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The ‘Curse of Knowledge’ and How It’s Making Your Website Terrible

We’ve reached a remarkable point in history where we’re more informed than ever before. A wealth of knowledge on almost anything exists just a few taps away on a smartphone. But there’s a fine line between providing information and providing answers. In fact, too much “knowledge” can send your audience straight to your nearest SERP competitor and this is often called as the curse of knowledge.

Curse of Knowledge

So, if you see that your conversions are lagging behind, it could be because you know too much.

Yes, There Can Be Too Much of a Good Thing

Knowledge is power.

Less is more.

These two phrases have been repeated for decades, yet are seemingly contradictory when paired together. So which one is correct?

In regards to your website, both.

Don’t Speak – Show

If your business installs solar panels, for example, people interested in purchasing solar technology may head to your website for more information about solar energy options. And, if you’ve built a good website, you’ll have included much more information than just products and prices.

But this is where it gets tricky for many business websites. As a business owner, you know your industry inside and out. You understand how to make your products work. You recognize the benefits of your products over those of your competitors.

Your buyers need to know these things, too, which is why many business owners make the mistake of trying to inform them. But keep in mind that your buyers don’t always need to know everything you do about your products.

Think about it: how many people interested in learning more about solar technology for their home will understand things like polycrystalline solar cells and laser cell cutting machines? How many will even be interested in those things? Those who are just getting their feet wet in solar tech might not pick up on the lingo quickly, especially if the jargon isn’t followed by a definition or explanation.

This little-recognized misstep, also known as the Curse of Knowledge, can deal a fatal blow to your conversion rate and overall brand image. In essence, it hints that you care more about serving your own interests than those of your customers.

Provide Answers, Not Information

The so-called “curse of knowledge” goes beyond lengthy product descriptions and blog posts. Though excessive words might make your customer lose interest, its damage doesn’t compare to the impact of excessive knowledge. If you don’t hold back any detail, especially technical specs and industry language, or if you don’t triage the most important information for conversion potential, your website has probably been hit by the curse of knowledge.

Let’s put this into perspective with a real website from On Hold Marketing company:

Curse of Knowledge

First, unless you are familiar with what on hold marketing is, you probably won’t become more knowledgeable on the subject by looking at the homepage. Without scrolling or clicking to another page, readers are only informed about what makes this company different than others. The homepage does nothing to address what on hold marketing is, who uses it, or why the reader should care.

The other glaring error here is their use of industry terms: without a quick Google search, would the average business person understand VoIP, v/o, or production? Production of what, exactly?

(By the way, v/o stands for “voice over,” but if you didn’t know that, you certainly aren’t alone.)

Programs longer than the industry average? What is the industry average?

These small nuisances can be easily fixed to spell out the reader’s best interest instead of the company’s. Chances are, your website may contain similar instances that show off your own knowledge rather than what your prospects really care about.

The funny thing is, when a company serves their customer’s interest first, they subsequently serve their own via higher conversions.

Understandably, you’re probably passionate about what you do, and you want to pass your expertise on to others. But keep in mind that some people aren’t going to share your enthusiasm for your products or blog. Rather, they simply want the answer they came for, and they shouldn’t have to work hard to get it.

What makes the Curse of Knowledge so dangerous is your inability to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and view your website from their standpoint. And, if you can’t relate to your customers, how do you expect to meet their needs?

The Dire Consequences from Information Overload on Your Website

Curse of Knowledge - Information Overload

It isn’t always obvious what you should put on your website, especially if you want to highlight multiple benefits of your products or services. Many businesses believe the remedy to deciding what to say is to say everything.

Do your website a favour, and don’t.

When you refuse to limit your content, two things happen:

Your Audience Disconnects From You

When you first started in your industry, chances are you were introduced to terms that had no prior meaning to you. But as you progressed, you may have forgotten what it was like not knowing certain terms. As a result, you forgot that some people don’t know what you know.

This concept extends to your entire unique selling proposition. If you can’t simply say what it is you’re good at and why others should care, they won’t. This isn’t a new challenge for businesses, especially in the B2B sector or companies that offer complex solutions.

Eventually, your audience will tune you out until you’re forced to reform or cease to exist.

You Risk Becoming a Knowledge Commodity

If you’ve glanced at your competitors’ websites for inspiration, you aren’t alone. In fact, business experts recommend looking to your competitors to understand what you’re up against. This might mean investigating what they’re blogging about, how they describe their products or digging into their value propositions.

If you’ve scoped out your competition recently, did you notice any similarities among their websites?

Raincastle, a website design company, posted a blog about an analysis they did that won them big business. They showed a client 10 competitor websites that looked too similar to their own. They also noted how a consulting firm’s website and a venture capital firm’s website would look almost identical if the logos were removed.

If you were to do this same test using your own website and those of your stiffest competition, what would your results look like?

This pervasive “me too-ness” on the internet isn’t helping you differentiate yourself from your competition. Rather, if a competitor is filling their web pages with technical details and using industry jargon for keywords, you may feel inclined to do the same in order to keep up. But doing so only helps you blend in with the “other guys.” If you’re blogging about the same things, how does this help put you as the expert in your industry?

If you’re blogging about the same topics, how does this help put you as the expert in your industry? If you’re selling the same advantages, why should your customers believe your products to be any better than another company’s?

When you can go from offering the same knowledge as everyone else to presenting something unique, your customers will take notice. Even better? They’ll thank you for it.

How to Avoid the Curse of Knowledge from Haunting Your Website

The good news is that the Curse of Knowledge is both preventable and curable – no internet witch doctor required. If you want to remedy your website’s information overload, these four tips create a magic digital tonic:

Tune In to WIFM

WIFM: Everyone’s favourite radio station is “What’s In It For Me?” If you’re having trouble rooting out the curse of knowledge on your website, read your content while pondering what’s in it for the customer. For example, a hot water heater website advertising their new 80-gallon model might also mention that it’s ideal for a household of three to four people. Find ways to relate your content to your customer in ways that matter to them. This is an ideal way to build your audiences’ trust faster.

Learn a New Language

Our aforementioned solar technology company thought it wise to speak about polycrystalline solar cells and laser cell cutting machines when promoting their product benefits. That might be fine if they were catering to solar tech junkies who undoubtedly know those terms. But what about the rest of us?

If you’re too close to your subject matter, have someone else take a look and see if they’re able to translate it. If not, consider revising your jargon into common terms. The language of the people is paramount, and you need to be the one to adapt.

Say It Succinctly

Einstein once said, “If you cannot explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” True, he knew nothing about websites, but the concept is the same. If your readers have to travel through endless word salad to get to the point, they’ll likely leave the guided tour and hop on a shorter route to your closest competitor.

Illustrate Your Storytelling

If you deal with complex ideas, use visuals or real-life examples to simplify them. Explainer videos were created specifically for this purpose. If video production isn’t in the budget, get together with some of your best customers and find out how they used your product to solve real-world problems. Then, get their permission to put their words into writing to share on your website. Once people see the possibilities, they’re more likely to discover their own benefits.

One Final Thought

Flexing your knowledge muscle isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, promoting your skills can be effective in boosting your credibility. But there’s a time and place to show your smarts, and your homepage and marketing aren’t it. Instead, save your credentials and infinite wisdom for your About Us page, where people expect to see some form of self-boosterism.

Remember, your business isn’t all about you.

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Ben Shepardson

Ben Shepardson has been "developing the web" since he graduated with a Computer Science degree in the early aughts. From the Wild West days of early SEO to today's focus on usability and value-added content, he's seen it all under the auspices of his main company, Lake View Studios. NoStop is a spinoff of LVS and provides top-notch written content for business owners and media agencies who need reliable service and consistent quality that never stops.
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