This short list of basic rules for creating an effective About page has been prompted by my frustration with the number of blogs and other websites that either do not have an About page or, more commonly in my experience, do not put their About page to work effectively in the interests of their business.

From my observation over a number of years, the About page is one of the most neglected or poorly executed parts of many blogs and other websites. I don’t know why that is, but I suspect that in some cases it might be because the site owners don’t realize that people could be making judgements about them and their business from that page. I really do wonder whether a lot of people actually look critically at what they have on their About pages.

Tweet on About pages

It all got to me, in a mild sort of way, a couple of days ago, when I was endeavouring to find out something substantial about some of the people who had chosen to follow me on Twitter. I was amazed, as well as frustrated, by the number of sites that told me nothing of any value about the owners. And I’m not talking here about the ones whose “about” information turned out to be a sales landing page promising me instant riches for no work. I’m talking about the ones who, going by the few lines about them on their Twitter profile, looked genuine and looked as if they could be interesting people for me to follow.

I said in a tweet, half-jokingly, that I felt a blog post coming on. Someone then asked me when that would appear. Sprung! So here are my 5 Basic Rules for Creating an Effective About Page.

Incidentally, in the process of developing this post I checked on the stats for this site and found that, in the past month, the About page was the fourth most visited. That reinforced for me the need to work on making my About page as effective as I can.

The five basic rules are:

  • Tell us who you are
  • Tell us your story
  • Choose first or third person
  • Show us a picture of you
  • Tell us how we can contact you

Rule 1. Tell us who you are

This can be primarily about your site or about you, depending on where your blog or other website fits in your marketing strategy.

For people whose business is focused completely or mainly on what they do, coaches, consultants, personal trainers and so on, my recommendation is to be very brief about describing the site and more expansive about who you are, what you do and why (see also Rule 2).

What doesn’t work, for me anyway, is an impersonal sentence or ten full of buzzwords but not really telling me why the site is here or who you are, really.

This sort of thing (I made this up to protect the guilty, but you can find plenty of examples of the type):

XYZ Corporation provides leading edge technological solutions in the online space, for just about any industry you care to name, going forward. Our team of highly qualified specialists covers every conceivable Web technology and we deliver great value for money. Try us, you won’t be disappointed.

When I read that sort of thing, my first question is “Us”? “Try us”? “Who is/are ‘Us’?”

Compare that with the lucid, direct opening sentences in the About page on Darren Rowse’s Problogger site:

Welcome to ProBlogger – a Blog that helps bloggers to add income streams to their blogs.

My name is Darren Rowse and I’m a full time Blogger making a living from this new and dynamic medium from blogs like Digital Photography School and TwiTip.

By the way, I never cease to be amazed at finding blogs with lots of posts, quite current, but no discernible information about who the author is or what he/she does. I believe some people quite simply forget to include that information.

And if you have a WordPress site, please, please put something about yourself and your business, however brief, on the About page that comes pre-set with an explanation of what the page is for – as Lorraine Nepomuceno mentions in her post on About pages. It’s the one that reads:

This is an example of a WordPress page, you could edit this to put information about yourself or your site so readers know where you are coming from. You can create as many pages like this one or sub-pages as you like and manage all of your content inside of WordPress.

Apart from anything else, leaving that default text there can say one of at least two things: “I’m a newbie and don’t know my way around my own site” or “This is a sucker-trap site and is only here to get you to click on an ad so I can make some money from you today”.

And you surely don’t want people to think either of those.

Rule 2: Tell us your story

James Chartrand of Men With Pens, in an excellent post on About pages, explains why you should tell us your story:

Everyone likes to hear a story, and every single person in this world has a story to tell. A bland description isn’t going to interest people, but a story hooks them in every single time.

That’s it. And as the author goes on to point out, everyone has a story, or several stories. Maybe not a story like those you were as a youngster regaled with by your favorite, eccentric uncle who sailed the seven seas, dug for gold in Peru and went mountain climbing for relaxation. But a story nevertheless. The story of who you are and why you do what you do, the story of the service you provide or product you sell and why you are passionate about that.

Think of your reader saying, I’ve got this far on your site – this is your chance to give me an idea of why I might find you someone better, more interesting, more fun to do business with than with any of your competitors.

The ReadWriteWeb About page is a superb example of a succinct, informative, interesting page which tells us what the site is about, the founder’s story and then a short story for each of the contributors. And it has pictures of each (see Rule 4).

By the way, the story doesn’t have to be short. You may have a longer story that could be of interest to the people you would like to reach: see for example the (for me) fascinating page about twit.tv, established by podcasting legend Leo Laporte and friends – the page is amusingly headed Huh?

Rule 3: Choose first or third person

Frankly, I fluctuate on whether it’s better on an About page to use the first (I/we) or third (he/she/they) person. I’ve seen each of these on the sites of different people who have clearly put some effort into designing and writing the page. I don’t believe any one can justifiably say one is better than the other, in all circumstances.

Darren Rowse and Yaro Starak use the first person. Chris Brogan and the ReadWriteWeb site use the third. Each reads well to me and is interesting, leaving me wanting to know more about these people, what they do, how they do it and how that might help me with my business goals.

If, like many of us, you were brought up not to sing your own praises, using the third person might help. And if you still find it a challenge to write good things about yourself and how well you do them, consider asking a friend or colleague who knows you and your business to give you some help.

Rule 4: Show us a picture of you

Although I realize that not everyone is comfortable with the idea of putting a picture of themselves online, I believe that an About page without a picture of the person behind the site, as in the business owner or project leader, is deficient. If there is a team, I recommend that there be either a team photo or individual photos, as has been done by, for example ReadWriteWeb.

And while there will usually be some expense involved, I believe it is better to have a professionally-shot picture than an amateur one from your pocket digital camera. I would also try and get something that makes you look as friendly as you can, not one of those mug-shot, “deer caught in the headlights” pictures.

With a blog, if you have a picture of yourself in the sidebar, as I do here, it can actually look odd to have the same picture on the About page. In my research for this post I noticed that, whether intentionally or by happy circumstance, Chris Brogan has solved this differently, by having a different photo, with a quite different facial expression. Yaro Starak has a headshot of himself in the banner on his Entrepreneur Journey site and then a half-length picture of himself in a jacket, looking relaxed (as a successful entrepreneur might well look!) on his About page.

Formal business dress, casual? All I can say is to think about what you want people to get a sense of about you, in terms of business. I used to have a picture of myself down at the beach in a Hawaian shirt, which was a way of saying “I’m not one of your corporate consultant types and I don’t need to do a hard sell”. But I was concerned that people might think I was so laid back I might not be businesslike enough for them. The picture is still out there on a few sites but I’ve been replacing it with one of me in more “dressed up” attire – but still no tie (been there, done that)!

Rule 5: Tell us how we can contact you

Believe it or not, just as on some sites it is difficult to find out much or anything about the person or people or company behind the site, so on others which have an About page of some sort it can be difficult or very difficult to work out how to make contact if you wish to do so. Why have a site and not make it easy for people to get in touch?

For example, Coach Deborah Micek (@coachdeb on Twitter) has a very informative About page and great pictures that give a sense of the dynamic, friendly, highly focused person she is in real life, and at the bottom of the page, highlighted in bold and a different color from the rest of the text, quite specific details about how to get in touch, with a toll-free phone number and an email address:

Deborah can be contacted directly at RPM Success Group toll-free at (888) 334-8151 or by e-mail through support@rpmsuccess.com.

I’m personally a great believer in having a dedicated Contact page (for WordPress there are a couple of excellent plugins for this) and also having some contact information on my About page (as CoachDeb has done), making it really clear about how people can get in touch.

A request

Writing this post turned out to be a lengthier task that I had originally estimated, partly because I realized that some people might check out the About page on this site to see whether I was walking my talk. That meant that I spent quite some time re-writing and refining it. I believe the result made the effort worthwhile, but I would value any comments which could help me make it better, i.e. more effective.

Also, if you have examples of excellent, even just plain good, About pages, which could be your own, please share the link in the comments section (I hate to have to say it, but experience tells me that I need to say here that attempts to use this invitation as an excuse to spam will fail).

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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).