Voice and tone illustrations by Holly Schofield.

Shopify’s voice and tone guide

Even though we’re lucky enough to have an in-house product content strategy team, we can’t write every single word. That’s why it’s important for everyone at Shopify to feel like they have the right tools and information to write their own great content.

Everything written, designed, and built for Shopify should have a cohesive voice. Words, animations, buttons, interaction patterns — everything impacts our merchants’ experience with Shopify.

This guide helps designers, developers, and anyone else writing content, keep it consistent no matter what they’re making.

Voice

Trustworthy, not inexperienced

  • We have proven expertise, so merchants know they can trust us with their business. Security, reliability, and experience are important to them. Show facts to demonstrate our reliability: “Over 200,000 stores use Shopify.”
Be confident, not boastful.

Confident, not boastful

  • We use our expertise to help our merchants succeed, not to talk down to them. Tell them what new things are possible, not why their old things were bad.

Empowering, not absent

  • We help merchants complete tasks themselves instead of doing it for them. But we would never leave them hanging when they need assistance.

Inspirational, not unachievable

  • We tell success stories that any Shopify merchant can achieve with the right product and enough hard work.

Enthusiastic, not hyperbolic

  • We want to be approachable, but professional. Be friendly, not playful. Small moments of delight are okay (even encouraged), but focus on helping merchants get their jobs done first. Avoid hyperbole and exclamation marks: “Great” is okay, but “awesome!” or “the greatest ever!” isn’t.

Big, not impersonal

  • We’re big enough that you can trust we have the infrastructure and support systems to help you, but not too big that we don’t care about you.

Genuine, not artificial

  • We don’t pretend to be anything we’re not. Whenever possible, we’re up-front and honest with our merchants — even if we make a mistake.
Focused, not limited.

Focused, not limited

  • We want to make the most important things easy, and everything else possible. That might mean leaving information out sometimes, but it should always be available when needed.

A partner, not a vendor

  • We’re not just a software provider; we’re here to help our merchants’ businesses grow over the long term.

Empathetic, not apologetic

  • We always put ourselves in the merchants’ shoes, but we don’t undermine our expertise by apologizing for acting on their behalf.

Tasteful, not click bait

  • There is no “one weird secret to success”. Write things we won’t be embarrassed by in a few years.

Tone

What’s the difference between voice and tone? As our friends at MailChimp say:

You have the same voice all the time, but your tone changes. You might use one tone when you’re out to dinner with your closest friends, and a different tone when you’re in a meeting with your boss.
Your tone also changes depending on the emotional state of the person you’re addressing. You wouldn’t want to use the same tone of voice with someone who’s scared or upset as you would with someone who’s laughing.

At Shopify, different situations require different tones — we don’t write error messages the same way we write onboarding content.

Onboarding content

New merchants will appreciate a light, fun, but straightforward tone. You can use more casual language than you would elsewhere. Merchants are full of hope and excitement about their business — it’s our job to foster that hope and help them achieve their goals.

Here’s how a merchant might be feeling and how you can help:

  • Apprehensive: “I’m nervous about putting my first product online... what if it doesn’t sell? What if I embarrass myself?” Reassure them. Let them know what’s about to happen, and the actions available — can they undo this action? Is it permanent?
  • Impatient: “Why are there so many steps? I just want to launch my store.” Get to the point. Only teach the most essential functionality. Is this task critical to complete before they launch their store?
  • Excited: “This is the first step to being a full-time entrepreneur!” Be excited with them. Congratulate them on this first step.

Day-to-day content

This is where we get down to business. Merchants are here for one reason: to complete a task. We need to get out of the way and let them do their jobs. Be as concise as possible, but don’t be intimidating — we still want to sound like humans.

Here’s how a merchant might be feeling and what you can do:

  • Impatient: “I have a million things to do today, I just need to get this done and move on.” Get to the point. No extraneous words or steps — make the experience as efficient as possible.
  • Confused: “Wait, how do I add a discount code again? Where’s that menu I found the other day…” Guide the way. Always give access to help or documentation for everything that’s not easily discoverable.
  • Overwhelmed: “Ugh, so many orders! I have so much to do, this will take forever.” Surprise and delight (sometimes). Small moments of delight — like an illustration, or a success message — can be a welcome break, as long as they’re not getting in the way of a task.

Create good feelings

Every time merchants interact with Shopify, we want them to feel confident and inspired.

Everything we make and say should convey these principles.

Confidence

Starting a business can be scary. We should help merchants feel like they know what they’re doing, and are taking the right steps toward their success.

Build confidence.

How to build confidence:

  • Don’t talk about Shopify.
    Our merchants don’t care about us (sad, but true). Don’t talk about what we did — our great new feature— talk about how it will improve their businesses. We’re in it for them, not ourselves.
  • Be honest. Set expectations.
    If something goes wrong, tell merchants what happened and how it will impact them. If something’s going to take a long time, tell them how long.
  • Help merchants feel comfortable.
    Make tasks as manageable as possible. Let them know when they’re doing the right thing. Give feedback and positive reassurance along the way.
  • Always give access to help.
    Part of confidence is knowing you can get help if you need it. Always provide access to more detailed information and documentation.

Inspiration

We succeed when our merchants succeed. We should inspire our merchants to take their business to the next level — whatever that might mean for them.

How to inspire:

  • Empower merchants.
    Teach them the “why” and “how” behind their tasks — don’t just tell them to do something. If they understand the principle, they can apply it in other contexts.
  • Show merchants the entrepreneurs they could be.
    Tell stories of successful entrepreneurs on Shopify. Our merchants have all the same tools, they can see the same success if they work hard enough.
  • Keep it attainable.
    Break daunting processes into manageable steps. To become the world’s most successful entrepreneur, start with _____.
  • Push them a little.
    Show them the next step and how it will benefit them. If they’re already doing step one, maybe they’re ready for step two.

This voice and tone guide was written by the Product Content Strategy team at Shopify. You should probably join our team and help us make content better for all. Apparently it’s just a barrel of laughs…

Since January 2015, we’ve been hard at work building a product content strategy team from scratch.


Big thanks to Alaine Mackenzie and Virginia Start.