selling me on your concept of storytelling. Now the skeptic in me “Stop with the anecdotal and just give me the facts.”

    Can you cite a few examples where this concept has worked?

  17. @Craig You know it doesn’t matter how little time I have. If I start reading a good story, I just put everything else down and read it.

  18. The power of story is a drum I’ve been beating for a couple of years now.

    Unfortunately, even when you get a client on board with the storytelling approach, too often the committee-think that happens during the process of creating the site ends up dragging everyone back to corporate-speak, and the story gets lost.

    Still, it’s good to hear it repeated. It probably should be repeated even more.

  19. @Todd I agree with you, that’s usually how I get hooked onto something. I begin just skimming and before I know it I’ve read the whole thing

  20. Good points. Stories are inspiring.

  21. I couldn’t agree with you more James! I use stories to market everything – and have had some very, very whacked out successes from using stories. It WORKS!

  22. The most powerful stories are therapeutic metaphors. They map people’s experiences to the story and set them up to learn new things through parallel story lines. They’re really fascinating.

    An overview is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Therapeutic_metaphor

    I cover the marketing applications in depth in my Hypnotic Writing course. Or get David Gordon’s book on the topic.

  23. Excellent James. As soon as I read the title for this I instantly thought ‘Hey, my website is a story’, my journey in itself is a story. I think the best way to turn your blog into a story is just to reveal a little more about yourself now and then.

    Stumbled!

    Cheers,
    Glen

  24. Excellent post!!!!
    I copied your last paragraph and created a daily task reminder in Outlook to remind myself.

  25. @ Terry – Now that’s the way to do it!

    @ Glen – Every person has a story, and every business has people behind it. Every business has a story too. There’s stories everywhere we look. You’re right in that people just have to realize that and let it shine.

    @ Louis – I’ll have to check that out – thanks!

    @ Whacked/Bamboo – Yup, it works for sure.

    @ Kat – Heheh, now you know my inspiration for this post. ;)

    @ Doug – I sure can. There are many posts right here on this site that Brian has written that effectively use storytelling. They created a huge impact at the time. One that sticks out in my mind is the story of his brain injury.

  26. It’s so true…the power of stories can’t be overstated. I still remember lessons learned from the case studies (stories) I analyzed in b-school. Stories are an incredible tool to aid learning.

    Check out Casey Hibbard’s Stories That Sell blog for great tips on how to write compelling cases and customer success stories: http://successstorymarketing.typepad.com/ssm/

    And, over at RainToday my boss, Erica Stritch, writes informative and memorable marketing columns using stories. You can read a great example here: http://tinyurl.com/586opj

  27. I totally agree. And, well, all I need to hear is “Once upon a time,” and I am SO there. I’m a Story Addict from waaaay back. (Hi, my name’s Deb….)

  28. I love stories…well done article.

    The problem is convincing businesses they have a story to tell. They all want to be concise to the point of lacking a pulse.

  29. Back to Daniel Pink, the art of storytelling is a trait that includes whole brain synthesis. Our brains react differently to stories than facts. One underrated piece to storytelling is that we tend to think of storytelling as adding flair to facts in the past. Well, the power of storytelling can be used to be creative about the future, about what you want. Adding imaginary texture to something you want that you do not have, activates the RAS (Reticular Activation System) in the brain so you are more in tune with it and can notice it a lot easier when it comes your way.

    Great right brain approach to websites!

    Thanks

  30. Wow you hit a spot there when you said stimulate All the Senses or Lose the Sale. It’s so true, its one thing to get leads and traffic to your website. But its an entirely different story to make a website that can convert it all I can say Interesting indeed…

  31. Great advice! It’s the old “show” not “tell” that fiction writers are so fond of quoting and putting into practice!
    As I have a website dedicated to community news in my home town I suppose I’m already doing that.

  32. Of course copywriters love to hear this sort of stuff. But if you want to actually make sales, according to marketingexperiments.com the site should have a clear value proposition – ie. why should I buy from you? along with a clear call to action. This probably accounts for more lackluster results than the copy, sorry.

  33. Great post, as everyone has said. But where you mention the stories make young girls cry… As a musician, I always want to make people cry, and I’ve wondered whether it isn’t bad for my character to feel satisfied when the audience is sniffling and pulling out hankies. If I also strive for this in my writing, who knows what might happen? Have you felt any concern over this? ;-)

  34. I agree.

    Once I learned that character trumps emotion trumps logic, it makes perfect sense.

    Win the heart, the mind follows. Stories are the connection point — where character meets emotion meets logic.

  35. Think about it, every religion, every children’s book, every so called “moral of the story” centers around a well told story.

    People don’t want to buy, they want to belong or identify. The basic concept is, I am like you, and you’re like me. Stories do that, they connect people with people.

    In today’s very cynical marketplace, a story that rings true will sell more widgets than any other method.

  36. @ JD Meier – When emotion factors in, all logic quickly goes out the window. Very few purchases are logic-based alone. I’m with you – win the heart. The mind follows.

    @ Rebecca – *ahem* Well. Yes. I mean… Yes. It was… uh… Brian’s fault!

    @ Will – Even a USP can have a story – and should, if you want your marketing strategies to work. You’re telling the story of how you’ll change someone’s life. Worthwhile? I think so.

    @ Linda – Newsworthy? There’s a story in there for sure :)

    @ Yellow – Conversion isn’t as easy as it seems. The more senses you can tap, the better chance you have of converting hits to hundreds.

    @ Iyabo – Thanks! But I prefer to think it took my *whole* brain to write this post ;)

    @ Mark – Even the most concise words can tell a story. Brian did a great one back when he used Twitter as an example. One story, 140 characters or less. It was brilliant.

    @ Deb – Hi. I’ll be your sponsor…

    @ Mary – Ahh, case studies! Perfect example of how stories work well with business. Well done!

  37. Thank you for the Story Telling approach. I am about to redesign my website and your storytelling approach seems the right way to go. Although I tell stories all the time when I’m networking, I had not made the connection to the use of storytelling on my website.

  38. I love this post, James!
    It really made me sit back and think about how I can improve Goodlife Zen with more stories.

  39. Nice post. It’s true that stories are very appealing. I mean, I like reading stories :) Cheers

  40. Yay! These ideas on storytelling have been running through my head for the past few weeks. You’ve laid out a clear, compelling argument for stories, James… it’s helped me pull together some of my thoughts!

    I actually just wrote a post a few hours ago about how we are all storytellers, inviting my readers to share a character sketch of themselves. We all have it in us — it’s a question of understanding how to apply storytelling to unexpected places (marketing, for example).

    Thank you for this post :).

  41. Blogs can do so much: i.e SEM, research, PR, networking, branding, and in particular, brand story telling (both being part of the brand’s brand story, as well as communicating the brand’s brand story). Great thing, the blog.

  42. Nowadays Most people have turned their site into personal blog and become a professional blogger. Its true that become a blogger can be a full time profession, sometimes it makes sense when people started to asking if you can really make money from just blogging. cause they just wondering how do you gonna make it. But after they reading a lot of useful article on how to become professional blogger, they will realize that blogging is not just a hobbies

  43. This is what I am trying to do with my blog, my journey in my blogosphere. give my readers a story about my journey to make my blogs from zero until i profit from my blog. the story is on the air… :)

  44. A friend (Kyle Deloach) tuned me into your blog. Cool. Also thanks for recommending my book, The Story Factor.

    I love what Katfrench wrote about corporate-speak grinding the genius of story into gruel. When I worked at JWT our copywriters groaned at the “tiny changes” the client wanted – tiny changes that neutered their compelling story.

    I’m working on a methodology for groups that preserve the story from these little changes. I’d like to hear what you do to protect your copy from the “heathens.” Sorry to be disrespectful, but many people know story works, but suck at telling stories that work.

  45. James,

    Loved this post. This is so important for people to understand. Having a story behind a website or brand does some many positive things. It makes it genuine, unique and transparent. Those are needed in todays online world.

    Again, great post!

  46. James,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. However, it would be great if you actually provide EXAMPLES of great story-telling content that sells. While everything you mentioned was true, and no offense, but your article was very bland and factual, no emotions were stirred on my end. Instead of being a preacher in your writing, try being more of a teacher, just my honest suggestion.

    • I like you Jessica. I did not realize that until I read your comment. Maybe because I am use to reading stories from this blog and I expected to read a story after this one.

      Good point!

  47. @ Jessica – You proved exactly what this post put forth: that storytelling works better than any other form of copy. Good on you for catching it!

    As for examples, as I mentioned to another commentator, feel free to browse Copyblogger’s archives. You’ll find many, many examples from all of us that I think you’ll enjoy.

  48. Thanks for your perspective on story telling. I decided to tell a story today in my daily blog about the homeless and an experience we had in Toronto this weekend.

  49. I do really agree to your post. Story transform our website or Website transform to story. However difficult to trasform it take little time. Thank you indeed to this great info

  50. It´s hard to write a compelling story, it will easily sound like a sales pitch anyway.Any good tips of what trigger words you can use?

  51. Fantastic post! Thanks for these insights and information.

  52. That reminds me of a story…

  53. @ Mark – Oh? You’ll share, right? ;)

  54. This site is fun! I appreciate the fact that your posts are readable and don’t come across as prescriptive.

  55. On few occasions in the past, I heard of this concept of storytelling as an approach to selling; hence, storyselling. They were never repeated to me more than those few occasions. And so, the concept remains with me as theory, and hidden in the recesses of my mind in oblivion.

    Recently, I was reminded of another concept, erstwhile a theory for me untll I decided to use it in article writing. This concept is action orientation in article writing, using the AIDA formula. Having been reminded of storytelling, yeah – why not combine the two? Article writing in the form of stories, oriented towards reader action.

  56. Great advice! It’s the old “show” not “tell” that fiction writers are so fond of quoting and putting into practice!
    As I have a website dedicated to community news in my home town I suppose I’m already doing that.

  57. Is anyone even reading this post at this point? Well, I hope the author at least is reading.

    Good advice, but I must disagree with you on one thing in the beginning of the article, which you said,
    “Effective web writers are moving away from bland, factual information. Readers won’t settle for that anymore.”

    ACTUALLY, you are not entirely correct. I think you should rephrase the matter, and SPECIFY for Which Kinds of Websites is “story-ing” your website better suited for.

    (example) People DO LOOK FOR “JUST” FACTS. Informational and Factual websites are not boring, they’re informational and factual, therefore, more credible and tolerant to read.

    You might LOSE readers if you sound like you are trying to be cool and connect on an emotional level, as you say, when people are looking for the TRUTH and THE FACTS. If it sounds like a story, it will seem “like a story”, and not REAL FACTS, which people are searching for.

    Big stretch, there, to say that people should start making their websites like stories.

    CORRECTION: SOME [underlined] Websites are better suited for this type of developmental writing. But making your content and post, and information seem too “story-ish”, might backfire on you and sound like nothing more than rubbish to the reader.

    Other than that minor specification, great article.
    2 thumbs up!!

  58. I am a speaker. I believe that every speech is a story. The approach may differ from one speaker to another. But at the end of the speech, the audience must know your story.

    I think the same is true with writing, and that includes writing on your websites. There must be a story. Without a story your website is nothing but a combination of letters and colors and graphics.

    Thank you.