Five things you need to know before you write for voice.
Over the years, the role of copywriters has evolved beyond witty one-liners and swanky strap-lines. Now, we’re tasked with writing for digital products, platforms and portals, and dabbling in content creation for conversational interfaces such as chatbots and next-gen form-filling.
With fresh tech continuing to emerge, and client briefs ever-evolving to meet new demands, there simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to lean on for every project. And I’d argue that this sentiment rings most true when applied to writing for voice — a unique skill that many of us are still getting to grips with.
But as the use of voice continues to grow, so must our ability to create suitable copy for new experiences. In fact, Adobe recently found that an impressive 91% of brands are already making significant investments in voice, with 71% of those brands viewing voice as a way to improve the user experience.
And with the rising interest in voice comes platforms to accommodate new products. Voiceflow, founded in 2018, makes it easy to create voice conversations for the likes of Alexa and Assistant. As the platform states on its site, “Voice assistants are the fastest adopted consumer technology in history. Not having a voice app tomorrow will be like not having a website today.”
As with every project, the content is defined by the audience receiving it, and the company or brand it’s coming from. While this is no different for voice experiences, it’s undeniable that there’s a lot more space for things to go wrong. That’s what happens when you go from print and pixels to sound-waves.
But fear not. There are plenty of things you can do to make the transition from the familiar copy doc to the intimidating flow diagram far easier and far more effective.
If I was right at the start of my ‘writing for voice’ journey, here’s a handful of tips I would want someone to share with me.
1. Start with the happy path
The discovery phase is done, you’ve got your SoW down, you know what you need to do — all that’s left to do is to… do it. But before you can even begin to grasp how deep, shallow, or complex your conversation design is going to get, you need to nail your happy path.
This is the ideal, linear journey you’d want a user to take, from invoking the experience to ending it. Forget error messages, dead-ends and unexpected user handling. Get this right, and I promise you, the rest will come far more easily.
2. Use the ‘Wizard of Oz’ user testing approach
Once you’ve pinned down your happy path, it’s time to print out your script, grab a colleague, buy them a donut, and book out a room (not necessarily in that order).
While you take on the role of Alexa or Assistant, assign your co-worker the task of being the user. Read through the script and ask them to respond as naturally as possible. Take note of any times they stray off course, and the kind of requests they’re making.
Do they get lost? Do they get frustrated at any point? Do they understand what they can do within the experience? Write it all down and thank yourself later.
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3. Forget the fluff — focus on less friction
It’s in our DNA as copywriters to craft, craft, and craft again. But voice experiences lose users when there is too much friction upfront. More often than not, a user has chosen to interact with a functional voice experience because they’re looking for a quick and easy solution to a problem — so the less wordy, the better.
And if you’re writing content for a voice-based game or something similar, it’s still worth bearing in mind that the user doesn’t want to be bombarded with words. This is truer still if the experience doesn’t include a voice artist instead of the generic robotic voice. Try and keep the language natural-sounding too, and where possible, jargon-free.
4. Familiarise yourself with conversational design platforms
I know us copywriters find comfort in our copy docs, but you don’t have to let them go completely. They’re ideal for writing the happy path. But life is easier for everyone on the project team when you know a thing or two about using conversation design platforms. Especially in the case of complex experiences, it can be hard to understand and navigate flows without being able to see the bigger picture.
And the good news is, Voiceflow’s CEO, Braden Ream, said his team is looking to make updates over the course of this year to make the platform even easier for copywriters to use. Not only will this help to take some strain off of developers — it’ll also mean the creatives behind the concept can have more control over the end product. Win-win.
5. Keep value at the core of everything you write
A key factor in making a good experience a great experience is adding value to every possible interaction. This is not only true of the content within the happy path, but also how you predict and cater for a variety of intents throughout the entire conversation.
A user won’t expect a shopping list experience to be able to tell them the current weather in Slough (though a safe answer would probably be ‘rain’), but they will expect a clever-sounding response to an unknown intent or an alternative path directing them to an appropriate part of the conversation.
The very nature of voice conversation and the fact that some users will be unfamiliar with this kind of experience means that more than ever, you’ll need to check-in with your UX counterpart to ensure the copy is doing everything it should be at each part of the user journey.
With so many moving parts, I know that writing for voice might sound a bit scary, but never underestimate the power of user testing. Test, test, test. And then test some more. You won’t regret investing in this part of the project before the experience goes live and becomes subject to scrutiny and the dreaded one-star review.
As always, put yourself in the position of the customer. Go back to the brief. Interrogate yourself and what you’d expect from the experience. Confidence will grow with every conversation you help to design, and so will the ease with which you write for it.
Now that you have all of these tried-and-tested tips in your back pocket, there’s no reason that your ‘writing for voice’ journey shouldn’t be a smooth one, that one day comes as naturally as chatting to a friend. Go forth and conquer!