Note: This post comes from the Whitespace archive and was originally posted by Scrivs on January 28th, 2004. Links referred to herein may have been moved or modified.
Rhetoric is a framework that allows us to quantify valuable information as having a beginning, middle, and end. This philosophy can be carried over to your websites to create an effective experience for your users. However, the three steps differ slightly in that they become attract, inform, and invoke.
The ability of blogs to attract customers is directly related to the quality of the content on their site. This also involves the topics discussed on a site. However, another element that generally gets overlooked is the aesthetics of the site. If the aesthetics of a site compliment the content, then you are already one step closer to a better design.
Just because you start another web design site, what differentiates it from the rest that will make people want to visit? How will it attract people? Will it be through the looks and feel of the site, the content, or both?
When attempting to attract people to your site and your message there are two main questions that must be answered by you, “Why should I listen to you?” and “What’s in it for me?”.
To answer the first question you must achieve credibility and in this community that can be a difficult thing to do. Over time if you continue to write quality content that others link to then over time you will develop a credibility for yourself. One should not expect credibility from simply placing a website on the web. Another way to gain credibility is through the endorsement of someone else who has high credibility. If Bowman was to one day write an entry talking about a designer that taught him everything he knew then that designer would be given instant credibility and people would be more willing to listen to his words.
The quick answer to the second question is that you will provide the audience with something new to learn and share. If there is nothing to be gained from your site, then there is no reason to visit it.
Once you have attracted users to your site it becomes your job to inform them. Certainly they have showed some interest because they are on your site, but how do you go about informing them? Of course the answer is content, but there are other issues that are involved with informing someone.
To effectively inform an audience you have to convince them of the relevance, importance, and timeliness of the message. This opens your audience up and allows them to more readily receive your message. The best example of this occurred when Zeldman began his tract on Web Standards with the article, To Hell With Bad Browsers.
There are a lot of “call to actions” in the web community. Examples range from building accessible websites to getting rid of “www” in urls. A major problem with these movements is that they do not address anyone’s needs. To invoke individuals into action (eg. purchasing something online) their interaction with your message must address their real motivations and their real needs. It’s no use saying everyone should develop sites with CSS if making quick money is the intention of the audience.
The Three Steps
If you are consciously aware of the three step process and use it to relay your message over time then you should have no problem developing an audience that is willing to listen. All of the great writers on the web have captured this ability to implement the 3 steps in almost all of their writings whether they intended to or not.
Many of these ideas can be found in John Lenker’s excellent book, Train of Thoughts.