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Writing for Conversions, Part 2 of 3 - Tone

Thursday, October 16, 2008 10/16/2008 04:18:00 PM

This is the second post in a three-part series on writing for conversions by Tim Ash, author of Landing Page Optimization. Tim is an industry expert in website optimization and his company, SiteTuners, is one of our Authorized Consultants.
The reality for most Internet surfers is that they're subjected to a barrage of promotional messages and advertising. As a basic defense mechanism, they've learned to tune out most hype.

Perhaps you do have to be somewhat crass to get them to your landing page. For whatever reason, they have ended up there. But you should now stop screaming at your visitors. You're no longer (for the moment) competing for their attention with other websites. So you need to 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 are probably not true anyway, but even if they are you can 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 on your landing page it spells disaster. 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. 

How to Avoid Writing in “Marketese” 
  • Don't use adjectives. 
  • Provide only objective information.
  • Focus on the needs of your audience. 
Save your visitors the aggravation and tell them only what they want to hear. Your editorial tone should have the following attributes:
Writing factually will take a little work. 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 is. Remember, your visitor is not looking to be entertained, and certainly not to be marketed to. They're there to deal with a specific need or problem. The best kind of information you can give them is objective.
Task-oriented writing is focused 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. When you've thought about how to guide the right people (roles) through the right activities (tasks) in the correct order (AIDA) with your landing page, it should be clear where the gaps are.
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. Avoid puns, metaphors, and 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 click 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, link text is used by search engines to help people find information.

If you use good link text, you'll be helping your own 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 the “Order Now” label when you really mean “Proceed to Checkout.” This vagueness causes unnecessary stress and anxiety for visitors as they try to figure out the threat or opportunity your button presents. It's always best to remove the hesitation and assure them that taking the next step is a small and safe action.
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, which I'll describe next week.

We'll conclude this series next week with Part 3 - Format. See last week's post for ways to improve your writing structure.