Building the future of copywriting

Experimentation. Data-driven strategy. Translations at scale.

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

I don’t have a background in copywriting. Some lovely people took a chance on me and I started in 2015 super green and happy to be here. The first inkling I got that what we were doing in IT wasn’t completely normal came when I started getting involved interviewing candidates.

Going through CVs and portfolios of marketing or agency copywriters, we would often get two kinds of candidates: great writers with no technical background, or technical people with no writing background. This was why, at least in part, we were having such a hard time hiring. Copywriters going through our recruitment funnel had never measured the impact of their words. They had never been expected to. If they did work with data, it was analyzed and interpreted by someone else.

This was a problem. We weren’t attracting the right talent. We were attracting really talented writers but not candidates experienced with working on product teams, making data-driven decisions or using technical tooling in their day-to-day tasks.

At that point we had already changed our title from Copywriters to E-Commerce Copywriters. Articles bubbling up on the internet from Google and the like indicated that other tech companies were also trying to figure out what this exciting unicorn role actually was. To figure out what to call ourselves, we spent some time nailing down what we actually do.

Here’s what we came up with.

Product Collaboration

UX Copywriters at Booking.com are embedded in multi-disciplinary product teams. We analyze data and insights alongside our product owners, we problem solve on logic and conditions with our developers and we collaborate closely with our designers to understand the desired interactions. Together we work on solutions and features; and always try to keep the user journey in mind: Where are they coming from? What do we want them to do? What do they want to do? Where will they go next? Is this what they expect?

Experiment → Analyze data → Iterate → Repeat

Copywriters here are deeply involved in experimentation. Sometimes we’re creating copy based on hypotheses formed by our teams. Sometimes we’re developing our own hypotheses based on user research, a defined strategy or previous successes. We set up our own experiments, analyze the data and iterate based on what we learn. The goals and hypotheses of each experiment may vary, but we’re almost always looking for opportunities to optimize the product or improve the user experience.

Strategize, strategize, strategize

If you’re a copywriter reading this and have heard someone refer to your craft as “just copy” — please stand up. For us, tapping into the emotional triggers of our users using persuasion techniques is a valuable tool in our strategy belt — but it’s not all we do. We help create products from scratch and lead on defining the voices of those products. We develop messaging hierarchies and value propositions. We’re looking at customer pain points and team OKRs and constantly looking for ways to contribute to those goals and create better experiences for our customers. And if we’re doing our jobs right, we’re using data to drive all our decisions.

We speak your language (and yours, and yours, and yours, and…)

As a global company, Booking.com products are translated into more than 40 languages. Who does that? The thing is, most companies have a different site for each of their local versions written in that country’s language. At Booking.com we write our source copy in British English and have hundreds of in-house language specialists across the world translating for us. To put this into perspective, any given piece of copy we send out to our translation teams is translated into 42 languages within 2 days.

Aside from the sheer logistics involved with translations at that scale, Booking.com copywriters have had to hack our way to success (literally — our tools were developed at hackathons alongside gracious developers). We’ve developed innovative tooling and methods to deal with the seemingly infinite number of grammar considerations involved with translating in all these languages. Each family of language has its own set of wonderfully complex set of rules to deal with syntax, prepositions, capitalization and so on, not to mention the slew of cultural issues we have to be aware of. Amongst other things, the tools we’ve built make it so you don’t have to know the ins and outs of 43 languages to be a successful copywriter here. They also ensure our ability to continue to scale to more languages if and when the business needs to.

Photo by Andrea Tummons on Unsplash

So, are we unicorns?

For Booking.com copywriters, the poetics of the words don’t matter much. What matters is how the copy was approached: What was your strategy? What data did you use to develop your hypothesis? What secondary metrics did you look at to understand the user behavior? How will you iterate?

Because of the way we approach copy and the nature of our work, we end up gaining a breadth of knowledge more similar to a product owner than an agency copywriter. We might learn Perl to help us understand how to write for a chatbot; our close collaboration with product designers means we understand what customers look for in their UI; analyzing our own data pushes us to understand data science, and working to drive product teams means we must be in touch with the commercial side of the business and understand where we can add the most value. The point is, we are in close contact with the technology that drives the success of our company.

A really smart fellow wordsmith with a bun once shared this gem with me which really sums this all up nicely: We’re designers, we just work with words. Oh, and in the end, we changed our title again. We’re UXers for sure.

We’re always on the hunt for new writing talent. Wanna join us? Apply here.