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The Wikipedia test for content marketing

Copywriters sometimes assume that customers already understand the product – but usually, they don’t. Good content marketing educates the customer. To see the difference between “marketing fluff” and clear expository copywriting, compare a marketing web page to Wikipedia.

Last year, my team did a series of customer experience audits for the websites of cloud-based products. We would take an in-depth look at the website, then meet with the product team to talk about areas for improvement.

An interesting pattern developed: early in the meeting, someone who’d spent hours looking at the website would ask the product team, “Can you give us a summary of what the product does?” Without fail, the product manager would give a concise overview of the product in about 30 seconds. You could see light bulbs appearing over the heads of the audit team: now they got it!

Here was a pretty obvious customer experience problem: A clear, simple explanation of the product – what it did and why it was valuable – existed in the product team’s heads, but it was nowhere to be found on the website. Instead, the site was a sort of collage of generic language, pretty but uninformative images, and links to “assets” like case studies and videos. The target audience, apparently, was people who already understood the product.

Does your website have this problem? Here’s a way to find out: go read the Wikipedia page for your product. If there isn’t one, look at a competitive product or find a page that describes the whole category. Chances are, you will find a complete absence of phrases like “best in class” and “game-changer.” What you’ll find instead is straightforward, informative content. Content, in other words, that helps the customer understand.

For example, compare the Wikipedia entry for “cloud storage” and the copy on a company’s product page for cloud storage:


Cloud storage is a model of data storage in which the digital data is stored in logical pools, the physical storage spans multiple servers (and often locations), and the physical environment is typically owned and managed by a hosting company.

Company page:

When storage isn’t a challenge, everything is possible. Hybrid cloud storage with industry-leading flexibility, scalability, and simplicity for today’s evolving workloads. Meet challenges with industry-leading cloud object storage.

The company version is a content-free jumble of slogans. Consider the inanity of “When storage isn’t a challenge, everything is possible.” Not only is it a silly claim, it’s completely generic. Try replacing the word “storage” with any other noun: Connectivity? Fake news? Male-pattern baldness? They all work just as well.

This is not to say that the first thing on your home page needs to be a primer on your product – but content that helps the customer understand is the essence of good content marketing, and it must be easy to find. Here are the main questions you need to answer in order to engage customers:

  • What does the product do?
  • What problems does it solve?
  • What differentiates it from similar products?
  • What does it cost?
  • How do I get started?

It’s important to realize that this won’t only help newcomers: very often, even people who know something about a product have never read a description that puts it in context. That kind of clarity helps everyone – and it also improves customers’ perception of your brand. If you’re the company that gives a prospect that “now I get it!” feeling, you’ve gone a long way toward gaining a loyal customer.

And if you’re not sure what a clear description would look like, read Wikipedia.

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