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The Essential Guide to Writing Straplines

Too many websites don’t have a strapline, which is totally dumb, because they’re incredibly useful and make a significant impact on conversion (as I prove here).

Of the sites that do have a strapline, a lot are wishy washy and pointless, which defeats the whole idea of having a strapline in the first place.

I’m going to show you…

  • Why you need a strapline, and
  • What your strapline should say

Huh? What’s a Strapline?

Oh, that’s easy. A strapline (or tagline) is the single line of text that you often see directly underneath a website’s logo. Like this.

gerber

Here, “GERBER” is the logo, and “Your Business, Your Brand” is the strapline.

Why Are Straplines Important?

OK, imagine you ask a friend where to get noodles.

Then, a fraction of a second later, you suddenly arrive in the middle of a store, like this…

in-store-signage

Source: http://primarycolor.com/portfolio/fresh-and-easy-in-store-signage/

You have to answer one question very quickly. That question is…

“Am I going to find what I want (noodles) here?”

In order to answer that major question, you’ll ask yourself some minor questions…

  • Where am I?
  • What is this place?
  • Is this the kind of place that sells noodles?

All sounds very simple, doesn’t it?

So what clues would you look for to answer those questions? Of course, you’d look at what products are on sale, and you’d look at the signage.

Well, that’s EXACTLY what visitors to websites do!

  1. You ask your trusted friend (search engine) where to find something you want.
  2. You click a link, and you’re immediately dropped in a website… probably one you’ve never visited before.
  3. And you need to decide if you’re likely to find what you want there, or whether you should click your heels together three times and go back to Kansas.

And what clues do website visitors look for to answer that question? They’ll look at any imagery and headlines, and they’ll look at the SIGNAGE.

Where do you look to find signage in a store? That’s right, you look UP.

Signage actually tells you two things…

  1. It tells you where you ARE.
  2. And it tells you where to GO to find stuff.

On your website, signage means all the stuff at the TOP of the page that’s global, i.e. it’s there all the time, on every page. So it generally comprises…

  • The branding area (logo and strapline)
  • And your global navigation

Super Signage FAIL!

I just did a webinar with Shane Melaugh from Thrive (which I’ll post shortly) on how to make blog home pages more effective. Shane pulled out this beauty of an example, which I have to show you.

Here’s the entire branding area and navigation from a website. Ask yourself the following questions…

  • Where are you?
  • What kind of site is this?
  • What can you get here?

Huh

(In case you’re curious, here’s the site.)

The branding area only features a single-character logo “Q”, plus some tiny weeny little social and search icons.

The navigation tells you little else. OK, so the site is about Fitness, Nutrition, Regeneration (huh?), and Life (double-huh?).

But what is it? A magazine? A store? We simply don’t know, because the SIGNAGE is not working!

There are a few mistakes here, but what I want to focus on is the lack of a strapline. It’s a case of style over substance, and that’s never a good idea.

The most important function of a strapline is to tell the visitor the site’s purpose.

How to Make a Great Strapline

Let’s face facts. Some logos just don’t communicate what the site’s about. They don’t say where you are and what you can get here. But you have to use them. There’s not much we can do about that.

If you’re faced with that situation, hopefully you can add a strapline. (Unfortunately, some logos come with their own strapline, and sometimes they’re very bad indeed.)

The thing about any global signage is that it’s there on every page. So, if your strapline’s job is to tell the visitor the site’s purpose, it should summarise that in a way that meets two criteria…

  1. First, it should be true for every page.
  2. And it should be neat and concise.

I often visualise it as though you’re putting all the things you DO down on a piece of paper, in a Venn diagram. Everything is a circle, things that come under other things would be circles within circles, things that are closely related are closer together, and things that are not so related are further apart. (You don’t actually have to do this, it’s just a mental exercise.)

So you’ve got a cluster of stuff that you do, stuff that you’re about. Now, imagine drawing a circle around that cluster of things. The circle should do two things: it must contain everything you do, and it should exclude as much as possible of the stuff you don’t do.

We’re not really drawing a circle, but want to do the same thing with words. Your strapline should encompass everything you do, and should do it as neatly as possible, i.e. excluding what you don’t do, and using only as many words as you need. So, it should tell you what the site IS, and also tell you what the site ISN’T.

If possible it should also uniquely distinguish your website, as distinct from your competitors (i.e. communicate your Unique Selling Proposition).

This strapline, for example, is far too vague. How many other websites are there that let you buy, sell and trade?

MyMq

And this one is practically meaningless. What work? Huh? Who?

Creativepool-Logo-w-strap-line

Here’s another beauty. I really struggle to think of any business this wouldn’t apply to. So what does it actually say? Nothing whatsoever!

sita

What does this strapline tell you? What kind of business would this be? Any guess? (I’ll tell you in a minute.)

performance-delivered

This Site’s Strapline

Here’s this site’s logo, with its strapline, “Design and Publish Websites The RIGHT Way”.

wdfs-logo

Here’s why I think that’s a useful strapline…

  • I’m not just about web design, because I’m also interested in SEO, Social Media, and Copywriting etc. So “web design” would be too restrictive, whereas “Design and Publish” includes all those interests – and in very just a couple of words.
  • “The RIGHT Way” is also important, because “everything about designing and publishing online” would be too broad. I advocate efficient online marketing that delivers real business results. “The RIGHT Way” is an efficient way to communicate that. It’s saying there’s a right way and wrong way, which is what I advocate. So there’s a bit of my attitude in there.
  • Everything I offer on the market comes under the umbrella “Design and Publish websites the RIGHT way.” Whether it’s my blog posts, books, or courses. So it includes everything I DO, while excluding as much of what I DON’T DO as possible.
  • The phrasing also makes the strapline into a promise: what I call a global proposition. In other words, that promise is true for ALL my output: products, talks, courses, books, webinars, posts…

Reading those six/seven words should help a new visitor instantly focus on what this site offers, and what it doesn’t offer.

Crafting an effective strapline isn’t a straightforward exercise, but it’s important enough to spend time on!

Some Good Examples

This Xerox strapline (used above the logo here) makes a strong but simple statement that neatly describes everything the company is about while excluding what they don’t do.

xerox

The Real Radio logo distinguishes exactly what they offer in just five words in a jaunty style.

real-radio

Sometimes all you need to do is state exactly what you’re offering.

fire-plotter

This strapline focuses on the business’s unique selling proposition.

sunny-republic

 

4 Common Strapline Mistakes to Avoid

Follow my tips to make sure your sites don’t make these schoolboy errors.

1. Unreadable Text

If you’re going to put any text on your website, particularly something as important as a strapline, for God’s sake make sure people can READ IT!

vidora

Tiny text is likely to be more of a distraction than a help.

bonce

Putting text in ALL CAPS always reduces readability, but if it’s tiny with large gaps between the letters, it’s veeeeery difficult to read.

2. Saying Nothing At All

Here’s a nifty little rule you can take away…

If no one would ever say the opposite of your strapline, don’t bother saying it.

Take this for example.

hexaware-logo

Seriously, what company would NOT want success for its clients?

Here’s the logo and company that belongs to the strapline I mentioned above. The strapline really adds nothing here.

bulk-powders

3. Unbelievable

If 20 years of marketing experience has taught me one thing, it’s…

“Telling the truth is far more powerful than making shit up.”

Really, Adidas?

adidas-impossible

And what do we think about these guys (if you can read the strapline, that is)?

goldfinger

Does anyone really believe this claim by a man-makeup-maker?

guyliner

4. Being Too Clever

You really don’t need to be smug about a strapline. Things like this just make me cringe…

ARTP

Although, if you don’t have to take yourself too seriously, a bit of humour could help make your brand memorable.

albion

About the author

Ben Hunt

Ben has over 20 years' experience in web design and marketing, and is one of the most influential figures on the subject of effective web design. He has written a bunch of books and spoken at multiple conferences internationally. In 2015, Ben created Open-Source Marketing, which promises to turn the practice of marketing upside down.. Find out more at http://opensourcemarketingproject.org

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