Mar 31 2010

Six Strategies for Creating Conversational Copy

Your copy’s main goal is to convert. It won’t convert (or it won’t convert as well) unless it engages the visitor. And you won’t engage visitors with dry, boring, corporate-sounding copy. You’ll engage visitors with copy that’s reminiscent of the conversations they’re having in real life and in real time on Twitter and Facebook (whether it’s with your brand or another brand). In other words, the copy needs to be conversational.

What is conversational copy?

Conversational copy puts people at ease. Picture a group of friends hanging around the kitchen table and chatting over coffee, or hanging out at the bar and laughing over drinks. It’s punchy. It’s clear. It makes a point. But it’s not hung up on sounding like your seventh grade English teacher.

The thing you need to remember, however, is this: your audience will drive the conversational tone. For example, I’d describe my boyfriend in a different way to my college girlfriends than I would to my aunts and uncles over Christmas dinner. Even though the content is the same and I’d be “conversational” in both instances, the conversations themselves would look and sound different because of the audiences.

So how do you strike the right conversational tone for your audience? Here are six strategies:

1. Step back and listen to how real people are talking about your product(s). The way people talk about cowboy boots is different from the way people talk about Jimmy Choos. So how do you listen to people having conversations? Conduct Twitter searches on keyword phrases that describe your product. If you re-sell a particular brand, do searches on the brand name. Finally, listen in on the conversations your competitors are having with customers by checking out their fan pages, blogs, websites, and Twitter feeds. How do people (i.e. customers) express their love, their likes, their dislikes? Keep a running sheet of jargon and terms that your audience uses. Doing this exercise will test your assumptions. For example, if you’re carrying a line of cowboy boots, you shouldn’t simply assume throwing in a “yee-haw” here and there in your copy is what you need to sound conversational.

2. Read what your prospects and customers read. Selling a line of doggie beds and cat beds? Check out blogs and magazines that cater to the hardcore pet lover audience. Again, note phrases and the tone.

3. Go to where your customers and prospects hang out in real life. Selling a line of casual wear that’s geared to the 25- to 35-year-old set that likes to hang out in bars? Go sit at a bar and eavesdrop on conversations and observe the people who wear the clothes you’re selling (this is especially important for eCommerce since you don’t have the advantage of interacting face-to-face with your customer base in a brick-and-mortar shop). Selling handcrafted jewelry? Go attend a crafts fair and watch, listen, and learn.

4. Use a tape recorder. Conversational writing isn’t easy. But conversational talking is. Grab some sort of recording device and say what you think the copy should convey for the home page, the main product pages, the about pages, etc. Listen back and transcribe your words. You’ll see that you’re developing a rhythm, a tone. Once you get this rhythm in your head, this conversational style, you can go back and make sure your keywords are covered. (Note: you won’t need to do this for every page, which is a good thing if you have a deep site with hundreds of products. Doing it for a few pages is enough to “train” your brain to think in conversational terms.)

5. Be mindful of the “rules,” but don’t hesitate to break them, if it makes sense. While you should use proper spelling and punctuation, you don’t need to necessarily follow all those other rules (e.g. “Don’t start a sentence with and or but” or “Don’t end a sentence with a preposition”), if it adversely affects your conversational tone.

6. Keep it consistently conversational. The best eCommerce sites are the ones that maintain the conversational tone on every page, including each and every product description, privacy notices, terms of use, and even 404 error pages. The conversational tone should spill over to content sections on social media sites, like Facebook.

Who does a great job with conversational copy for their audiences?
Here are some of my top picks off the top of my head:

Blue Acorn

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