5 tips for writing copy that converts

Use words to get your users to click, take action and ultimately convert

#CopyCon2018

A month ago, Francesca Catanuso (a fellow Copywriter) and I went to London for the Copywriting Conference hosted by ProCopywriters.

It’s a full-day commercial writing extravaganza. The attendees and speakers work in advertising, marketing, digital, PR and tech. Everyone’s there to learn, network and relish in a sea of other writers.

Fran and I hosted two breakout sessions where we shared five tips for writing copy that converts. We got loads of good questions afterwards and wanted to share a condensed six-minute version on Medium. So here’s your flight-free, Tube-free, read-whenever-you-want version.

A full house for our first session of the day

5 tips for writing copy that converts

Where to start?

We titled our talk Book now! Copy that Converts. UX Copywriters at Booking.com are known for writing copy that encourages customers to book. But that’s not all we do.

UX copywriting isn’t only about conversion. It’s about making things easy, tapping into emotional triggers and shifting user behavior. Yes, we want customers to book, but how do we get them to click? Find answers to their questions? Open an email? Subscribe? Download our apps? And how do we get hoteliers and small property owners to list their properties with us?


1. Start with your user

Find out who your user is

This came up over and over again at #CopyCon2018 and it’s something I delve into in 8 steps to a UX copy strategy that rocks. We are the user experience experts. We need to understand our users and their problems. At Booking.com we have a lot of users and a lot of user data. Not everyone has access to data in this quantity and that’s okay. You can also use user research, surveys, competitor analysis, customer service logs and other feedback tools to get to know your users.

Don’t assume anything about your user. Get to know them. Write for them, not you.

#inreallife

We recently did user research where we showed users the property search results page. We noticed users were not choosing any of the popular filters. Instead they’d scroll down and find the filters on their own. Why weren’t they using them? We found that users did not understand that the filters under the “Popular” header were filters. We ran an A/B test to change “Popular” to “Popular filters” and more users used the filters and booked. Don’t ever assume your users know your product as well as you do.

Users in user research were not using the popular filters
We changed the copy to “Popular filters” and they used them and booked more often

2. Make them feel something

Our users are people, not robots. We want to tap into their emotional triggers and help them feel something.

#inreallife

A great example of this is one of our email subject lines “Deals as irresistible as doughnuts!” Cute, right? But not so cute in all countries we write for. Why? Well not all people love doughnuts. In some places, like France for example, this subject line had no relevance. When we swap a doughnut for a croissant, users start thinking about tasty treats. Know your users and, in this case, know what they like to eat.

A doughnut emoji is great for email open-rate in a lot of countries, but not all

Another example is in our post-stay review form. When a user returns from their trip we want them to tell us about their stay. Instead of “Enter your text here” we prompted with “Were the croissants extra flakey? The bed extra comfy?”. This helps users go back to how they felt during their trip. It encourages them to leave a review, and a longer one at that.

Prompting users with emotional triggers that remind them of their trip encourages them to write more

Context matters

Be careful. Doughnuts and croissants are not going to work everywhere with every product. If we throw in a doughnut emoji when the user is about to enter their payment details we lose credibility. In the book process, we need to use reassurance and trust. Always be relevant and make sure you are familiar with where the user is in their journey.


3. Write responsibly

We write copy for users in 230 countries and territories who speak 43 different languages and dialects. That’s a lot! We need to make sure our copy is always inclusive, transparent and relevant. One way to do this is with consistency.

Be consistent

Users don’t want to do any extra work, they want transparency. They don’t want to search, wonder or question what you’ve told them. Users are framed by certain terms and phrases. They are looking for them to pop up over and over again. If you throw in something new, you throw them off.

#inreallife

One good example is our confirmation page. We repeat the word “confirmed” five times. We want to make sure our users know their booking is confirmed and that they don’t need to call us. The repetition works.

Repeating the word “confirmed” eliminates any doubt for our users

Another example is on our book process page. Users are about to enter their payment details. Data showed a lot of users get here but don’t complete it. We also saw a lot of customer service calls before booking. Users were unsure if all this information was relevant to them. To eliminate doubt and promote progression, we personalized the page with pronouns like “you” and “your”. On this page we use pronouns 12 times to reiterate that this is your selection.

Pronouns help remove doubt, promote progression and increase conversion

4. Be naturally simple

Be real

Use real words for real people. We want people to understand what we are saying, not reach for the thesaurus. This relates back to knowing your user. If you are writing for a group of doctors, use medical terms. If you are writing for a group of teens, use hashtags. If you are writing for Booking.com, write for all.

Sometimes extra words just take up space. Say what you mean and say it simply.

#inreallife

Sometimes users make mistakes, and that’s okay, but how do we get them back on track? Be simple. On our site, users need to choose the number of rooms they want to book before they click the “I’ll reserve” button. Often users scroll up and down and mentally choose a room but click the button before selecting the number of rooms they want. We show an error message to help them understand their mistake. We once tried to add a message here to let users know the top room in the table is the cheapest. This crushed conversion. Why? Most likely because users are anxious when they make a mistake. They want to get back to what they were doing. Also, we don’t have any clue that all our users are looking for the cheapest room. This message is not relevant to everyone.

Users want to get back on track when they’ve made a mistake

5. Make it count

Take baby steps

If you change too much at once, you’ll never know which change caused more clicks, opens or subscribes. Had we changed the “Popular filters” to look different along with the copy, we would not have known the impact of adding the word “filters”. Small steps help us learn about our users and the user journey.

Test it

We use A/B tests to see if our baby steps work. But not all copywriters have this luxury. So what can you do? Get the data elsewhere. User research is powerful. Websites like usertesting.com are great. You can even walk to a local café and ask people for feedback on your product.

Write for the future

You never want to write copy that you’ll need to change in a week or six months. Think big picture. Know where your product is headed and make sure your copy makes sense.


And that’s it — five tips for writing copy that converts condensed from our talk at #CopyCon2018.


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