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Use Language That Engages Your Online Audience

To attract both search engines and visitors to your Web site, you have to write in a way that appeals to your visitors. Use an appropriate tone and choose your words wisely to show that you relate to your audience.

The writing for your Web site should

  • Engage your target audience with an appropriate style and tone. For example, the conversational tone used here wouldn't be appropriate in a scholarly journal. A site targeting teens might rely more heavily on modern slang than a site targeting baby boomers.

  • Lead visitors to the goal you have for each Web page.

  • Meet the visitor’s need with relevant content as directly and quickly as possible.

You want to write engaging text that’s appropriate for your target audience and meets your site goals. As a general rule, effective Web site copy should be dynamic in the sense of being (as the Encarta dictionary defines it) “vigorous and purposeful, full of energy, enthusiasm and a sense of purpose.” Each of your Web pages should have a goal that matches the perceived visitor’s goal, which may be to gather information, clarify a question, sign up for something, make a purchase, or something else. The text on each page should engage readers and lead them to fulfill the goal.

The tone of a written piece can make or break it. Tone refers to the writer’s attitude toward the subject matter and toward the reader. Tone creates an emotional response in readers. The wrong tone can turn off an audience within the first sentence or two.

Your writing tone should support your site goal and be appropriate for your target audience. For example, if you're a heavy metal band promoter, you wouldn’t want to greet your visitors with rainbows and ponies, and a jaunty message like, “You’ve arrived! Mr. Ponypants wants you to have a super fun day!" The bouncy, enthusiastic tone is all wrong for the target audience and would probably have visitors heading straight for their Back button. There's nothing wrong with heavy metal or ponies, but typically fans of each aren't found in the same company. Instead, you’d want the tone to come across as rebellious and rowdy, meeting your target audience in the same spirit they're showing. Only then would you be able to achieve your site’s conversion goal, which is to engage people and interest them in becoming clients.

Look at your current Web site and ask yourself how you feel when you read it, but don't just stop there. Read it out loud to yourself or someone else to see if it flows nicely to the ear. This is usually an enlightening experience. Ask someone you know to read it with fresh eyes to give you this feedback. Ask them to tell you what attitude comes through the writing. How does it make them feel: happy, lighthearted, positive, hopeful, enlightened, or wanting more? Or does it make them feel uncomfortable, belittled, creepy, angry, annoyed, or frustrated?

Think about what response you would want your target audience to have when they read your Web site. The emotional response your tone evokes in your readers can make them want to stay or run away, so choose it carefully.

After you know who your target audience is, you can adjust your Web site and tailor the content style to be appropriate for them.

Listen to your customers. The words they use to talk about your industry and your products and services could be very different from how you describe the same things. Jargon that may be commonplace in your offices won't necessarily be familiar to your potential clients. You want to incorporate their words into your Web site. Not only does this ensure that people understand what they’re reading on your site, but it also adds keywords that people search for when they to try to find you.

You also must listen to the way in which your customers talk: not just the words they're using, but how they're using them. If your target audience is children, you don’t want your Web site to read like a dry academic text, or you’ll just bore them. If your target audience is medical researchers, your Web site can be written in a more academic style with longer words and sentences. You want to make visitors feel that they’ve come to the right place. You can do this when you support relevant content with a style and tone that feel natural and appropriate. So use a style that reaches your target audience and feels natural for the content.

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