Day 19: Elementary school english > your copy

Richard Branson, Virgin’s founder once said:

“To me, business isn’t about wearing suits or pleasing stockholders. It’s about being true to yourself, your ideas, and focusing on the essentials.”

When we think about copy, the equivalent of wearing suits is when businesses use jargon and fancy words, with the sole purpose of sounding experienced, established and/or authoritative.

Let’s clear this up now before we go any further: flowery language kills your conversions.

Most people mistakenly believe that good copywriting involves the use of fancy words to create credibility and authority, mainly because everyone else in their niche is doing it. But, it doesn’t – great copy is all about conversational and emotional writing.

People buy on emotional impulses. Ever found yourself desperately wanting something that you don’t really need? I bet you would have paid someone to give you a good excuse to get it. And there’s nothing that taps into this powerful state more than copy that sounds like one of your friends is talking to you.

This doesn’t mean you can just blurt out anything that comes to mind and stamp it on your site.
Customer research is your friend here and talking to your customers (and non-buyers or ex-customers) is how you collect a stock of good conversational copy.

That said, there’s a few simple guidelines you should keep in mind when jotting down your messages. Some of these might seem grammatically incorrect, but that’s the point. Nobody uses perfect grammar when talking to their friends:

  1. Address your reader with “you”. The more you can do this, the better.
  2. You CAN use contractions (it’s instead of it is, we’ve instead of we have etc.)
  3. Active voice is more dynamic and effective in making the point (i.e. passive “Life becomes easier using our product” vs the active “Your life gets easier when you use our product”)
  4. Instead of spelling out your company’s name, just say “we”. Don’t talk about yourself in the third person.
  5. Keep it simple. You wouldn’t say “utilize” in real life, but “use.” Replace “amongst” and “whilst” with “among” and “while.” And on and on with other examples like: ensure -> make sure, finalize -> finish, facilitate -> help with, place -> put, regarding -> about, leverage or maximize -> make the most of etc. Always ask, how would I say it when speaking to a friend? Most of the time as long as you’re not using slang, you’ll be fine.
  6. Steer clear from defining yourself as [anything]-driven. You wouldn’t do that to your friend.
  7. You can start sentences with “And”, “So” and “But”.
  8. Keep sentences short and vary paragraph length 3,4 line paragraphs with 1 or 2 line ones. This is visually more appealing and easier on the eyes.
  9. Remember the rule of one and stick to one concept for each sentence and no more.

Let’s look at some examples, one pretty bad and one doing a very good job at conversational copy.

First the bad. We’ve highlighted what’s wrong in red:

Do you understand any of it? Honestly sometimes it just looks like they wanted to stack fancy words on top of other fancy words for the sake of it. Keep in mind that this is Cloud management software, a highly technical and fairly complex topic. But check this out:

Suddenly everything is so much clearer and more compelling, isn’t it? That’s the power of good conversational copy. And as you’ve seen, you can use it in any field (to varying degrees of course), no matter the complexity.

Being able to use conversational copy becomes even more important when it comes to your value proposition, because remember, users might ditch your site after just a few seconds if they don’t understand it.

And to keep with the theme of simplicity, today’s homework is simple.

Look through your copy and make it more simple 🙂

That’s all for this lesson.

Bonus: if you want a great primer that digs deeper on this subject, check out the book “May I Have Your Attention, Please? Your Guide to Business Writing That Charms, Captivates and Converts” by Mish Slade.