Pixar's 22 Story Basics and SEO
What can the SEO industry and website owners learn from Pixar's 22 story basics? How can the Pixar process help you improve your website? Thoughts from Tony Heywood our head of Search Marketing.
What Can Website Owners learn from Pixar?
Early this year, Emma Coats - a Pixar storyboard artist - released a blog post that contained 22 points that she had learnt about the process of telling stories from her time at the animation powerhouse.
The post caused a big storm within the creative industries as people absorbed the points into their own creative processes. Being a creative myself, I started to wonder whether there was anything that website owners and online marketers could learn from Pixar’s creative processes.
At its very core, the process of sale is storytelling, isn’t it? If this is the case, then Pixar - as one of the most successful storytellers of the last twenty years - should be able to teach us a thing or two about writing stories. Better storytelling results in more engaging websites and more engaging websites equals a higher conversion rate.
Having read and digested the points, I have explained where I believe that they can help website owners, webmasters, SEOs and online marketers. I have also added actions that can be added to content plans or web development processes. Some of the points that are made are specifically about creative processes, but others can be applied directly to web development, content and SEO.
#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
Think beyond the simple link between your product/service and the target market. What value does your product or service add to their life? How does your website service a need or problem or issue that they need addressing?
Draw up personas of your target market; look at their broader interests, goals and aims. How can you link your service to these desires? Does your website and brand match their wider values?
#2: You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
Research your target audience, write content that provides answers and adds value, not content that just pushes your products and services. Approach your content from the viewpoint of ‘how can we help?’, rather than ‘this is what we do’.
Discuss with your clients and stakeholders what the most common issues and questions are that arise from feedback and client meetings. How can your website content resolve these issues? (FAQs, guide, eBooks, reviews etc.)? Keep communication channels open so that you can develop your website to match the evolving needs of your client base.
#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about ‘til you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.
The first draft of your content and information architecture (IA) is not the finished article. Always include time for changes in IA and website copy during the development process.
Allow time for content rewrites, A/B testing and analysis of user data to rebuild and rewrite your content to improve conversions.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
Plan the user journeys through your website; audit your visitor data so that you can track the real paths that users take.
Record and audit user journeys, where are the exit points? How can these be improved? Can you improve your calls to action and sign posting to conversion points?
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
Are visitors looking for more than one product or service? Can you combine related products so that you can increase the likelihood of more than one purchase per visit?
Design the IA and page templates to pull through related products, services and information.
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
This is more difficult to fit into the process of creating web copy and I cannot think of any action points for this one.
#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
What is the overall goal of the website (leads, sales, engagement)?
Design your “money” pages and conversion points and then work out how to funnel visitors to these pages.
#8: Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
Release your website and content to the world.
Refine and audit your site performance – no website is perfect and there is always data that can be used for improvement.
#9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
What is the worst thing that can happen? I guess it is visitors leaving the website without converting. Why would they leave? What can you do to make them stay?
Audit the pages with high exit rates. What is the signposting like on these pages? Are the calls to action clear? Is the content engaging? Refine, test and refine again.
#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.
Audit the competition and sites in other niches that you admire, look at what they do well, take ideas from and improve on this.
Audit the sales funnels, page content, rich media (video, graphic, podcasts etc.), signposting and calls to actions. How can these be incorporated into your website?
#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.
Time spent planning is only of value if you can get it on paper and into the development process.
Brainstorm, write it down, email yourself, email the stakeholders.
#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
Create content that is engaging and fresh, think of new ways to approach every green subject.
Draw up long list of content ideas; don’t go with the first one that comes into your head.
#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likeable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.
Use your knowledge and experience to comment and blog on news stories and industry topics. If you think something is great or terrible then let the world know. If you are an expert, you will have opinions.
Be honest and objective in what you write. Expert opinions are what will make you stand out and gain social shares, followers and links.
#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.
Why should somebody choose your products or services over one of your competitors? What makes you special? What is your USP? If you don’t know the answer to these questions then you need to discover it. It should be at centre of your content.
Define your USP (price, quality, expertise, ease of use etc.) make sure you mention this in your website copy and calls to action.
#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
Empathise with your website visitors, put yourself in their shoes, how can you help solve their problem.
Stay focussed on your users/visitors experience, not on who you are but on what you can do for them.
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.
Why should they purchase your product or service? Why does your product or service make it easier to complete their aims? What obstacles does your product or service remove?
Clearly outline in your website copy the problems that your product and services can eliminate. Highlight the advantages of your products and services as well as how they can help.
#17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later.
Switch from tasks if you are not succeeding. Move from one piece of content to another, do some outreach, research some links.
Do not become too bogged down in timescales for tasks, switch the emphasis if you are not feeling inspired.
#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
This is more about the creative process. If you are focussing too much on a single element, then move onto something else and come back later with a clear head.
Focus on how much time a task is taking and the value it is producing. Should you pause the task and move on?
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
If someone arrives at your site by “mistake”, is it possible to sign post them to content they may be interested in?
Monitor your website traffic referrals. Are you receiving traffic from third party sites that is bouncing? If this is the case, then research the user base of the referring website and see if you can tailor your content on the landing page to match their interests. Can you point them towards content that is more relevant with clearer sign posting?
#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like?
Look at a website you dislike, what are the issues, how could you improve the experience.
Take the lessons from above and see if you are happy with your own content and IA.
#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write ‘cool'. What would make YOU act that way?
This again comes back to researching the personas of your client base and their motivations. What are the triggers for conversions, trust, authority, expert knowledge, cost and availability?
Produce A/B pages for testing conversion hooks. Which ones work with your client base? Can you combine the most successful ones into a series of calls to action?
#22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
What is the aim of a website? How are you going to get visitors from the landing page to conversion? What are the steps required?
Plan your content and IA so that it is effectively funnelling visitors into conversions. Audit drop off points in the process, are these pages required? If so, how can they be improved?
Although not all the points can be directly imported into the web design, web development and online marketing world, there clearly is value in thinking more creatively when planning and producing websites.
The Pixar storytelling mindset can add value to the development process at any level, from thinking about the creation of a single blog post or article to the whole IA of a site and the sales funnels. It is certainly something that I plan to incorporate into my working practices and intend to refer to when I am struggling for creative ideas.
Tony Heywood (C) 2013