February 11, 2010 in Copywriting For The Web, Misc

Copywriting for the web: Tailor Your Tone


0072James Bond – now that’s a guy with a great tailor. Unfortunately, we don’t all look as good in a tux as Britain’s number one secret agent. But in the same way Bond fits into his suit like bread in a toaster, web copy must be honed to fit the reader.

Tone is integral to this process.

Before putting pen to paper, or finger to keypad, once again consider your audience!

Whatever you’re selling, whatever angle you’re promoting, it’s crucial to imbue it with a voice and personality that speaks direct to the reader.

Doing so can prove a technical challenge. The copywriter is faced with a barrage of tools equally capable of excavating or burying the emotional selling point of the product.

Like a good golfer, pick the right club.

It’s no good strapping a tag-line to face cream proclaiming ‘it does what it says on the tin’. This is unlikely to appeal to the intended audience and who would want to spread Ron Seal on their face? Not me.

Active versus passive

In exposing the emotional selling point of your product, decide whether to use an ‘active’ or ‘passive’ voice. When it comes to web copy there is no fixed rule on this but generally the ‘active’ voice imbues text with more immediacy and pace.

And given that people rarely read web pages word for word, why not try adopting an informal and personal manner as well?

An informal feel can easily be derived from first person usage of words such as ‘I’, whereas the third person, ‘he’ or ’she’, as well as the ‘passive’ voice, conveys a more formal feel.

Of course, this may suit your project. But either way, just make sure the shoe fits the foot. I call this the Cinderella Complex – no really, I do.

Tonal tinkering

Once you’ve settled on an ‘active’ or ‘passive’ voice, there are a number of other key elements you may want to consider.

Ask yourself this: is slang appropriate? Many sayings are geographically and culturally specific, so make sure your message isn’t lost in translation.

Also decide whether your copy is jargon heavy.

Consider for a second that clichéd moment in so many movies where a bemused president calls on his chief scientist to repeat his prediction of the world’s end “in plain English”. The scientist proceeds to translate the scientific equation into language the audience understands: “Mr President, all hell is about to break loose!”

So don’t overwhelm the reader with jargon and technical terms, distill your message down to its most basic elements.

Humour is also a tricky one. Numerous television adverts, for instance, embrace broad humour in a bid to grab the viewers’ attention. But in the case of web copy it can be hard to make a joke jump off a one-dimensional computer screen.

Humour, of course, is subjective: what one person finds funny will leave others scratching their heads.

Done properly though, it can help spice up your copy and sound a unique voice the reader won’t forget. But as we said at the beginning, let the subject and audience dictate the tone of your copy, this way success is a matter of keystrokes away.

And just remember, people scan webpages, picking out individual words and sentences, so make each one COUNT!


About Anthony

Anthony Brewitt is Design Bit, has been for years - he's an experienced WordPress Designer, and Muggle-born Marketing Philosopher. Let’s talk about your website; your marketing, blog design, and that cool new mobile web thingy. Contact Anthony

3 Responses to Copywriting for the web: Tailor Your Tone

  1. Love the Cinderella Complex; pick the shoe that fits the foot.

  2. Generally with the type of websites I build, I don’t think humour would fit the tone of these sites as it steps away from the professionalism. But I definitely would agree that where appropriate humour adds a lot to what could potential be quite dull copy.

  3. I agree totally. Like web design, how you approach your writing depends greatly on the expected target. It never hurts to by funny but you need to be appropriate for the target. Sophisticated and reserved light tones for corporate and silly and comical for less mature topics. One thing is certain, establishing a personal connection can be highly effective communication and that originates in the ability to present the opportunity for readers to relate.

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