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Why digital copywriting is like stand-up comedy: 3 tips for e-commerce content with better usability

Posted by March 4, 2013
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My dad loves to spin a yarn. In his mind, the longer the joke, the better. Every extra detail, to him, is relevant, interesting and essential to the story. My mum, on the other hand, hates it. There’s a particular joke about an ex-serviceman who lives on Bayswater Road that she’s cited as grounds for divorce if he ever brings up again. On its last telling, it lasted 42 minutes.

My mum likes quick jokes – one-liners, fast puns and snappy observations. She’s not interested in the back story, she’s not invested in the characters. She wants to have a quick giggle and move on.

Now, where my parents disagree over humour is where a lot of people fall down with their e-commerce content – whether that’s migrating copy from offline brochures, using content marketing to engage customers, or just plain-old getting more people to buy more stuff.

Here are 3 copywriting tips to help make sure you kill it with your audience every time.

Do you know where you’re going with this?

When they’re online, your customers are task-focused, promiscuous scan-readers with no attention span. They will only stop and invest time in your content if they can see where it’ll take them and what they’ll get out of it

So, tip 1 – make sure you understand what you want your audience to do once they’ve read your content. If anything on your site doesn’t help steer them towards that outcome, change it or cut it.

A comedian friend of mine always used to say that the key to a good set was to only give the audience what they would need to get the joke. So your product copy needs to be benefit-led, giving your customers what they need to choose you over your competitors.

Don’t give customers irrelevant blog posts or self-indulgent pages about the history of your company. Neither should you make important information hard to find.

When’s the punchline coming?

If a joke’s set-up is long and complicated, anyone coming in half-way through doesn’t stand a chance of getting the punchline.

So when you’re writing copy to help customers choose you over your competitors, you can’t assume they’ll understand enough about your business to really get why they should choose you. Make sure you don’t slip in jargon words that make perfect sense in your business, but are meaningless for a customer.

So, tip 2 – write in your customers’ language. Don’t fall for the idea that plain language means dumbed-down, or that this is incompatible with your carefully crafted tone of voice. Your customers don’t want to ‘purchase this item’, they want to ‘buy it now’. Writing with the words your customers use will help sell your products – and the chances are it’ll do wonders for your search rankings too.

Set-up follows punchline follows set-up…

Of course, no stand-up ever stops at one punchline. A good stand-up moves seamlessly from one joke to the next, layering subjects and working in a deft callback here and there.

And this brings us to tip 3 – keep the journey going. Understand the role each piece of content plays in your customer’s journey. Don’t lead users down dead ends without a relevant page to click through to, and really work your calls to action.

Don’t give someone a link without telling them where it’ll take them. Also, take advantage of every touchpoint – whether that’s a marketing email, a product description, a blog post or a tweet. Keep your purpose in mind and you’ll help keep your customers happy.

How do you write for your customers online? Share your tips below.

Amy Nicholson is head of editorial client services at London digital copywriting agency Sticky Content. She’s also a member of BIMA’s executive board.

  1. On August 18th, 2013, Jason Love said...

    A perfect article. Starts with a story, makes great points, and is very compact. Since I am a comedy fan and performer, the stand-up comedy analogy makes the information stick with me.

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