How you write your web copy is often forgotten in the flurry of discussion about architecture, design, functionality and SEO, so it’s important to stop and think about your copy’s ‘tone of voice’.
The tone of your copy gives your website personality. It provides your site with a distinct character that can persuade your customers and differentiate you from your competitors.
Choosing your copy tone
To choose a tone, first try thinking about the particular feeling or mood you want to create and the impression you want to leave with your reader.
I find a good starting point is to write a list of words that best describes the company, such as:
Once I’ve narrowed my list down to about five words, I check that they don’t conflict. For example, it’s pretty difficult to be ‘serious’ and ‘chatty’, without sounding odd.
First or third person
First person (‘I am a freelance copywriter’) is friendly and obviously works well if your business is just you, an individual, rather than big team of people.
You’ll find it can get a little awkward writing about yourself in the third person and your tone can come across as a touch pompous.
Third person (‘Kate Toon offers excellent SEO copywriting services’) sounds more official and serious. It’s a good idea if your competitors have similar names and you’re trying to push your business name as a keyword for SEO purposes. Always use ‘we’ rather than ‘it’ when using your company name; for example, ‘VoulezVouloz offers French tuition in Sydney and we have amazing tutors’.
Choose whether you want your copy to be active or passive; for example:
Passive: “Your details have been updated by our data team”.
Active: “Our data team have updated your details”.
Active: “Our customer service team will contact you, via email or telephone, within one business day’”
Passive: “You will be contacted, via email or telephone, by our customer service team, within one business day”
Passive has its uses, but if you’re aiming to persuade, motivate and sound current, nothing beats the active voice.
Whatever tone you choose, be sure to use it throughout your website and across other communications. This consistent brand experience will reinforce your customers’ impression of your business. Obviously, some pages (such as Terms and Conditions) have to be written in a certain way to be legally compliant but every other page, even the copy on the lowly contact form, should be recognisable as your brand.
Not just body copy
Don’t think that your chosen tone applies just to the body copy on your page. Everything counts, from the navigation, headers and sub headers to the links. All help create an impression of your brand, so make sure they’re all in the right tone.
If you’re going for chatty and friendly, it’s best to contract words like ‘you are’ into ‘you’re’, ‘it is’ to ‘it’s’ , ‘we will’ to ‘we’ll’ – you get the idea. This contraction makes your tone more conversational.
Shorter is sweeter
Which do you prefer?
‘If you would like to obtain more information about our the products and services offered by VoulezVouloz, please don’t hesitate to contact us.’
‘If you’d like to know more about VoulezVouloz, please give us a call.’
Even if you’re trying hard to sound like a serious player, avoid being pompous. Aim for succinct sentences that make your business sound efficient and fresh.
Keeping it real
If there’s a word that you wouldn’t feel comfortable using in a business meeting with a potential client, then don’t use it in your copy. You may think that lots of long, complex words make you sound intelligent and knowledgeable, but they may just make you sound self-important. Writing in plain English has more authority and shows you’re confident with nothing to hide.
Don’t try too hard
Even if your brand is aimed at the youth market, don’t attempt to make your copy sound too ‘hip’ or ‘cool’. ‘Trendy’ copy can be the written equivalent of your Dad dancing at your sixteenth birthday party; it’s just embarrassing.
Blowing your own trumpet
Nobody likes a show-off, so be careful that copy about your company’s skills and achievements doesn’t appear overly confident. Keep bold statements about your brilliance to a minimum. Being quietly confident is far more appealing than arrogance.
We’re so EXCITING!!!!!
Be aware that using capitals is the copy equivalent of shouting. If you must emphasise a point, use bold. (This is great for SEO as well.) Refrain from using excessive exclamation marks in your copy; rather than expressing excitement. you can just come off like a giggly teenager.
In conclusion: Using a consistent, clear copy ‘voice’ throughout your communications can seem a low priority but if you get the tone wrong you could be undermining all the time and money invested in the design and functionality of your site. Get the tone right and you’ll be giving your customers a true and positive impression of your business.
Photo from AF-Photography.
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