A funny thing happens when organizations create their “About Us” pages. They actually think the content should be all about them. Ha!
Just like every other page on your website, your “About Us” page should aim to prove the value of your product or services to potential customers. How you do so, of course, depends on your organization.
But there’s one guiding principle: Avoid self-indulgence.
USELESS VS. USEFUL 'ABOUT US' INFORMATION
Think about it. When you’re checking out an organization to see if they can provide what you’re looking for, are you persuaded by going to the “About Us” page and learning:
- The name of their cats
- Their favorite vacation spots
- The year they moved their business from one location to another
- The full text of their corporate mission, vision and values
In contrast, how would you react to “About Us” pages in which:
- A small firm details its creation by former executives of Apple and Google
- A university describes its founding when its location was yet to become part of a state
- A business lists the awards it has won from prestigious industry associations
- A dentist writes about his work as a volunteer treating patients in Haiti
See the difference? These are still the kinds of items that belong solely in an “About Us” section, but they subtly persuade prospective clients to consider the person or organization at issue. Let’s take a closer look.
WRITING AN EFFECTIVE 'ABOUT US': SMALL FIRMS AND PROFESSIONALS
If you’re in business for yourself, or if you’re part of a small team, you’ve probably described your basic services elsewhere. The “About Us” page is to make the case that you can deliver on those promises.
- Show your qualifications in terms of education, training, certifications, awards, etc.
- Share something about who you are as a human in a meaningful way
A few observations about qualifications:
- If you went to a well-recognized school, mention it without showing off.
- If your school isn’t famous but you graduated in record time or had academic distinctions, say so – as long as that didn’t happen, say, 20 years ago.
- If you’re just getting started in a profession that values longevity, don’t mention the date of your graduation.
- Don’t assume that the public knows what your certificates mean. It’s great that you earned a Series 7 license, for example, but don’t just leave it at that. Describe it as the most comprehensive and difficult exam to qualify for selling securities.
The personal qualities have to similarly be meaningful:
- The dentist who volunteers in Haiti demonstrates a humanitarian side that can be attractive to patients who, by definition, are uncomfortable seeing this person.
- Depending on your customer base, you may want to emphasize unusual qualities for your profession, eg., an accountant catering to artists who has a Sunday night gig as a bass player.
- Sometimes, these personal details act as qualifications because they show the service provider’s ability to understand the clientele: eg., a divorced attorney handling divorces or a gay financial advisor catering to a gay clientele.
- Advertising agencies might consider moving away from clichéd descriptions of their staff members such as who’s the best foosball player on the crew or who won the Halloween contest. Better to go with a story on how an employee’s work helped a client sell more.
WRITE AN EFFECTIVE 'ABOUT US': BUSINESSES
Qualifications matter here, too:
- The people behind a business act as a “signal” to the credibility of the product, especially if it’s new to the market.
- Successful people leaving big-name employers to launch a start-up suggests that readers can trust this unknown brand. The Original Mattress Factory, started by execs from major manufacturers who claim they wanted to provide a more transparent buying process, essentially make their whole sales pitch an “About Us.”
But more than ever, a good story sells:
- Millennials in particular like to know that they’re buying something that’s “authentic,” run by “real people.” They’ll pay more for the privilege, too.
- People want to buy from people, not corporations. Telling the story of the people who founded a business makes a product more appealing – even when it’s now owned by a multinational conglomerate. See Ben & Jerry’s.
WRITING AN EFFECTIVE 'ABOUT US': UNIVERSITIES AND LONG-STANDING CORPORATIONS
Colleges and universities, as well as many corporations, typically have an extensive history that’s … sort of interesting. A long list of dates, names changes and changes to the infrastructure is dull.
That history can act as an effective sales point when you’re competing against newer institutions. For example, when I was director of communications at an art and design college, I created a brochure telling the story of how the school began in a rented house in Minneapolis teaching 26 students – in 1886. We then described how the school has grown, but the underlying message was, “We’re not some bogus, fly-by-night art school, but rather a key component of our community’s cultural heritage.”
The keys to such histories:
- Tell a story so your readers can attach meaning to it – that you’ve provided something that buyers have wanted for decades because it’s of lasting value.
- If your corporation started out doing one thing then changed course when something dramatic happened – the Stock Market Crash of 1929, for example – tell us. But show how that switch is of benefit to today’s consumers, not solely about the company’s survival.
KEEP IT REAL. KEEP IT SHORT.
Some organizations are so focused on selling that their “About Us” section is just a recapitulation of points they’ve made elsewhere on their sites. That comes across as hollow and a touch defensive, like a politician who just repeats a campaign message regardless of the question being asked.
Don’t tell us that your company is “quality-minded” with “a passion for serving our customers.” Be specific about how you ensure that quality. Tell us who the people are that have that passion.
And keep it all short. If you hiked the Appalachian Trail when you were 17 and nearly died in a bear attack, that’s fascinating. But don’t recount the entire incident on the website – just whet the readers’ appetites and tell them in person. Have a good reason for telling it, too, like how you dedicated your life to be of service, not “… and so I don’t hike anymore.”
Remember: Your customers are interested in you, but they’re much more interested in themselves and how you can help them. As long as you’re clear about that and your “About Us” section reflects it, you’re doing fine.