In part one of “Writing Sales Copy for Conversions,” I covered the structure of effective writing. Today, I’ll focus on the other key elements: tone and style.
Most Internet surfers are constantly subjected to a barrage of promotional messages and advertising. As a basic defense mechanism, they tune out most hype. Perhaps you have to be somewhat crass to get them to your landing page.
Once visitors end up on your landing page, stop screaming at them. You’re no longer competing for their attention with other Web sites, so change the focus to the task they’re trying to accomplish.
Your visitors detest marketese. Unfortunately, your landing page was probably written in this kind of over-the-top promotional style. It usually involves a lot of boasting and unsubstantiated claims.
If your company is the “world’s leading provider” of something, you’re in good company. A recent search on Google turned up 8.58 million matching results for this phrase. Your claims probably aren’t true anyway — but even if they are, use different language to make your point.
Marketese may be (barely) acceptable in your press releases when you’re trying to puff up your company and accomplishments. But it spells disaster on your landing page.
Marketese requires work on the part of your visitor. It saps their energy and attention, and forces them to spend time separating the content from the fluff. It also results in much longer word counts. You’re missing an enormous opportunity by not creating a hype-free zone on your landing page.
Here are three ways to avoid writing in marketese:
- Don’t use any adjectives.
- Provide only objective information.
- Focus on the needs of your audience.
Save your visitors the aggravation and only tell them what they want to hear. Your editorial tone should have the following attributes:
- Factual: It’s difficult to stop making subjective statements. You may catch yourself lapsing into marketese at unexpected moments. But stick with it. You’ll be amazed at how much more effective your writing will be. Remember, your visitor isn’t looking to be entertained, and certainly not to be marketed to. They’re trying to deal with a specific need or problem. The best kind of information you can give them is objective.
- Task-oriented: Focus on the roles, tasks, and AIDA steps that are required to move your visitors through the conversion action. You should organize your text in the order that the visitor is likely to need it. For example, a big-ticket consumer product site might lay out the following high-level steps for the buying process: research, compare, customize, purchase. Once you’ve built the matrix for your landing page, it should be clear where the gaps are.
- Precise: It’s critical to be clear in Web writing. The audience can be very diverse and bring a variety of cultural backgrounds to their interpretation of your language. Be careful about your exact choice of words. Never try to be funny or clever. Don’t use puns, metaphors, or colloquial expressions. This is doubly true for link text or button text. Your visitors need to have a clear understanding of exactly what will happen when they take the action of clicking on something. Text links should describe the content on the target page. Unhelpful link labels such as “click here” are a wasted opportunity to focus the visitor’s awareness on an important available option. Also, search engines use link text to help people find information. Using good link text will help your cause. Buttons should accurately describe the intended action. For example, many e-commerce sites mistakenly put “Buy It Now!” buttons next to products when the actual action is “Add to cart.” Another common mistake is to use the label “Order Now” when you really mean “Proceed to Checkout.” This causes unnecessary stress and anxiety for visitors as they try to figure out the threat or opportunity presented by your button. It’s always best to remove the hesitation and assure them that taking the next step is a small and safe action.
- Concise: Become a word miser. Ask yourself, “How can I make this even shorter? Do I really need to communicate this at all?” Brevity has several advantages. It increases absorption and recall of information. It shortens the time that visitors spend reading it — minimizing the likelihood of increased frustration and impatience. It supports the goals of inverted pyramid writing, and the scannable text requirements described in the next section.
People don’t read the Web, so the format of your writing should support their opportunistic scanning behavior. Use the following guidelines to help you write scannable text:
- Write in fragments or short sentences (don’t worry about grammatical correctness as long as your writing is clear).
- Use digits instead of words to write out numbers (e.g. “47” instead of “forty seven”)
- Highlight important information-carrying words (don’t highlight whole sentences; stick to two- or three-word phrases).
- Use clear, emphasized titles for page headings and important subheads.
- Use ordinary language (avoid industry jargon and acronyms that aren’t widely understood).
- Use active voice, and action verbs.
- Use bullet lists instead of paragraphs.
- Keep lists between three and seven items (the limit of human short-term memory “chunking”).
- Don’t use more than two levels for lists or headings.
- Use descriptive link text (describing the information on the target page).
- Use supporting links to maintain present supplemental information and “see also” cross-referenced information.
If you review your Web site or landing pages with a critical eye and faithfully implement the recommendations above, I can guarantee that you’ll make a better and more persuasive connection with your visitors. This in turn should make your cash register ring more often.