Just recently I was asked to improve some copy for the Oblong Design Collective web site which is in the process of being re-designed by one of their volunteers. Although in name the organisation sounds a bit like a chocolate bar crossed with a cybernetic race from the future, in reality they’re a charitable organisation providing a valuable design resource for their local community and other charities. I won’t dwell too much on explaining what they do – that’s sort of the point of this article…
Their graphic designer had lifted the existing (‘old’) copy from their current web site and transplanted it into the new design proofs (fair enough – he needed something to work with). The trouble is that this old copy was a bit lifeless, unclear at times and not particularly engaging: completely at odds with the brief for the new web site.
The brief for the new web site is to send out a clear message of what the design collective do, solicit more leads for work and encourage new volunteers to take part. Here’s a run down of how I helped improve the copy to align with that brief.
(Disclaimer: I’m informed the designer had to type in my new copy word-by-word rather than cut and paste, so any typos are embedded in these proofs through no fault of my own.)
Arguably the most important pages in a web site are its landing pages and here’s their big daddy: the home page. This should answer some key questions as quickly as possible, but the existing old copy didn’t quite cut the mustard.
- Mixture of passive/active voice (“the design collective” versus “we”)
- Landing copy doesn’t answer all three main questions efficiently: ‘who are you, what do you do and why should I do business with you’
- Language referring to funding sounds ‘optional’ and pleading
Here’s how I improved the copy by addressing the three most important questions quickly:
- Consistent voice/tone, removing ambiguity from copy
- All three questions answered more efficiently with inclusion of a ‘why’ playing to strengths of the design collective (“create … help … vast experience”)
- Funding and donations made more explicit (more on this shortly)
Now that we’ve got our reader’s attention we need to convince them that what’s on offer is worthwhile and turn this into a lead. The old copy made an attempt at this, but in a roundabout manner.
- ‘Train of thought’ text makes for an unclear process
- Woolly terms (“generally … normally”) should be avoided when defining an explicit process
- Passive tone refers to mysterious ‘clients’, rather than ‘you’ the reader
- Services list is relegated to a side bar, a less important part of the page
- Crucial information (“It is important …”) is lost in the body of text
Here’s how I improved the copy, guiding the reader through the process and giving a call to action:
- Engaging heading as bait added to draw readers in
- List of services moved to a more prominent position at the head of the page
- Process described more clearly in enumerated steps
- Attention is drawn to crucial information: terms of business are now more explicit
- Closing call to action (“Are you ready?”) indicates what to do next
The third objective of the web site is to encourage new volunteers to join the design collective, but all the advantages were lost in dull paragraphs of the old copy.
- Reasons for joining aren’t clear
- Text is in structureless continuous paragraphs
- Vital information is lost in a jungle of sentences
I improved things by concentrating on benefits (roughly two-thirds of the copy), making an overwhelming case for the reader to get involved.
- Soft and practical benefits are enumerated and highlighted (“support … tips and tricks”)
- Copy given structure and broken up with lists
- Positive language used along with a call to action (“Do you want …”)
- Important information separated out as a ‘next step’
There are of course many ways to skin a cat, by which I mean similar ways to re-write the same copy, but the underlying goal I’ve set out to achieve is to make the copy consistent, understandable and above all a bit more engaging. I think things are looking up for the design collective’s new web site and I look forward to it going live.