Conversational Copy 101: A Beginner’s Guide

Last week, I wrote about how conversational copy is a power tool in creating trust, differentiating your business, and taking advantage of The Cool Factor.

Well, that’s cool, but how do I actually DO that?

It’s simple, really: write the way you talk.

Okay, well, not EXACTLY the way you talk, because you don’t need verbal pauses, and grammar is important (to an extent… that’s another post for later). But natural speech has a flow that is familiar to us. It’s simple. It makes sense. It’s user-friendly. It works.

Think about tax forms. Taxes can get complicated (especially if you’re a business owner!), and if you try to do them yourself it can be overwhelming because the instructions are a million pages long, use jargon most of us don’t fully understand, and just LOOK complicated. And even if you’re getting professional help, it’s still confusing.

You don’t want your website to be a mini-version of tax season.

Here are some tips on writing with a more conversational voice.

1. Use simple words that even someone with no prior experience can understand.

Maybe you’ve heard about how newspaper articles are written for a particular grade level so that most people can understand the information. Websites should work the same. Long, complicated explanations make our eyes glaze over. It’s the reason you probably never read the user guide for your smartphone or all the rules for correctly using a laundry machine. (Seriously… find the instruction manual for your laundry machine. You’ll be shocked at how much you’re doing wrong.)

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Sometimes jargon is unavoidable, but find ways to define those words up front so that they make sense when you use them later.

2. Vary your sentence lengths.

When we talk, we do this naturally, but when we write, it’s easy to fall into extremes. That paragraph above about tax forms is three sentences. The first sentence is four words. The second is forty-two. The third is ten.  (Yes, I counted them by hand.)

Websites that use ALL short copy seem choppy, shallow, and disjointed. Websites that use ALL long copy seem overly complicated, boring, and uninteresting.

3. Use active voice to sell your expertise.

“You’ll have your wedding photographs edited by a professional.”

vs.

“I have over ten years of editing experience, so you can expect a finished product that looks like it came right out of Brides Magazine.”

If you can’t see the vast difference in these two examples or why one is lightyears better than the other, sign up for my web copy review services right now. That is all.

4. Make “Call to Action” your middle name.

Think about the last time you had a meal with a friend. At the end of the outing, did you just say, “Ok, well…bye” and then walk in the other direction. I’d bet money that you didn’t. Most likely, you maybe hugged your friend, thanked them for making the time to meet you (GRATITUDE IS ALSO IMPORTANT!), and then said something like, “This was fun, let’s do it again soon. Call me later and let me know when you can get coffee next week.” You put the ball in their court and asked them to follow up. You should be doing that on your website, too.

Giving them something to do encourages reciprocation. That’s how conversation works.

5. Use bold, italics, and all caps to fill the gaps in meaning that text often causes.

You know all about “text speak,” right?  Someone messages you and it’s hard to infer meaning because text messaging is so bare-bones. You text a friend you haven’t seen in a week (work was so busy!) and ask how they’re doing.

I’m fine.

Well, crap. Are they really fine? Are they upset? Have you offended them somehow? Is this the end of your friendship?

Don’t let text speak cause vagueness about your business’s message.

Look through any of my blog posts and you’ll see that I am a fan of text formatting. When it comes to conversational copy, all of these tools can help clarify your meaning, your emphasis, and even subtext. Here’s an example using italics:

“She said she likes the color of that car.”

“She said she likes the color of that car.”

“She said she likes the color of that car.”

Did you read them differently in your head? I hope so because they’re not the same at all.

The first sentence is a simple statement of fact. She likes it. The end. The second sentence might imply that while she likes the color,  she would maybe prefer a different color. It might also be an emphasized reply to someone else who has mistakenly assumed she doesn’t like the color at all. (Context, people! It’s important!) The third one implies that the ONLY thing she likes about the car is the color.

BONUS: Speak and Spell

Do you remember that 80’s toy that taught you how to spell by speaking a word that you’d then type into the console? Am I giving away my age right now?

Anyway, you need to do that.

 

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You.

 

Every time I sit down to write something, be it in an email, copy for a client or even this blog, I am literally mumbling the words I’m typing in real time to make sure it sounds like something I’d actually say. What you’re reading right now is basically me, with a little bit of editing.


Of course, hiring a professional to polish your words is never a bad idea. If you’re someone who tends to ramble or get off on tangents, or if you have a hard time focusing your message to encourage sales, it’s smart to have someone who can take all of your ideas, organize them and polish them into gems. Good copy starts with tone and voice, but GREAT copy needs someone who’s trained in the art of persuasion… and it really is an art.

If you’re struggling with your copy, reach out to someone who fits with your vision. That person can make your voice ring (like the sound of a cash register).

Lauren

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2 thoughts on “Conversational Copy 101: A Beginner’s Guide

    1. Lauren Patton says:

      Thanks so much! I’d be interested in hearing about your workshop. That sounds like something I’d love to be a part of somehow!

      Like

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