Tone of voice, the dark web, 'priming' and more…

The wonderful world of the web delivers a constant stream of surprises and excitement. Here are some inspiring copywriting and digital marketing-related bits and bobs that might just change the way you do things online.

What tone of voice should I use to promote my business?

A client recently asked me to write content for her website. She wanted her business to come across as super-serious and intellectual. Which is all very well. But the important thing about developing a powerful tone of voice isn’t what you want, it’s what your target audience wants.
If her target audience was made up of intellectual giants the request would’ve made more sense. But her prospect base is much broader than that, including anyone who wants good financial advice – utter and complete numpties, massive-brained eggheads and everyone in between.  
Tone of voice isn’t about impressing your audience with your intellect. It’s about good communication. It should be driven by your audience, not your ego.

How much of the web do you really see?

You type a query into Google or speak it into your smartphone. The results you get include everything on the web, right?
It’s tempting to imagine everything ever uploaded to the internet is indexed by Google and co, there at your fingertips as long as you manage to dream up the right combination of key terms. But in fact a greater proportion of the web is invisible than anyone previously thought. Scientists estimate as little as 0.03% of the internet is searchable, the rest is hidden from most of us.
When you think about it, it makes sense. After all, the web most of us know and love is all about selling stuff. It’s one giant shopping mall. Because search engines are in business to make money they make constant, often imperceptible suggestions about what we should be looking at, based on the interests we’ve already revealed through our search habits. It’s damn clever. But as a result we only see a tiny, weeny corner of the web. And sadly, the more efficient and effective search algorithms get the less opportunity there is for serendipity, where you accidentally discover something marvellous out of the blue.
The sinister side of the everyday web
Things start to get a little sinister when you realise search engines can also force you to see things you might not want to see. Take Google, who recently banned an ad blocker programme from its app store. You will see ads, whether you like it or not. I don’t like it one bit, frankly. I don’t like it when what’s visible and invisible online is dictated to me exclusively by organisations with commercial interests. It is making my online experience duller and less varied by the day.
99.97% of online content is only available on the ‘dark’ web
Where’s all the rest of the information that’s posted online but not indexed by search engines, all 99.97% of it? It sits quietly on the dark web, accessible only to a handful of geeky types who know how to get to it via secure browsers like TOR. What’s on the dark web? Anything and everything that doesn’t have a commercial focus. Which no doubt includes a vast amount of absolutely fascinating information.
Some say the so-called ‘dark’ web is much less sinister than the everyday one, where what we see is constantly manipulated by obfuscated algorithmic code. I am by no means a conspiracy theorist, but I’m beginning to see things their way.

You already know a picture speaks a thousand words…

… but images actually do a great deal more.
Research by an organisational psychologist at Canada’s University of Toronto has revealed how images have much more power than we’d previously imagined. It’s all about ‘priming’, and if you can leverage it for marketing you’re onto a massive winner.
What is priming?
Here’s an example from the study, which assigned call centre staff into two fundraising groups. Both groups were given written instructions about how to talk to potential donors, but one group’s paperwork also included a photo of a person winning a race.  Much to the research team’s surprise, the group given the image raised a lot more money than the team who didn’t. And it wasn’t a one-off. Far from it.  The team ran the research across numerous call centres only to find that groups given the image always generated more money than those who didn’t see it. Oddest of all, when asked if they thought the photo helped them persuade donors to donate,  almost everyone replied, “What photo?”. Which means the effect is unconscious.
What does it mean for marketers, content creators and copywriters?
Every web page should contain a call to action. If you support your call to action with a suitable image, you might find your conversion rates absolutely rocket. Imagine you want people to fill in a form. You accompany the CTA with an image of a happy, attractive-looking person filling in a form. Does it improve conversion? Suck it and see. It’s a ridiculously simple test to carry out.
Priming works with words, too
Apparently reading the word ‘doctor’ in a chunk of text means you spot related words like ‘nurse’ faster than non-related words like ‘cake’ or ‘insect’. Which makes it a cool way to guide people’s attention and also dovetails beautifully with the whole search engine key word thing.
Using related key terms in copy should support and enhance your message on an unconscious level, which in turn makes readers ‘get’ the message faster. In an online world where attention spans are short and every second counts, it could make all the marketing difference.

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