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How to Write in the Right Tone for Your Online Business

I’m a web developer by profession, but a writer by passion. Consequently, there’s a little piece of me that is secretly pleased when a client sends through some website content that needs some…“revising”. Recently, while I was shuffling around some words for a client, I got to thinking about Tone. It’s tricky to define, and even harder to recognise – especially in your own work.

Of course, I turned to my old friend Merriam-Webster:

Tone (təʊn/)

  1. a modulation of the voice expressing a particular feeling or mood
  2. the general character or attitude of a place, piece of writing, situation, etc.

If we’re talking specifically about digital communication, I’d add a few more elements into the mix too. Your “voice” doesn’t just come across in your words and phrases anymore, but in everything that surrounds them. For instance:

  • Imagery
    A picture says a thousand words, after all. Are your related images relevant? Professional? Artsy or down-to-earth? Generic??
  • Context
    Is your webpage / blog post / Facebook status “salesy”? Is every other webpage / blog post / Facebook status you write, as well? That’s a question of Tone.
  • Technicalities
    Is your website user-friendly? Is it modern, conforming to contemporary design trends and usability concerns? Design and layout contributes at least as much to the tone of your site as the words on it.

But, What Tone Should *I* Use?

Good question! But the thing is: it depends on your business. It depends on your audience, and the kind of relationship you want with them. Are you selling big-ticket products to high-rollers, or cultivating long-term relationships with tradies?

It depends on you as a person, too. Are you particularly formal and precise? Or a salt-of-the-earth type? If you were going to write a long, detailed technical spec, would it flow like a river? Or would it be like getting blood from a stone?

The secret is that there’s no Perfect Tone for Websites™, but there is a Perfect Tone for You – and you probably use it already! Have a think about how you relate to your customers away from the website – in person, over the phone, even over email. Does your manner at the counter (or the front desk, or the office, etc.) consistently get you business? Then that’s your “sweet spot”. That’s the tone you want online, too.

Policing Your Tone

Once you’ve decided on a tone, you need to stick with it. Wear it like a pair of glasses, then go through everything you produce to see if it fits. Anything that doesn’t gets chucked or tweaked. Be a ruthless editor. Be like the smart people on social media – before you click that “Post” button, think for a second: how will it influence the reader? how will it impact the reader’s impression of my business?

There are a host of great resources online, too. Here are three that I’ve used a tonne:

  • The Customer Focus Calculator helps you measure the “WeWe” factor – whether your site is full of “we are” this and “we pride ourselves on” that. No matter the business, your website shouldn’t just be about you – it should be about what you can do for them.
  • Grammarly is a free online grammar checker that plugs right into your browser. It catches spelling and grammar errors, and serves as a real-time thesaurus for those hard-to-reach words.
  • The Hemingway Editor will get you writing like Hemingway himself (scotch and cigars sold separately). It will rank your writing on readability and encourage you to use the short, clear and crisp sentences that made Hemingway such a pleasure to read.

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Get Writing!

It might take some time to get into the swing of things – and it does take some work to make sure that you’re writing consistently – but it’s worth it. Your website is an extension of your business (except when it’s your whole business!), and it’s important that it reflects the experience that your client will get from you.

And when it really comes to it, there’s nothing worse than a beautifully-designed, carefully-crafted website full of terribly-written text. And as much as I may enjoy writing your content for you, I should probably get back to building websites.

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Nathan Dorey
Nathan Dorey
Nathan has been involved in nearly every aspect of web development for 12 years – from scoping to design, and coding to copywriting. He oversees Technology Matters' Association Suite, bringing together a range of services catered to professional associations.

1 Comment

  1. Ekavat says:

    Some more tips to write excellent content:

    Make your content valuable and relevant
    Write for your audience
    Keep your content concise
    Utilize images to compliment your copy
    Stay on topic
    Format your text for the web
    Check and recheck for grammar and spelling errors
    Use the inverted pyramid method
    Write assertively

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