Writing for the web - Part 1: Tone of voice

Part 1: Tone of voice

Writing for the web may look easy, but there are many factors to consider if you want to do it well. So much so, I've had to divide it into two parts!

In this post, I'd like to cover the more creative element of how to talk to your reader. No doubt you have already got an idea in your head of who they are, but do you know how to talk to them? I have put together some advice to help you finesse your content and identify any areas of improvement.

Be more direct

When writing web copy, always make sure you are using an active voice. It sounds more direct and encourages the reader to be involved in what you are talking about.

An example of an active voice is:
We generously donate a percentage of money to charity.

An example of a passive voice is:
A percentage of money is generously donated by us to charity.

You can see the first sentence gets straight to the point and uses fewer words.

Keep paragraphs short

As more people are accessing the internet on their phones, scrolling is now second nature. To keep web copy easy to follow, you should keep paragraphs short to break up the text and make it easier for the reader to scan for information.

Don’t over complicate things

Keep your sentences simple! Get to the point and your readers will thank you for it.

An example of overly complicated copy:

Ben was on his way back home and decided to pick up some delicious treats for his family.

Short and to the point:

Ben brought home some delicious treats for the family.

The second sentence is less waffle but still tells you all you need to know.

Use language that is right for your reader

You already know who you want to target, now how do you resonate with them? What are they into? Lifestyle choice, rather than age and demographic, plays a big part in how we communicate with each other.

Bear in mind it also has to be true to you, as well as your company's culture and values. If you try and be something you're not, it will show. Let your personality shine in how you write. The chances are your reader is into what you are into, that is why they are on your website.

When writing for the web, consider the following:  Who is your ideal reader? (Think on a more human level, not just age, income, demographic).  If they were a friend, what would your conversational style be like? (Forward? Reserved? Tongue-in-cheek?)  What is their personality like? (Understand the type of language they would use and what appeals to them).

When writing for the web, consider the following:

Who is your ideal reader? (Think on a more human level, not just age, income, demographic).

If they were a friend, what would your conversational style be like? (Forward? Reserved? Tongue-in-cheek?)

What is their personality like? (Understand the type of language they would use and what appeals to them).

Grammar and spelling

You will lose the respect of your reader if there are bad grammar and spelling mistakes on your website. Always double check your work before publishing, or get someone else to do it for you.
There are a number of free tools to do the job. I like Grammarly.com for its ease of use. You can upgrade to access more tools, but the free version is ideal for standard editing.

Give the reader what they want, and quickly

People are more clued up when it comes to searching for what they need, so creating a connection with them is more likely to keep users on your website, rather than the hard sell. Chances are they are ready to make a purchase, so you need to make sure they can easily find all the information they need. Take out any unnecessary fluffy talk where it’s not needed. Try to bullet-point key information. Make titles clear and provide easy instructions for your customer to follow the end-to-end process. If you divert your customer from their path, then you risk losing their focus and they may go elsewhere.

Simplify for a younger reading age

We have shorter attention spans when browsing the web, and tend to scan copy. It’s important to keep your copy simple and easy to follow.

Think of your target reader and aim to write slightly more simplified copy without compromising your brand values.

Take into account a number of syllables used, the length of sentences, the complexity of vocabulary. If you want your copy to appeal to the masses, aim for a lower reading age to ensure it’s shareable.

And finally...

Be exciting!

The website is very much a visual medium, so why not create the same effect with copy? Try to use more attention grabbing words that evoke emotion or paints a visual picture for the reader. It'll make your copy more memorable.

An example of bland copy:
Our sales growth were significant in the first year

An example of exciting copy:
Our sales were astronomical in our first year!

See the difference? The first version sounds like a dry finance report, and I'm already yawning before the rest of the text follows. The latter wants to share the excitement with you and you can feel the buzz from it!

It's the little details that will transform your copy from blah to ooh la la!

I hope this has helped clear up some of the mystery behind writing clear and concise copy for the web. The best advice I can give is to write as naturally as you can as if you were explaining to a friend. Don't overthink it! Then go back and edit your copy from there.

Happy writing! x

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