E-commerce Link: Let's Talk About You
An "About Us" section is one of the few constants of organizations' websites. Businesses have evolved their sites to present a unique and increasingly dynamic "handshake" to customers with look and feel, content and interactions.
Yet, About Us sections, regardless of company size or industry, have remained largely a static, impersonal catch-all for content that doesn't seem to fit anywhere else on the site.
Why 'About Us' Should Go
Companies' websites more and more are equated with brand. Therefore, to have one section of your organization's website called About Us when the entire site is about your business is misleading and often redundant.
About Us is typically one of the main sections of an organization's website, found at the top of the page or in the footer. It goes by different names, including: "About [the company name]," "Company Information," "Corporate" or simply "Our Company." Most often, it includes information about the company's vision or mission, leadership, news, location and general contact information.
However, a more robust About Us section can address any of the following topics:
- corporate responsibility and/or sustainability;
- diversity; and
For example, the website of an S&P 500 office product and services supplier calls its About Us section "Company Info" and breaks it into 16 different subsections. The broad About Us label makes it extremely difficult for users to predict what content they will find in that section. Furthermore, About Us sections are frequently overloaded with miscellaneous content, which also makes it hard for users to identify what's most important.
Another challenge is that About Us content is often heavy on business jargon and/or internal company language. As a result, the content comes across as generic, impersonal and possibly difficult for users to decipher.
● Adopt a different label. Some organizations setting a new standard for communicating information about their leadership, value proposition and corporate responsibility are doing away with the About Us label. For example, international NGO Save the Children uses "Who We Are," "What We Do" and "Where We Work" to make clear distinctions between typical About Us content. By using more specific labels, Save the Children takes the guesswork out of users' experience and therefore communicates more directly and powerfully.
Some companies have ditched the About Us label to offer what seems much more like a privileged view into the organization's workings. For instance, vacuum company Dyson uses the label "Inside Dyson" to provide an intimate look at the organization's history, technology innovations, founder, charitable activities and games that reflect Dyson's thinking processes. This section is more than just "about" the company; it's pointed content about the organization's human, social and intellectual capital and differentiators.
● Think beyond copy. Companies like Dyson also have illustrated how About Us content doesn't have to exist as pure copy. "Inside Dyson" is an interactive gallery of image thumbnails that link to text, as well as compelling photographs, diagrams and videos.
However, companies don't have to invest in flashy media to tell a story that will resonate with users. The productivity software company 37signals uses the label "Our Story" in lieu of About Us. The "story" leads with a simple timeline of text, images and links that illustrate its major milestones. It's followed by a section titled "Meet the leadership team" and then finishes off with information about all the products, services, books, etc., that 37signals has to offer.
● Create a dialogue. About Us often includes the most static, one-way content on a company's website, which can suggest that the organization is neither evolving nor growing. Yet in some instances, companies with relatively unchanging About Us content manage to support dynamic and compelling Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.
Delivery giant FedEx is an example of a company that has harnessed its social media content to tell its About Us story and increase the company's digital presence. FedEx pulls its blog headlines, tweets and Facebook posts onto the About FedEx page to create a multifaceted, ever-changing company portrait. This integration of social media with traditional About Us content encourages interaction with users, who can easily share information about FedEx with their networks.
Questions to Consider
When revisiting your About Us section, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Does this content belong here? For instance, is there contact information or business hours contained in About Us that users will look for first on the home page before clicking deeper into your website? Or would a discussion of sustainability generate more leads and sales if tied directly to content on products and services pages, rather than isolated under About Us? Make your content contextually relevant.
2. Is it clear to users what this section contains? Give the About Us content a more descriptive label so users know what they're going to get. Is your About Us content foremost about the people in your organization? About the company's culture? If the more accurate label is something like "Boring Technical Information," then question whether it even belongs on your website.
3. Do the format and medium fit the message? Determine the easiest and most engaging way to communicate your About Us information. It's well known that users read little on websites. More likely, they're browsing quickly on a wide variety of devices. If the personality of your CEO is essential to your brand, consider whether users would be more likely to read several paragraphs of a traditional executive bio or watch a brief video of the CEO talking about why your business matters.
4. Is the content up-to-date? If your About Us content never changes, users have little reason to engage with it or return to it. Include your About Us section in your editorial calendar and create expectations about how the content should reflect changes in your company. If possible, integrate your social media activity.
5. Does the content reflect a voice and distinct message? Drawing on social media content is one way to infuse your About Us section with an active voice. Think about where else you can draw inspiration for this section's content. Consider the crowd-funding website Kickstarter. The short videos produced by aspiring entrepreneurs (more than 30,000 posted last year) include excellent and myriad examples of future companies distilling their value propositions.
Remember: The more users understand and identify with a company, the more likely they are to care and become customers.
Sharon Bautista is a senior user experience designer at Designkitchen, a Chicago-based interactive agency, and a colleague of regular E-commerce Link columnist Cristin Siegel. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.