What’s more likely to grab your attention? A formal business speech, or an animated friend telling you a story?
Well it's the friend, obviously. Because they’ll be talking conversationally and throwing in a question now and then.
Actually, the same principal applies to business writing. We pay more attention to stuff that's written in a conversational tone because it wakes us up, tricks our brains into thinking we’re directly involved.
Now let's be honest, most business websites come across like an overly ambitious middle manager showing off his corporate-speak to the MD. This is because writing in a conversational style is tricky. It needs honing, structuring and extremely careful editing.
So how do you give your website conversational sparkle?
Ditch the corporate drivel
Corporate, formal language makes you sound dull. It’s lame, unreadable and it turns off your reader faster than you can say “business solutions”.
Corporate drivel is everywhere, but how can you tell if your website is full of it? There are 3 giveaways:
Let’s start with the long and winding sentence. It’s not always a bad thing.
“Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy's Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day's work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city's reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle empty.” (PG Wodehouse – Jill the Reckless)
Beautiful, isn’t it?
But long sentences are hard to pull off. And besides, your website reader's in a hurry. Her attention is constantly being distracted by work, TV, mobile phones and shiny stuff. Stick to fewer than 20 words per sentence and you’re less likely to lose her. If in doubt, stop when you get to the words “because”, “and” or “but”. And start a new sentence.
Vary your sentence lengths. We do this in conversation without thinking so try and chuck in a few one-worders now and again. Ask a question. They allow time to breathe and give your text a natural, flowing quality that’s easy to read.
Good tip. It works.
Avoid the third person
If you’re wondering who the third person is and why you should avoid him, check your website for these two tell-tales:
Think about it. Who’s reading your website? It’s your potential new customer or client, right? If you write about “our customers” you’re holding them at arm’s length, turning your reader into an anonymous face in the crowd.
They won’t like that.
Visualise your ideal customer. OK, you’re not selling your product to just one person. But whoever closely resembles your ideal customer should feel that you’re having a conversation with them. Just them, no one else.
Using the word “you” immediately makes your content vivid. It’s personal and powerful. It creates a direct connection with the one thing we’re most interested in. Ourselves.
Use simple words
There are 1,025,109 words in the English language* and speaking as a person who loves words, this is a delightful thing. I can use exactly the right word to pinpoint, with surgical precision, exactly what I want to say.
But do you know what? No one’s interested in my large vocabulary – at least, not when it comes to web copywriting.
Basically, use short simple words. If you utilise use a proliferation lots of long complicated words, you’ll lose your reader. They’ll be discomfited confused.
So, to sum up:
*A rather specific “estimate” from the Global Language Monitor on January 1, 2014. No doubt there’ll be a few more by now.