Your online bio or about page is typically the second most viewed page on your blog or website. It is the first place readers go when they are intrigued by your blog post or the content on your website’s homepage.
But a bio can be a scary-hard thing to write. It’s tricky because at first glance, it’s about you, but ultimately, you must connect your skills, your personality and your passions to your clients’ and customers’ needs.
When I read my copywriting clients’ bios, that was the piece that was most frequently missing. Taking that extra step guarantees that your readers and prospective clients are able to envision working with you to reach their goals.
Because let’s face it. You are just a speck in the online galaxy. On any given day on the web, tens of millions of people are clamoring for attention. And how they explain who they are and what they do will make their website or blog visitors either want to open the door wider or run for the emergency exit.
You want to capture you in all your wondrous, multifaceted splendor. But how much do you share?
If you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, you’re pretty sure that doesn’t go in.
And the stuff that has the potential to divide people, like, “ In my spare time I like to hunt deer”? Maybe not.
So where do you draw the line? How do you write a bio that gets to the core of who you are and makes your readers want to get to know you better?
This post will show you how to write an unforgettable bio, one that stays in your readers’ brains and makes them curious to learn more about you and your business.
Once you have the system down, and have created several bios to use in different situations, all you will have to do is revisit each of them from time to time to make changes as old pieces drop off and new experiences and skills come into play.
Why Do You Need a Good Bio?
Your bio and online profile are great tools for building trust and credibility with readers, visitors, followers and potential clients. The more approachable you are, the more people will want to connect with you and start building a relationship.
Your bio is your best tool for communicating who you are and what is important to you. A key benefit is that you get to define yourself. You get to decide how you will show yourself to the world.
And wouldn’t you rather do that than let someone else do it?
Your bio’s focus will be determined by who your online audience is and what they hope to get from you. More about this later.
What Will an Attention-getting Bio Do for You?
A good bio will separate you from the masses.
This is one of the most important benefits of having a carefully constructed online bio. You will rise above all those profiles and about pages that are written in faceless corporate-speak.
A good bio will motivate people to want to know more about you.
The best bios do not answer every question, but rather leave the reader with an urge to find out more about you. We’ll be talking about strategies for motivating visitors to want to continue the conversation.
A good bio will encourage your readers to take the ‘next step.’
A warm, engaging bio provides opportunities for visitors to email or phone you with additional questions, follow a link to find out more about your products and services or sign up for delivery of your blog or newsletter.
It will help you find your right people.
And it may bring unexpected surprises.
My blog’s bio page has prompted people to contact me with requests for guest posts on their blogs, ad purchases and even interviews with journalists from major news outlets, like The Boston Globe. With an SEO-optimized bio or about page, the opportunities are endless.
How to Avoid the 7 Deadly Bio Writing Mistakes
As a blogging coach, when I worked with clients to write or improve their bios and about pages, the first thing I did was visit their sites to read their current bios.
Now these were smart, talented people. But they were making the same mistakes over and over again. The good news is that they are fairly easy to fix—if you know what they are:
The 7 Classic Bio Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
1. You don’t tell me what your blog or website is about.
This one is obvious and yet it is often overlooked. Readers want to know right away who you are and what you are about. Whether it’s your blog or your website, state your purpose and focus up front. If you make them wade through several paragraphs of text, you may lose them.
On your blog, this is especially important. Your famously click-happy visitors need to know within seconds what you write about on your blog. Your bio or about page is a good place to do that.
Tell me what I can expect to find and show me that you have the content I’m looking for. Don’t make me guess. Give me a reason to stick around.
2. It feels like you are a cardboard person.
You are a three-dimensional person, so leave that cardboard cutout at the doorstep.
Show us some of the personality that makes you unique. Just for fun, I close my about page on my author blog with a few things that most people don’t know about me.
At first glance, the things on this list may seem random and unrelated, but they do two things: they reflect my ever-present sense of humor and they show my passion for language, words and writing.
I’m a writer and was, at the time, a blogging coach, so the fact that I’ve written three unfinished novels, took Swahili in college and wanted to be a language interpreter growing up connect with who I am today.
An added benefit: these personal facts helped me attract clients who were the right fit for me.
As a rule of thumb, I always say: Go with the things that help your readers understand you better.
Jim Peacock is a career development specialist and a past client of mine. He closed his about page with his own list of “7 things you might not know about Jim”:
As you can see, we get a much clearer picture of Jim when he shares some of his passions, priorities and life experiences with us. And number 4 is crucial because it helps us understand why he feels so deeply about helping people find the life work that is right for them.
3. You start by telling me how great you are.
One bio I read said, in the second sentence, “[Name] has long been on the cutting edge of technology.”
Okay, this one gets a double demerit. He used the cliché “cutting edge” and he told me how great he is, instead of showing me.
There is nothing wrong with listing some of your achievements (in fact you should). Just try showing me your skills and talents through specific examples or a personal story.
Let me see who you are and why I should care first.
4. You make my eyes glaze over from too many details.
Too many things that are not relevant to the focus of your blog or website will just confuse me.
I want a personal glimpse. But 27 diary-like entries—including where you were born, what year you got your driver’s license, the date your husband ran off with a younger woman and the color of your first-born’s hair—won’t hold my interest. (This may seem like an extreme example, but I once read a bio with this exact information in it.)
5. It feels like you are applying for a job.
If your about page reads like a résumé, I probably won’t stick around—and it’s likely your readers won’t either.
Most about pages, bios and online profiles don’t start with a list of the person’s degrees—and for good reason. Names of colleges and pieces of paper don’t excite us. Because, really, unless you are on a Facebook alumni page, when is the last time you engaged with someone online based on what college they went to?
Now, there are some instances where degrees and credentials are very important (for a therapist or attorney, for example). Keep them in there, just don’t lead with them because people want to get to know you first.
I don’t list my credentials in my bio because they are not relevant to what I am doing today. My Bachelor’s and Master’s of Education degrees mattered when I was looking for teaching positions, but not so much now that I an a writer and author. And even if they were still relevant, I wouldn’t hit my readers with them in the first sentence.
The client I talked about earlier is another example of this. His students and coaching clients expected him to have the proper degrees and he shared them—at the end of his about page.
In his case, we decided to open with a story about how an “accidental” job, a summer gig as a forest ranger, caused him to take a huge leap from forestry studies to career education—and why. That story was key because it showed how important he thinks it is to find the work you are meant to be doing. And today, this is what he helps his clients and students do.
While you are at it, take out the chronological history of places worked. Now if you had a job somewhere that let me peek into a part of you that helps me understand who you are today and why you have this blog or website? Then, yes, I want to hear that.
6. You don’t give me the short version.
Sometimes, on a first-time visit, I’m in a hurry. If I don’t see what you and your blog are about—within seconds—I may click away.
We’ll talk more about how to write different versions of your bio later, but for now, consider creating a Cliff Notes version of your bio, right there in a box on your home page sidebar. Readers are looking for any old excuse not to hang around, so hook them on you and your site right away.
7. You do not give me a way to connect with you.
Your online bio should be all about connecting with your readers. Don’t forget to give them a way to do that. Even if you have a “contact” button in your navigation bar, encourage your visitors to also connect with you in the text of your about page.
Some readers need that extra, personal invitation to feel comfortable enough to send you an email. Catch them while they are interested!
The Elements of a Head-turning Bio
Now that you know what traps to avoid when writing your online bio, let’s look at the flip side: my list of bio must-haves. The closer you can get to this, the brighter your online profile or about page will shine.
The best bios:
1. Speak to a defined audience.
Once, before the world was ‘nichified,’ before online bios—or online anything—existed, I had eight different résumés. I was a freelance writer and my skills and experience were all over the place, so I needed to separate them to appeal to my various audiences.
My husband and business partner Bob suspected that I had multiple personality disorder but, actually, what I had gotten very good at was crafting my résumés to target specific industries and markets.
If I wanted grant writing projects, I pulled out my fundraising résumé; if I was approaching school districts to write curriculum or asking teaching magazines for article assignments, I sent the education-focused one, and so on.
Your online bio should be constructed with that same kind of attention: with a focus on your blog or website’s goals and the audience you want to attract. If you do that, your bio will be an incredibly useful tool.
If you have a blog or website for your business, you should already have a pretty good idea of who you are developing your content for. Use that information when you craft your bio.
2. Tell a story.
Your stories are a part of you. They help us understand your personal journey—if that is important to who you are—and how you are uniquely qualified to help us. We remember a good story long after the telling is over.
In her bio, one of my former clients, a business coach, told a story on her about page of going from ‘broke, busted and disgusted’ to becoming an award-winning coach and internationally renowned speaker.
It was an important story because it showed that she gets what it means to be stuck, understands barriers to growth and knows how to get people on the road toward living a life filled with passion. And because she showed it with a personal story, it was much more powerful.
When I worked with another client, we decided to tell the story of how he changed careers—and why. The turning point for him was the day he realized that he was seeing too many adults in his counseling office who had been physically and sexually abused as children. He decided to figure out how to stop the abuse before more lives were ruined. So he launched an amazing program to teach parents and teachers how to talk to kids and empower them to get away from abusive situations.
This story showed not just what he was doing in his new business, but why. And it gave his website visitors a good sense of the passion he brings to his new work.
3. Keep it simple, but include options for readers who want to know more.
No one wants to slog through your degrees or hear your story from birth to now. If your training is important, you can sum that up in one sentence, or have another button readers can click on in your navigation bar for a more lengthy description.
My friend Therese Walsh, author and co-founder of the wildly popular Writer Unboxed blog, does a nice job of the simple-with-options concept. Her main bio is fairly concise but notice how, at the end, she offers more links, leaving the door open, so readers who are interested can learn more about her.
4. Tie in some relevant accomplishments.
Often people want to list in their bios everything they’ve done and all the degrees they’ve earned, in chronological order.
Don’t do this.
Focus instead on the things that increase our trust in you as someone who knows what you are talking about, who can also solve our problems. Look at it from a storytelling angle instead, and pick and choose relevant things to share.
For instance, the fact that you had a job selling shoes one summer in your junior year of college holds no interest for your reader. Unless you are now in the foot apparel business and you learned an incredibly important lesson that summer that makes you better at what you do today. If that’s the case, by all means, tell that story (which would probably fit best in your full-version bio).
Another example: I wrote an about page for a client’s social media marketing blog. At the time, he had a marketing consulting business. He also happened to be the founder and president of Social Media Club Seattle. That gives him huge amounts of added credibility in his blog niche. If he said he was president of the Harley Davidson Owners Club? Not so much. (Although he might sprinkle that in as one of his fun facts later.)
So skip the dull résumé. You want laser-focused information here. Make your accomplishments fit who you are serving and why you are doing what you do. You might not want to tell about your near-drowning experience. Unless, like that career counselor client of mine, it made you more passionate about living your life to the fullest and helping others find work they love.
5. Show your real self.
Have you ever gotten to know someone online and when you meet them at a conference, they seem like a completely different person? Your goal should be to match your online persona with your real self as closely as possible.
And if the bio on your website, the one on your blog and the one on Facebook sound like you are talking about three different people, you have a problem.
Make the online you consistent with the offline one. If it is done right, people who meet you in person for the first time will feel like they already know you just from reading your bio and interacting with you online.
Connect your profile with your brand. If you are playful, and your website and blog posts reflect that, so should your profile. Got a quirky sense of humor? Go for it.
One more thing: Your online content and the copy in your bio should not clash. Whether you are writing an article for a networking site, creating a new blog post or making a comment on Twitter, stay true to yourself.
6. Make your readers want to know more.
Leave your readers with a small taste—and an appetite for more. Make them curious about you. The only way to satisfy their need to know is by reading more of your content or contacting you to continue the conversation. Which brings me to the next point.
7. Make it easy for readers to connect.
Whether it’s a hyperlinked “email me” message in the text, a “find out more about me” with a link to a “Things I Believe” page, a formal contact form with check-off boxes for different inquiries, or a combination of these, the best about pages and online profiles have ways for visitors to engage with the blogger or biz owner.
8. Sprinkle in a few fun facts.
The memorable bio writers are not afraid to show us a little bit of their souls. They might share something they have done in their lives that makes them truly unique. Or maybe they are passionate about a cause or had a childhood ambition that is directly connected to their life’s work today, and they tell us about that.
Don’t be afraid to have a little fun with this—if it fits your personality.
9. Throw in some details, appeal to the senses and use ‘sticky’ words.
When we read a good story, our brains are hardwired to remember it. A ‘sticky’ story is one the reader can’t get out of her brain because she is left with a picture in her mind. Imagine the reader’s brain as Velcro. You want your words to stick, so she will remember them.
Research has shown that close to 60 percent of people are visual learners, that is, they respond better to printed text and images. It is how they process and recall information. Try including some image-rich (picture) words in your bio.
Let’s look at some ways to do that, through a couple of rewrites:
Original: “I am working on finishing my first book.”
Nothing much to picture there.
Rewrite: “I am in a race to the finish line with my first full-length memoir, The Bark Peeler’s Daughter.”
We can picture someone in a race. We remember the detail of the memoir, The Bark Peeler’s Daughter, better than a “book.”
Let’s try another one:
Original: “I love reading, feeding homeless animals and collecting antiques.”
Rewrite: “In my spare time, I love devouring 19th century novels, preparing gourmet meals for stray cats, and collecting snow globes.”
Reading is changed to classic novels, animals becomes stray cats and the hard-to-picture antiques are now snow globes,
Do you see how adding details and image-rich words will make your bio more interesting?
10. Let core values shine.
Good bios give us some sense of the person’s beliefs and values, how she sees the world. If you’ve ever read my blog, you probably know that humor is a core value of mine. I like to laugh at myself and I love to make other people laugh.
Recently, I got an email from a prospective client who was looking for a “funny copywriter.”
She found me through my bio.
Deciding on Tone, Style and Voice
When writing your bio, you have some important decisions to make. One of them is choosing your tone, writing style and voice.
Your voice matters
Let’s start with voice. Your point of view, or the vantage you write your bio from is is a key part of that. There is no right or wrong here. It’s a personal style choice, and one even the experts disagree on. Just keep in mind that there are differences.
Writing your bio in the first person
With first person, there are no barriers between you and your readers. It’s like you are sitting down with someone on the couch for a chat. An example of the first few sentences of a bio written in first person:
“You might be wondering what I’m about.
Well, I am happiest when I am writing. I blog to help people show up online in real and engaging ways. I like to show my readers how to make their blogs feel better. Be liked more. Be read more.
I like to show them how they can use social media to get their brand out there in the world.
I write to release my true stories in the hope that they will help my readers navigate life and live to tell about it.”
Consider using first person if you want to take a more friendly tone. On blogs, I tend to favor first person because, by their very nature, blogs are informal and conversational. First person also works well if you are a solopreneur and you are the business.
Some people avoid first person because they are uncomfortable talking about themselves and feel as if they are bragging. But if you write it in the right way, and you don’t take yourself too seriously, you’ll just be carrying on a conversation with your readers so they can get to know you better.
Writing your bio in third person
If first person is you sitting on a couch and having a personal chat with your readers, third person is more like someone else talking about you. This is where it can get tricky. Do you want to be the one talking or do you want the reader to feel like she is getting the information about you from someone else?
My friend John Haydon, an amazing social media consultant who helped nonprofits get their message out into the world, has done a good job of writing his bio in third person. Here is how it starts:
“John Haydon is one of the most sought-after digital marketing experts for nonprofits and charities. He has helped hundreds of nonprofits realize their best marketing and fundraising results:
- Helped Epic Change launch one of the very first fundraisers on Twitter.
- Helped Kamen Greater NYC increase their online fundraising by 30%.
- Helped the Ellie Fund win a national fundraising contest (%53,000 in 24 hours).
- Helped Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity raise over $215,000 during a #GiveMN event.
Speaker. Author. Coach.
John has spoken at the Nonprofit Technology Conference, New England Federation of Human Societies, New Media Expo, BBCan, Social Media 4 Nonprofits, AFP New Jersey, and various regional conferences throughout the United States and Canada.
John is the author of Facebook Marketing for Dummies and Facebook Marketing All-In-One (Wiley) and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, Social Media Examiner, Social Media Today, and npEngage.”
Now let’s unpack this bio. Third person works for John beautifully here because:
- He leads with two sentences that immediately nail who he is, what he does and who he does it for.
- He backs it up with specific, concrete accomplishments and measurable results.
- He uses a tagline (“Speaker. Author. Coach.”) to describe himself.
- His bio is fact-filled but still intimate and personal, unlike many of the third-person profiles on the web.
When third person works best
Are there any situations where a third person bio works best? It might be the preferred version to use if:
- you are in a profession that is traditionally more formal (think attorney or accountant)
- you are sending your bio to the press or business conference organizers
- you work at a bigger company and the site has profiles of several staff
- you are sending your bio to a recruiter
Smart people will disagree on whether bios should be written in first person or third. There is no right or wrong answer. It just depends on the kind of barriers you want to place between you and your reader.
If you are not sure, write your bio both ways and compare the two. You will usually be able to tell at a glance which one works best for you, which one feels right.
The decision is yours. Just know that you have a choice.
Let’s Get Started: A Step-by-Step for Writing Your Full-length Bio
Your full-length bio serves as your guide as you create your other versions. It is often used on the about page and in other places that fit for longer bio formats.
Before You Start
1. Your audience determines your purpose.
Let’s get straight on that first. Who are you hoping to connect with and for what purpose?
Write a short description, not of your typical client, but your ideal one, the one you want to attract. Be as specific as you can.
2. Decide on the right mix of business and personal.
There are at least two camps out there when it comes to this issue.
“Be professional,” says one. “You are a business.”
“Show your human side,” says the other. “People want to do business with real people.”
I happen to think you can do both without creating boring, I-have-X-years-of-experience bio or a profile that spews your deepest, most secret thoughts and makes your readers run for the hills. The key is finding the right mix. That ratio is determined by the kind of business you are in, who your customers are and how you have built your brand.
In my bios, I use the 80-20 rule: 80% business-focused and 20% personal. But I am a writer and I am looking for an emotional connection that will make my blog visitors purchase my books. Others have written great bios with a 90-10 ratio.
The one thing you don’t want to do is write a dry bio that leaves your visitors cold and feeling that there is no living, breathing person behind your business.
At first this may seem overwhelming because, obviously, there are many facets to the personal side of you. And some, you may even feel you shouldn’t—or don’t want to—share. In my example of the career training client, the bio questionnaire he sent back to me had the abbreviated story of his traumatic, near-death experience in an outdoor adventure setting. Normally, I’d think twice about including that in a bio.
But, through his emotional telling, it was clear that his passion for helping people find the work that lights them up came directly from this experience.
Because, as he said to me, “There are no do-overs in life.”
We kept it in.
Brainstorm a list of personal facts that make you unique and are very much a part of your personality. As you write, select the ones that match the blogger your reader has come to know. If it’s a website, choose the ones that allow us to see how your personal past shaped you and made you so good at what you are doing today. Keep this list handy as you put your bio together.
3. Identify the purpose of your blog or website.
This step may seem obvious, but it is frequently missing. If you don’t have an answer for this, your bio will be murky and your site will be confusing to your visitors. So get clear up front on your blog or website’s reason for being.
Write a one-sentence statement of the reason for your site—what you ultimately want your readers/visitors to do. Is it to purchase your books? To hire you as a speaker? Contract your consulting services? Or something else? Keep this because you will be using it later, as you write the rough draft of your bio.
4. Decide on first person or third.
If you end up selecting first person, you should probably also create a copy in third person for other uses.
Writing Your Bio
I have found the process below helpful. If you follow these seven steps with your first bio, you will find that retooling your bio for other uses will be much easier:
1. Write your first paragraph with care.
In copywriting, we call that lead sentence and paragraph the big idea. You open with this because it is your most important stuff, the reason your blog or website exists. Include only what is relevant. And how do you decide what is relevant?
Go back to your big idea.
You should have already defined this. It is your blog or website’s purpose. If your site’s purpose is to get speaking engagements, put your speaking experience front and center in your first paragraph. If you want to sell your books, lead with the work you have published or the book you are working on. What you start with is what your readers will remember most about you.
Make it count.
2. Brainstorm your relevant accomplishments.
Remember to focus on the ones that prepared you to serve your clients’ or customers’ needs in the best way possible. Don’t worry about which ones you will be using quite yet; just get as many down as you can for now. Don’t forget any relevant awards, peer recognition or media coverage you have received.
Keep this list for the writing stage.
3. Gather your personal facts.
These fun pieces should shine a light on your personality and relate in some way to the person you have become. Here are a few questions to start your thinking:
What did you want to do or be when you were eight years old?
What are the top three things you believe about people?
What do you love most about the business you are in?
What are your top three passions? (This thinking will lead you to the things you really care about and eventually to the stories you want to tell your customers.)
What’s the best compliment you ever got from a customer?
Where can you be found when you are not working on your business?
What’s the one thing you’ve done in your life that you are most proud of?
What is you favorite food/beverage?
Your favorite movie?
4. Consider creating a ‘descriptor bar.’
A descriptor bar is a fun, visual tool that allows your customers or clients to see at a glance, in very few words, what you are about. It is essentially a list of key words and phrases that describe you. Think of adjectives or nouns that get to the core of your likes, dislikes and passions.
Brainstorm your list of words. It may include hobbies, favorite foods, your perspective on life, favorite movie, what you are particularly good at, or something else. For some extra motivation, see a blog post I wrote, “Can You Name 99 Things You Love?” If you brainstorm as many as you can as quickly as you can, you will have a fine, honest list with which to work.
5. Write your rough draft.
Play with the pieces of information (accomplishments and personal facts) until you have the right mix. A length of 3-5 paragraphs works well and shorter is even better. Don’t obsess too much about the structure in the first draft. You can fix all the problems when you edit.
6. Edit at least three times.
First, for content:
In the publishing world, this is called a developmental edit. Look at these areas:
Order: Are you leading with your most important thing, your ‘big idea’? Are your paragraph transitions smooth? Move sentences and paragraphs around if needed.
Relevant accomplishments: Are they the right ones? Do they speak to your talents and the ways you can help your readers/potential customers?
Personal facts: Is your personality coming through or do you sound like a cardboard person? Are you sharing the right things?
Tone and voice: Does it sound like you? Would a friend be able to tell this is you without seeing your name?
Flow: Reading your draft aloud at this point will help you identify any spots that are awkward or cause you to stumble.
Edit your draft based on these factors. After this first edit, if it’s possible, hand your bio over to someone else for objective feedback.
But do not give it to your mother or your best friend. You are looking for an unbiased critique, with the big question being, “From reading this, do you understand who I am, what I do, and who I do it for?”
Next, edit for grammar and word usage:
Read it again, this time to identify problems with grammar or word usage. Editors call this copy editing.
Take a look at:
Grammar: Look for errors in tense, inconsistencies in subject and verb wrong use of words (“their” vs “there,” “its vs it’s,” etc.)
Sentence and paragraph length: Are sentences short and uncomplicated? Do new paragraphs introduce new ideas?
Jargon: Remove any terms or acronyms that are known in your field or industry but would be Greek to your readers.
Style: Have you fallen into the cliché trap? Have you used a longer word when a shorter word would do just as well? Are there any unnecessary words? Are you overusing exclamation marks, italics, bolds or capital letters?
Finally, edit for spelling and punctuation.
Now is the time to put on your proofreading hat. Professional proofreaders do way more than this, but for the purposes of your bio, you can focus on a couple of things:
Spelling: Go ahead and run spell check. But keep in mind that it won’t catch the words that are spelled correctly, but were the result of a typo on your part (for instance, if you meant to say “feel” but the word you typed was “fell.”) It’s good to run spell check first to catch the glaring errors (real misspellings) but do go back and read the bio yourself to identify the ones that got by spell check.
Punctuation: Look for improper punctuation marks, as well as places they should be and are not. Also, keep an eye out for things like missing (or improperly used) apostrophes and commas.
7. Don’t forget your “learn more” links.
If you have other good material that gives readers a fuller picture of you, include a link or two. Some readers will not want more, but others will be curious enough to follow the links.
After You Finish
Make sure all the links work.
Check that “contact me” link and be sure all the others—social networking connection buttons, etc.—take your readers where they should, too. There is nothing more frustrating than wanting to connect with you and finding that a link or button takes me to an error page.
I used to have problems with my contact forms. But now I use the premium plugin Gravity Forms, which never fails me.
The Gravity Forms plugin also allows you to personalize your contact page, with check-off boxes of your own making, so you can focus your readers’ comments and questions in one tidy place.
Determine which places your full-length bio should go.
Your blog’s about page? Your website? LinkedIn? Other places online? And keep it handy for those times when another blogger might want to interview you, or the press needs a clean, complete bio to go with a story.
Play with the content of your bio as you change and grow.
You aren’t going to be the same person you are today. None of us are.
Hey, next year you might climb Mt. Everest. Or write a book. Or become a goalie on a women’s indoor soccer team (which one of my clients did). You might join the hole-in-one club. Or master conversational French.
Profiles are easy to edit—much easier than writing the first one from scratch. Be sure to update yours regularly so when things change, your colleagues, customers and prospects can keep up with all the cool things you are doing.
Writing the Other Versions of Your Bio: How to Brand with Consistency
Think for a moment about all the places where you hang out online. Each probably has a slightly different flavor, tone and audience. The bio that works best for introducing yourself to new friends and followers on one platform will not necessarily be the right one for others.
Consider creating a few versions so you have the perfect one ready at a moment’s notice. Here are a few ideas:
This is the one you just created. It’s the one that might go on your blog or website. Writing it first allows you to pull some of the good information in it to use in your other versions. This full version is likely anywhere from two paragraphs to four or more.
This is the one where you tell your story as completely as possible.
Bio Box Version
This is the micro-version of your bio. It is helpful because, if you put it on your home page, your visitors instantly get a sense of who you are, even if they don’t make it to your about page.
With a little editing, this one will also work well for social media platforms, like Facebook and Google+. The bio box version usually includes your photo, too, so readers can connect a face to this interesting person they are reading about.
On my blog in the past, the bio box appears on the sidebar of every post. It tells new readers a little bit about me and my blog’s purpose. Here is what my bio box looks like:
Since Twitter is the micro-blogging platform, everything is shorter there, including the space you are allowed for your user profile. You don’t have much real estate to work with on this platform (160 characters in all, including letters and spaces), so use your words wisely,
Ask yourself: Exactly what do I do and who do I serve?
Also consider telling people what you will be tweeting about, if only just a couple of your topics. It helps people decide whether they want to follow you. Usually, they will want to know, “What is this person an expert in?” A link to your blog or website is helpful, too.
And again, think about your keywords. Your bio is searchable within Twitter and will also show up in search engine results, so be sure it says the right things.
More on how to construct an SEO-friendly Twitter bio shortly.
The One-Sentence Version
Similar to the bio-box version, but shorter and without the photo, the well-written one-sentence bio looks like it was ridiculously easy to create.
But don’t be fooled. The fewer words you have to work with, the more important it is to make every word count. If you pull it off, you have something that will intrigue people and make them curious to know more. In this way, it is similar to an exceptionally crafted tagline.
Think of the one-sentence bio as a modern, digital version of that networking relic, the elevator speech. It is helpful to write this one after you have created your full-length bio so you have something to work with as you start your thinking.
For the one-sentence bio, especially if you use your blog, website and social media platforms for marketing your business, it helps to answer three questions as you think this through.
Take a piece of paper and create three columns: one titled audience, one for benefits and the third for action. As you brainstorm words and phrases, keep in mind that you should aim for less formal, in a writing style that sounds like your voice. If it feels like you when you read it aloud, you have succeeded.
3 steps to creating your one-sentence bio
Column 1: Who do you serve?
This is your audience, the people you are trying to attract. Go for the specific rather than the general. For instance, “owners of small start-up businesses,” instead of “business owners.” (This, of course, means that you first have to have pinpointed your target market.)
Try defining your audience in a few different ways, so you have options to work with when you put your sentence together. Put the various descriptions of who you serve in your “audience” column.
Column 2: What is the major benefit you provide to your clients or customers?
Do you help them do something better, stronger, faster? Do you achieve other certain results for them? Again, be specific. If you provide many benefits to your customers, start by listing them all in your “benefits” column.
Later, you will decide on the most important one, the one that addresses their greatest pain point.
Column 3: How do you help them get that benefit or result?
This is the part where you say what you do to help your customers achieve their goal. Now there may be several things you do, but the one you choose should be the one that makes you different.
Make that third list, this time focusing on the things you do to get your customers to that result. Write them in your “action” column.
This part is really all about what you bring to the table.
Now experiment with these three pieces.
Your prototype is I help [audience] to [benefit] by [action]. Let’s take an example from my copywriter one-liner, which went something like this:
I help smart solopreneurs [audience] get more of their ideal clients [benefit] by designing engaging, action-focused marketing materials [action].
A realtor might say:
I help busy first-time home buyers with young families [audience] find homes that fit their budget and lifestyle [benefit] by doing the research for them upfront [action].
You get the idea. Like you would with a Chinese restaurant menu, play around a little, taking one from Column A, one from Column B and one from Column C.
Watch for the length and bulkiness factors and work with different mixes until you find the one that resonates with you. Try them out on friends, family and colleagues. Ask them, “Do you understand what I do from this?” and “Does this sound like me?”
After you have selected the one that best conveys who you are and who you serve, take another look at it with these questions in mind:
Have I used image-rich words?
Am I clear enough on my audience and benefit?
How does it sound when I read it aloud?
Does the passion for what I do shine through?
Am I comfortable talking about myself in this way?
Down the road, you may make changes to your one-sentence bio, depending on any new directions you take your business in. But for now, you have a place to start and something to work with.
An Extra Step: A Blogger’s Creed
If you want to take your bio to a new level, you can let your readers in even closer by sharing your core beliefs through a Blogger’s Creed.
When done right, a Blogger’s Creed can supplement the information in your bio with the stuff that makes you stand out even further and separates you from the gazillion other bloggers on the web. And if it includes something about respect and the importance of community, it will also provide guidelines for the kind of behavior you want to see on your blog.
Here is one example, BobWP’s Blogger’s Creed:
When you share the principles you live by, you are building trust with your readers and potential customers. You are also creating a more inclusive community because, by sharing your personal side, you show that you want your blog to be a welcoming place. And when your values come through,the right people—your ideal customers—will find you.
How to Optimize Your Bio for the Search Engines
It is always a fine line we walk between making our bios warm and friendly and ensuring that they rank well with the search engines. This is not meant to be the definitive guide to writing for the search engines. Instead, I will walk you through some brief, actionable ideas for ensuring that your bio is findable in search.
We will focus here on two of the most popular social networks, Facebook and Twitter, and look at how to optimize our bios for them.
A word about keywords
Suffice it to say that keywords are a critical piece of your bio—really any part of your website and blog. Having a keyword-focused bio helps you get found by the right people, the ones you want to work for (or with).
Earlier we went through the process of writing your bio: writing a brief description of your ideal client/customer, identifying the purpose or mission of your blog or website (what you do and who you serve.)
With your mission in hand, make a list of keywords you want to be found for when people are doing Google searches.
If you need help with this, or aren’t sure the keywords you selected are actually the ones people are using in their searches, there are some excellent resources out there that can walk you through it.
Optimizing Your Bio for Your Social Networks
Depending on the social platform, there may be other things to consider when tweaking your bio for each one. Here are some tips for two of the popular social networks:
Your profile on Facebook, whether you use your personal name or you have a business page, is fairly simple to optimize.
1. Page Title Tag – A title tag is SEO speak for the topic of an online document. In the case of Facebook, it is the name of your page. It may be your personal name or your business name. Search engines will pull in this name.
2. Page Meta Description – The meta description is, in SEO terms, the concise explanation that describes what you do. It appears in search right under the page name. On Facebook, you’ll find it in the ‘about’ field. This is the spot to describe yourself using some of your target keywords. But choose carefully because you have limited space.
3. Keyword-rich Posts – It goes without saying that, in addition to an optimized bio, you should use some of your target keywords in your Facebook posts, too. Just don’t overdo it. Try to make them a part of your content without hitting readers over the head with them.
If you are on Twitter, you might have underestimated its potential for improving your SEO results with your bio. But it’s just one more weapon in your arsenal, one more URL that you can get to rank for your name. Here is how to do that:
1. Optimize your title tag – The name you use in your Twitter bio will be your title tag.
2. Optimize your Twitter bio – Again, this is the meta description that Google uses in the search results. Google will display that after the title tag, so try to get the most important keywords in here. An example:
As you can see, this older version of Bob’s Google listing for Twitter starts with his full name, with his Twitter handle in parentheses. It is followed by a list of keywords that describe his key services. You shouldn’t stuff your bio with keywords, but try to get two or three of the most relevant ones for your industry in there.
3. Tweet high-quality content – You can support an optimized bio by sharing useful content related to helping other people.
4. Link to your Twitter profile – Don’t forget to drive people there every once in a while.
As I said, there is much more to SEO and I would encourage your to check out Yoast.com for a ton of resources.
Boosting the Visual Appeal and Reader-friendliness of Your Bio
The rules of good copywriting for the web apply equally to your online bio. At the minimum, it needs to be clean and easy to read. No one is going to plow through lines and lines of text, with no breaks and no end in sight.
You will increase the chance readers will stay on your bio page if you help them get through your content as easily and painlessly as possible. Try these ideas to soothe your visitors’ tired eyes and give them a smooth, fast read:
1. Be generous with your space breaks.
Avoid writing long, unbroken paragraphs of text. White space between lines of text gives your readers a chance to digest each point you make and helps tremendously with the flow.
2. Use bolded sub-heads to separate the important parts.
Web users are notorious for skimming and scanning. Make it easy for them to move from section to section.
You don’t always need sub-heads in your bio, but if it’s longer than a few paragraphs, it helps to break up and organize your content.
3. Indent your bullets.
Indenting your bulleted items breaks up the blockiness and makes your points stand out more.
4. Use emphasis sparingly.
Underlining, bolding and italicizing can drive a point home—if used occasionally and in just the right place. But line after line of italics or bold will do just the opposite, making you appear to be shouting and making it hard for the reader to tell exactly which are your important points.
5. Use ‘pull-quotes’ to draw attention to someone’s exact words.
This is a great way to show an in-their-own-words idea.
6. Pay special attention to your photo.
Your visitors are jumping from site, looking for a real person. You will connect with your readers on a deeper level if you include a photo of yourself on your bio page.
The photo you choose will either draw people into your bio or turn them away. It is critical to get this piece right because when the reader sees your face, she will get an all-important first impression. So choose an image that sends the right message.
A word on avatars
Your avatar is a graphical representation of you. It can be a real photo or an illustration, such as a cartoon portrait of you. On some social networking sites, such as Twitter, people use their business logos.
Unless you are in the Witness Protection Program, you should have your own, unique online avatar.
Dump the generic. You have seen them before. Perhaps you even have one yourself. They are those little icons, usually silly little blank faces, that everyone who hasn’t created their own avatar gets.
Having a generic avatar means that you are leaving it to someone else to define who you are. Consider trading it for one that connects with people in a more personal way.
Now there are obviously exceptions (domestic abuse situations, fear of a stalker, for example). But if you are marketing yourself online in some way, we need to see who you are, so we can trust you—so we can build a relationship with you.
So we know you are not a spammer.
A gravatar, which stands for Globally Recognized Avatar, is simply the same photo that follows you from site to site across the Internet. It is connected to your name and email and gives you consistency—on your own blog, when you talk on Twitter of Facebook, and when you comment on other blogs.
For the sake of branding, most people make their bio page photo match the one in their gravatar.
When you register for your gravatar, they will ask you for your email address. So whenever you comment on someone else’s blog, it will pull in your gravatar. That is how people get their photos to appear alongside their comments.
Deciding on a bio photo.
Remember: your photo is part of your online brand. It should give your readers a sense of who you are.
You have certain personality traits that are unique to you. Think about how other people perceive you—your friends, your colleagues—and how you might describe yourself in just one or two words.
Once, when I was a part of a teaching team in a program for gifted students, we were sitting in a planning session when my colleague Jayce said, “Okay, here’s a question. What do you think should be inscribed on your tombstone?”
(We were a strange group and our conversations could turn sideways in an instant.)
We went around the table. Each teacher before me had something dry or witty or clever to say. When it was my turn, I paused. I was still weighing the questions and all the possible answers, searching for just the right one.
Finally I said, “I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.”
The room erupted in laughter.
“What?” I said.
“That’s perfect!” Jayce said. “That is exactly what should go on your tombstone. ‘I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.’”
They had me pegged. I like to ponder things before I make a decision. I try to turn things over, look at a situation from every angle. And I am highly uncomfortable replying off the top of my head.
I am a thinker.
You might have noticed that my about page photo and social media avatars strike a pondering pose. It feels right for me.
Give some thought to your brand and how you come across to other people (as well as how you want to be perceived). Think about your biggest asset, your most positive, truest personality trait. Try to portray that in your bio photo and online avatar.
And think twice about doing these things in your bio photo:
Conveying negative emotions
I once made the decision not to follow someone on Twitter based on his avatar. In it, he was yelling and shaking his fist at the camera. I didn’t know if he actually had anger management issues or he was just doing it for dramatic effect.
I didn’t want to stick around to find out.
Keep in mind that your face and body language will send certain messages to would-be social media followers and blog subscribers. Be sure it is the message that you intend to send.
Other examples might be crossed arms or finger pointing at the camera in a scolding kind of way. On the other hand, if you are aiming at attract an audience that loves confrontation, this may be the pose you consciously choose.
Using crazy colors or tints in your photo
Colors evoke emotions. You might love that green tint in your face, but you might look nauseated to someone else. A purple face can make a person look angry.
If you aren’t sure, you probably should stay away from it.
Taking a potentially divisive stand
It’s okay to promote specific political candidates or take a stand on issues (placing a banner across your avatar, for example), as long as you understand that it might alienate certain followers, depending on their beliefs.
There are some causes we all agree with (fighting breast cancer, for example) and then there are statements we make that may turn people away. I unfollowed someone on Twitter once, not because of anything he said in his tweets. It was just because I couldn’t bear to look at his avatar on a daily basis. It was a picture of him in hunting gear with a rifle, smiling, sitting next to a dead deer that was propped up against a tree.
Now, granted not everyone is a vegetarian and animal lover like me. And I am sure, if I could have gotten past that photo, I probably would have discovered a smart, talented guy. But I couldn’t look at that photo every day in my Twitter stream.
How to choose a photo for your bio
There are many ways to do this. I prefer to use a real photo in my bio. Some experts say that a professional headshot is the only way to go. In a perfect world, everyone would have the resources to hire a portrait photographer. But since the selfie craze has swept the online universe, people are becoming more used to seeing informal photos—especially on the web, because we can post them in lower resolution and they don’t lose much—if any— of their quality.
I used Photo Booth for the Mac, a software and video application, for my online bio pic. It has a single window with a larger viewer that provides a preview when taking the snapshots. Thumbnails of saved photos show along the bottom of the window. When you click the button, you get a three-second countdown so you have time to arrange your next pose.
I snapped 40+ photos of myself and kept narrowing the choices down until I found just the right one.
Whether you use Photo Booth, your smartphone or something else, I suggest that you play around with different poses that speak to who you are. Lay them all out and start eliminating. You will eventually be left with the one that best conveys the essence of you.
7. Consider a “descriptor bar.”
A descriptor bar is just a series of words or phrases that best describe who you are and what you are about. A few of our blog and website clients have created their own descriptor bars on their bio pages.
On our bios, Bob and I created a design at the top of the bio page, with vertical lines separating the words, which are in different colors.
The purpose is to give people a sense of who we are at a mere glance. This is fun to create and it has an additional function: it makes you think more because you must choose, from all the words in the English language, the specific ones that provide a quick snapshot of you. Here is the descriptor bar for myself:
To get started, brainstorm a list of words or short phrases that best describe you. Don’t think too hard on this one because the first things that come to mind are usually the most authentic. Think about how you might incorporate these words in your website or blog bio, perhaps right above your photo.
Saying the right things in your bio is critical to getting the results you want in clients and sales. Feel free to use this guide to start your thinking.