{{ searchResult.published_at | date:'d MMMM yyyy' }}

Loading ...
Loading ...

Enter a search term such as “mobile analytics” or browse our content using the filters above.

No_results

That’s not only a poor Scrabble score but we also couldn’t find any results matching “”.
Check your spelling or try broadening your search.

Logo_distressed

Sorry about this, there is a problem with our search at the moment.
Please try again later.

Words are the most important tool marketers and ad men have. To prove it, I’ll show you a picture.

The chart beneath the Bee Gees shows that 60% of people prefer a ‘print experience’ to something ‘whizzy’, on a tablet app.

Obviously, 'print-like' doesn't just mean words, it also refers to typography and, to some extent, pictures. However, in this post I'll be focusing on copywriting, on an achingly small scale.

I'll be highlighting titbits of copy that are done well, in keeping with a company's brand, and make a web experience enjoyable, as well as some that aren't so good.

In the spirit of new media, I’m calling this ‘micro-copy’. And, to the dismay of the A/B testers, I’ll posit that some of my examples are qualitatively ‘better’ than others.

Taken from The New Statesman, originally in The Atlantic

Stealing a phrase from Econsultancy CEO Ashley Friedlein, I see these snatches of copywriting and the little experiences they are part of as important ‘door clunks of online that reinforce a brand in a thousand small but very important ways’.

Topshop: refreshing ‘tired’ email newsletter signups

The email newsletter sign-up field is a great place to find micro-copy. Marketers place inordinate value on the customer email address (too much perhaps?), and signing up to a newsletter can often feel, to the customer, a little like a one-way street. ‘Here’s my data, I’m not sure what you're going to send me by return’.

If you’re not going to town by offering actual discounts to customers signing up to an email newsletter, a là H&M below, then you have to get the copy right here.

--------------------------------

Below is an example of a bog-standard email newsletter sign-up field from FCUK. Nothing doing.

 

ASOS’s attempt, below, is slightly better. The good part is the productising of the newsletter itself, as ‘style news’. However, they’ve missed a trick here by not capitalising ‘style news’, failing to reinforce the legitimacy of the newsletter.

Making the newsletter into a product is a good way of thinking, and we do the same at Econsultancy with our Daily Pulse.

 

Topman does things slightly better.

‘SIGN UP TO STYLEMAIL:’. Capitalised, productised, a strong call to action.

But Topshop takes the biscuit and the plaudits here. It combines a call to action, a perceived benefit and a sense of urgency, with the sublimely simple ‘KEEP UP TO DATE:’.

The customer is savvy enough to know that filling in this field with their email address will mean they receive Topshop’s email newsletter. There’s almost a compliment implicit here: ‘We know you’re cutting a dash already; stay ahead by keeping up with what’s new in at Topshop’.

Next does very well, too, with a little more exposition to suit its audience. 

Lots of clothes retailers have made the most of highlighting the newsletter sign-up.

These are all the minutiae of a web experience, but I’m trying to put forward my world (wide web) view of the almost imperceptible changes that can make a homepage feel coherent. 

Google Flourishes

Ashley Friedlein, coining the ‘door clunks’ of online, was referring to one of Google’s alert messages, below, as a good example of one of these clunks.

Ashley picked out the copywriting, the simplicity and the light box effect as contributors to a nice customer experience.

Here’s another I picked up when using Google apps:

At the time, I tweeted a snapshot of this and wrote that I was surprised by the use of the word ‘folks’ instead of something more prosaic, like ‘users’. Although this quirky copy may seem a little ‘maverick’, Google is, after all, based in California and does have the brand image that allows for this lighter tone.

The advantage of taking this kind of tone, is that those ‘thousand door clunks’ become easier to knit together (excuse the mixed metaphors) across a site by using this unifying style of copy.

Anecdotally, I can point to the way I use Gmail at Econsultancy, to sum up why a consistent tone of voice and style is advantageous.

We used Outlook a few years ago, when its search function wasn’t as prominent or ‘classy’ as that of Gmail’s. Some people were reluctant to change email client, but the discovery of Gmail’s superior search functionality helped many to make the switch.

This is because, with a lot of users, words stick in the mind, and with Gmail I do very little filing and ‘foldering’ of emails, as I know I’ll remember all sorts of left-of-centre words used within messages.

Similarly, Google’s maverick copywriting offers the user little reminders of whose house they’re in (metaphorically). 

Microsoft Cheese Pics

Not copy, but an example of the danger that pictures bring. Pictures aren’t kernels of ideas in the same way copy is; pictures are more easily misinterpreted or unsuited to a particular audience or culture. 

Here, Microsoft uses apples and tonic water (with a twist), and some sort of idealised mother and daughter email scenario to try to get me to sign up for Hotmail (as an ‘80s child, I already have) and upgrade to Windows 8.

These pictures are visual musak and I include them here to highlight how easy it is to get it wrong with stock photographs, when a bit of micro-copy may just do the job better.

Here’s another of some skiers.

Microsoft and the limp product names

Microsoft has come under fire for a perceived lack of leadership over the branding of Microsoft RT, the operating system for its Surface tablet, which looks a lot like Windows 8, but isn’t.

A great post by Michael Horowitz points out that RT doesn’t really stand for anything (it actually stands for run time) and something like ‘4T’ (for tablets) would have worked better.

Furthermore, why call it ‘Windows’? It doesn’t have much in common with previous Windows products, so something like ‘Surface OS’ might have been more of a leap of imagination that would help more prospective iPads buyers to consider the Microsoft Surface as something new and exciting.

This might sound like a branding issue, but branding is effectively ‘high stakes micro-copywriting’ (again, comments below if you have an issue with me creating jargon). 

LinkedIn and the lame profile status

I can understand LinkedIn wanting to incentivise users to fill out their profiles, and showing us how complete our profiles are is probably a good thing, but calling me an ‘All-Star’ is a little sickly. 

I don’t need praise for filling out my profile, as it’s a self-motivating activity. A simple percentage would work better here. I can see how something a little more emotive may work for scanty profiles e.g. ‘minimal’.

This example shows how copy for copy’s sake isn’t a good idea either.

Lambast me

I may take some flack for highlighting almost imperceptible bits of customer experience, and it may be that changing some of the words described above has no effect on conversion rate, customer confidence or brand sentiment.

But, I think a wider point remains. Look at any really successful website or brand and it can only be that their copywriting is beyond reproach. Improving these tiny experiences improves pages, I'm sure.

Ben Davis

Published 7 January, 2013 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

839 more posts from this author

Comments (33)

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Avatar-blank-50x50

Nancy Prendergast

Ben, I really like this post on something I never thing about but will from now on. It's a shame how 'lame' -- or is it risk averse? - thatMicrosoft continues to be, especially given all of the resources those folks have. Thanks.

over 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

Yes, I think copywriting is one of those things that didn't matter very much a couple of years ago, as user experience and site architecture was more pressing.

As websites start to improve and the general standard is slicker, the copy starts to become more important and the cherry maybe starts to look more like a potato (that doesn't make sense, but I'd like it to mean that a nice-to-have becomes staple).

Cheers for commenting

over 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Nick Stamoulis

Sometimes those little changes are all you need to tip the scales in your favor and give your company a little more personality and help you connect with your target audience. And the words you choose help support your brand image. I'd bet someone at Google actively decided "folks" was a lot better than "users."

over 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Mark Alan Effinger

Very insightful, Ben.

This is when drilling-down on a "nano issue" within the context of presentation and languaging makes all kinds of sense.

The Microsoft thing has always felt very generic. Definitely Design By Committee (let's not offend anyone, so we'll make it as inoffensive as they come). Just bad, by any measure.

And I wholeheartedly agree with you in regards to productising the newsletter. What an exceptional way to generate more Brand Love with your audience.

Going through your archive now. I suspect you've got a few more tidbits I've missed over the years.

over 3 years ago

Peter Bell

Peter Bell, Managing Director at Fuse Lead Marketing

Great article Ben. Default wording is not going to entice anyone to sign-up these days. As you say it's an on-brand message combined with a perceived benefit that does the trick. It would be great to see some A/B split testing on stuff like this if anyone has any info.

over 3 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

Great post. Micro-copy is hugely under-rated. It's a great opportunity to inject some personality and warmth into the user experience.

Trying to hard can take you over the line into 'cute' but every web or mobile site has dozens of places to inject a bit of wit.

There's an excellent Microcopy pool on flickr for fellow students of the art:

http://www.flickr.com/groups/microcopy/

over 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Peter

Cheers. Yes, I'm gonna talk to our teams here and perhaps see if I can dig out some A/B stuff for some of our sign-ups.

I guess some of the difficulty is in accounting for other variables. Can one always *prove* one bit of copy is better than another? Well, perhaps, but being on-brand, as you mention, is certainly a softer metric.

@Doug

Cheers and thanks for the link. As you say, one for the assayers of mood (which is how I think of good copywriters).

over 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Peter

You lost me when you said you'd signed up to Hotmail - it made the rest of your advice untrustworthy.

I'm reminded of the Stones Satisfaction "He can't be a man if he doesn't smoke the same cigarettes as me".

This visual cue of "are they like me - do I trust them?" is what Microsoft is trying and failing to achieve with their cheesy happy family picture.

90% of communication is non-verbal and body language is the most trusted as well as the most spoken. Matching image with words is the key to micro-copywriting.

over 3 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Ben,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

All forms of copy, both long and short, play a vital role in influencing and persuading online visitors. And copy should work in-tune with imagery.

Copy should convey the personality and values of the website, which need to be related to the audience that is being targeted. As you point out, LinkedIn using phrases like "All Star" can come across a little patronising to an audience that includes senior decision makers.

I think RedBull does it well - look at the website and you'll see a link in the top nav for "Just epic" - perfectly targeted to a sports lifestyle audience. And the headline copy works well too.

Microcopy has less characters in which to convey meaning and project brand value. But the copy has to have meaning - words thrown together that then aren't delivered on becoming meaningless and aren't trusted. The challenge is to be relevant, concise & succinct, and some brands nail it.

Straplines are a good example. I ran past the local Mace newsagents last night, which has the strapline "anytime, anything". Well at midnight on a Sunday i can't get a chicken donner, it's closed and doesn't sell kebabs! Awful micro copy. On the other hand, Zappos uses the strapline "Powered by Service" and lives up to it through its service delivery. The strapline therefore has meaning.

Just to be a pedant for a moment, in the Topshop example the whole sentence is capitalised, so that reduces the impact of capitalising the "Stylemail" word.

Thanks
james

over 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Peter-2

Haha, my Hotmail is for spam and for love letters (often one and the same).

Yes, think I was being disingenuous in down-playing the impact of images. I think it's stock images that are the main problem.

over 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@James

Wonderful examples, thanks for posting.

Careful eating kebabs too soon after your run :-)

over 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Tom Hacon

Good article. I think some people forget that regardless of what business you are in at the end of the day it is still a person reading website and email copy, not a machine.

over 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Niall Davison

Great post Ben!

The first part about e-newsletter sign-up invites is particularly enlightening and true... why would anyone sign-up without knowing what's in it for them? And it doesn't have to be something concrete like a discount offer - just something that turns on the users (or 'folks') you want to attract. And of course, you have to deliver what you promise... or the 'folks' will soon start hitting 'unsubscribe'!

over 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Tom @Niall

Thanks and I agree.

over 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Kieran Daly, Founder at Stone Circle Digital

My reluctance to put my email address into any box has grown increasingly over the past years but I agree with your article that if it is presented well enough you find your self typing it in and hitting Go Baby (as opposed to Send - what ever happened to Send?) before you know it.

Often it isn't even the 'offer' it is the presentation, the sense of love it generates for someone clicking. Off now to make my Linkedin profile an All-Star one.

Thanks for the article Ben.

over 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Liz Jones

Brilliant piece. Real food for thought that was still totally accessible to non-techies. Thanks.

over 3 years ago

Kristian Bannister

Kristian Bannister, Creative Marketing Executive at No Pork Pies

Nice post. More and more I've been working with sites on improving the user experience at a granular level.

Microcopy is a good example of how a seemingly small differences can completely alter user psychology.

To be honest I think all the retailer examples you included are lacking. Like you identified 'KEEP UP TO DATE' is probably the best of a bad bunch.

If anything I think Topshop could have refined the message to better fit their target audience. "Keep up to date" could easily be applied to any sort of email sign-up across a number of industries. Instead they had a good opportunity to be more targeted and relevant to their audience. Perhaps something like "Stay On Trend" or "Be the first to know" might work better for a youthful fashion brand like Topshop.

over 3 years ago

Paula Barclay

Paula Barclay, Head of Digital Production at The Walker Agency

A good post with some nice examples. Online copy writing is a fine art – it needs to be aligned with the brand character whilst being effective in communicating a message and (in most cases) prompting an action. The good news is that it’s now relatively easy to track, test, measure and optimise – something that every content manager should be doing.

over 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Liz

thanks!

@Kristian

thanks. yes, with all these things there's no accounting for taste. Personally (and hope I don't sound too defiant) I think 'stay on trend' is a bit self-aware and 'be the first to know' is a bit salesy, but I'll have to put my money where my mouth is & find someone who can A/B test these, or see if I can find a case study already out there. :)

@caroline

cheers!

over 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Mark

Missed your comment. Thanks! 'Design by committee', you're bang on.

over 3 years ago

Rob Mansfield

Rob Mansfield, Head of Content at Age UK

I'm with you on this one, Ben. Some great examples and here's one I spotted at Christmas.

When trying to log into Twitter on my Android phone via the browser, I mistyped my password:

On the try again screen, Twitter adds this gem:
'Typing on your phone stinks, we know! Double check your username and password and try again'

Cheers
Rob :)

over 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Rob

Nice! Glad they didn't accuse you of having fat fingers :-)

over 3 years ago

Kristian Bannister

Kristian Bannister, Creative Marketing Executive at No Pork Pies

@Ben I'd agree that A/B testing is the best way to go, as I doubt either of us are part of Topshop's key audience... I can only speak for myself though! ;)

I guess my point was that even with microcopy you need to make sure you write for your audience.

There's no excuse for retailers not to be testing their marketing message for microcopy, mainly because it's so easy to set up these days.

Also I checked a couple of the retailer examples to see what happened after I tried to sign-up. A lot of them give the illusion that you would be able to sign-up by hitting submit, but instead you get redirected to a sign-up page.

That's great if you use it to then gather more information (e.g. customer name - great for personalised mail shots). However Next don't even bother to ask for that, surely a missed opportunity. Anyways that's getting off topic now!

over 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Kristian

Couldn't agree more. You wanna write the follow-up post on sign-up pages, be my guest :-)

over 3 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Ben,

Check out Dollarshaveclub.com for a great example of matching copy to brand personality, both in the micro copy and the wider copy on the site.

http://www.dollarshaveclub.com

And for a laugh, watch the video - genius.

Cheers
James

over 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@James

Yep, watched the vid a while back, but haven't been on the site for a while. The 'Enlightened Customer #123' section is very nice indeed.

I have a crap beard at the moment, so will doubtless need some blades soon.

over 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Luke

Newsletter signups triggers relevant user visits after every disclosure. This is a good way to ping other about your updates.

over 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Peterborough Design

We actually did some A/B testing on newsletter sign up copy a couple of years back for a client. Can't find the stats right now, but for this particular client (fashion industry) we found the best to be "Be the first to know" in bold letters with smaller text below similar to your example of Next.

Things obviously could have changed since then and this would vary from indistry to industry, but it was a pretty cool test nonetheless.

over 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@PeterboroughDesign

Thanks for the insight! Very interesting.

over 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Rob Usain

"In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God." Words are as powerful as that verse if we use them effectively. Your tips are great!

over 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Andrew Kelly

Sometimes it really helps to use slang. Using "folks" in that Google message is a really good example. Although folks is not really slang, but still, like you said, the conventional word is users. For the local businesses, using local slang in messages and ads really helps in grabbing the attention and getting the message across.

over 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Florence Young, Director of Marketing at Pearson France

Very good post, thank you. I'm off to check the microcopy group on Flickr and then our own newsletter sign up copy! Once received a cool example of microcopy from a member of staff at Google, instead of the usual "out of office" it said "Slow to respond".

over 3 years ago

Kris Hunt

Kris Hunt, Digital & CRM Manager at Capital & Regional

More and more examples of these more friendly styles of writing appearing, shame the flikr group doesn't seem to be active any more as I'm sure they'd be plenty of other examples that it would be good to see. Would be great to see a a new version of this post too.

A nice example in the usually boring email sign-up text at the bottom of this site: www.netchalets.com

Many others I tend to screen grab and save as always forget where I see them!

over 1 year ago

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Daily_pulse_signup_wide

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Daily Pulse newsletter. Each weekday, you ll receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.