Ecommerce Guidelines: Homepage Copy

Guidelines 21-27

Ecommerce Best Practices » Homepage & Sitewide » Clarity » Copy

What makes copy good? The right answer, of course, is copy that makes money. But we can’t know what will make money in advance. Instead, we examine copy word-for-word to try and figure out if it sucks or rocks.

One way to critique copy is the value, clarity, credibility (VCC) test:

The exercise is quite simple in its nature, yet also very effective. Go through an entire piece of copy line by line. Evaluate each statement for value, clarity, and credibility.

  • Value – What’s in it for me? Is there a benefit to the user? In order to get people to pay money, they need to understand the value.
  • Clarity – Is this sentence simple and clear? Can we make it shorter? Improve clarity? Clarity trumps persuasion. Eliminate all confusion, complicated words and jargon, and make sentences as short as possible.
  • Credibility (covered in the Credibility UX Chapter) – Is this believable? Convert superlatives and vagueness into specific statements. Back up all claims with proof.

Below are guidelines that cover clarity issues related to copy and the value proposition. Copy guidelines related to credibility are covered in the credibility chapter.

It’s clear that this company specializes in electronics … Also, it seems that there are no “fine lines” to have to look for … everything is very clear and upfront which is not always the case with competitor sites where it seems there are hidden costs somewhere.”

7 guidelines for ecommerce copy:

  1. Use as few words as possible.
  2. Avoid superlatives (e.g. “The best shoes on the planet”). Instead, use specifics (“Rated #l by Runner’s World Magazine”).
  3. Avoid the use of buzzwords and technical jargon.
  4. Decide between “your” and “my” (i.e. “your account” or “my account”) when copywriting the user interface and stick with it.
  5. Avoid generic phrasing.
  6. Mirror your customers’ language: look at social media mentions of your company, products, and brand – survey customers.
  7. Maintain a consistent tone in copy across homepage.

Guideline #21. Maintain a consistent tone in copy across homepage.

Attention spans are shorter than ever. In 2000, the average attention span for a human was 12 seconds. Today? Another study found that our attention span is a mere 8 seconds. To compare, a goldfish has a 9 second attention span.

Get straight to the point. Cut every word that is not necessary.

“Simply fill in your favorite email below and you’ll get instant access to the first lesson.” >> “Enter email to get first lesson”.

There are four pillars of scannable copy. For the best results, optimize for all four.

  1. Short sentences seem like less of a commitment, they seem less overwhelming.
  2. Simple sentences void of any complicated structures have the same impact.
  3. As a rule of thumb, there should be no more than 80 characters per line.
  4. Short paragraphs (3-4 lines, maximum) make scanning easier. Big blocks of text are daunting.

Brevity ensures that it gets read.

How NOT to do it

Outdoor Action

There is an overwhelming amount of copy on this page.

On a UX benchmark analysis, Outdoor Action ranked in the very bottom with 14% score for the UX dimension “Clarity”.

Only Natural Pet

Half the copy on this homepage is redundant and can be eliminated. THE 20% OFF discount, Carbon Neutral – Free shipping on orders over $79, Auto delivery, and navigation menus are all displayed twice above the fold. The page would be much cleaner and more clear if each of these text elements were only displayed once.

On a UX benchmark analysis, Only Natural Pet ranked in the bottom with 19% score for the UX dimension “Clarity”.

It was very cluttered on the home page.

User quote on Only Natural Pet

How to do it RIGHT

Crutchfield

The copy on this page is straightforward while providing lots of information.

On a UX benchmark analysis, Crutchfield ranked in the very top with 95% score for the UX dimension “Clarity”.

Bodybuilding.com

The text elements on this page are concise.

On a UX benchmark analysis, Bodybuilding.com ranked in the very top with 89% score for the UX dimension “Clarity”.

Guideline #22. Avoid superlatives (e.g. “The best shoes on the planet”). Instead, use specifics (“Rated #1 by Runner’s World Magazine”).

Compare these statements, and pick the claim you believe more:

  • “Fastest pizza delivery in town” vs. “We deliver your pizza in 10 minutes.”
  • “We have the best italian restaurant” vs. “Our restaurant has won 6 Golden Spoon awards in the Italian Food category.”
  • “Cheapest web hosting plans” vs. “Our monthly plans start from $1.99.”
  • “Best tasting coffee, guaranteed” vs. “Major competitions have voted Esmeralda the consistent winner five years in a row.”

I bet you found the second option more believable in each case.

People don’t believe superlatives, they believe specifics. Superlatives are tempting low hanging fruit, but always translate them into specifics.

People are not idiots. They won’t believe you’re the best just because you say so.

Convert superlatives and vagueness into specific statements, back up all claims with proof. Clarity trumps persuasion.

How NOT to do it

Hatland.com

Hatland claims to be “The Best Authentic Hat Dealer Since 1997”. This statement seems hard to measure and hard to believe.

On a UX benchmark analysis, Hatland.com ranked in the very bottom with 11% score for the UX dimension “Clarity”.

Fitness First USA

The top banner on this homepage states that the site offers the “Lowest Prices”. Another bold, superlative statement that seems hard to guarantee.

On a UX benchmark analysis, Fitness First USA ranked in the very bottom with 8% score for the UX dimension “Clarity”.

Guideline #23. Avoid the use of buzzwords and technical jargon.

Forget buzzwords, the newest office lingo, and fancy-sounding technical terms. People want to feel like the copy they’re reading was written for them. Jargon is defined as, “special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.” Think about these two quick facts:

So, if you’re writing copy that a 12-year-old would find difficult to read, your writing is too complex for the average American. How do you make things easy to process? A large part of that has to do with your audience’s familiarity with the terms you’re using …

NN/g listed 5 ‘cringeworthy’ words/phrases you should stop using immediately:

  1. Utilizes
  2. Enables (allows you to …)
  3. Very (really, extremely, quite)
  4. We understand that … (In today’s fast-paced world …)
  5. End user

These aren’t the only perpetrators of course. Any word that is vague when it could be specific, is complex when it could be straightforward, is bland when it could be colorful, isn’t a word you want to use.

Even for specialized audiences it’s still best to write as simple as possible. Even highly educated people don’t want to struggle to read your site. You do not impress anybody by spouting highfalutin words or complex sentence structures that require careful parsing.

Jakob Nielsen from NN/g.

I was confused between Whey protein powder and isolate/concentrate as they were also showing up in the search results when I filtered for powder alone.

How NOT to do it

Go Electronics

There is a terrifying amount of technical jargon on this homepage.

On a UX benchmark analysis, Go Electronics ranked in the very bottom with 5% score for the UX dimension “Clarity”.

Fitness First USA

For first-time visitors and people who are new to the weightlifting world, these jargon-filled banners provide no information.

On a UX benchmark analysis, Fitness First USA ranked in the very bottom with 8% score for the UX dimension “Clarity”.

How to do it RIGHT

GNC

Especially compared to Fitness First USA, the GNC homepage makes it easy for supplement novices to dive in.

On a UX benchmark analysis, GNC ranked in the top with 78% score for the UX dimension “Clarity”.

Guideline #24. Decide between “your” and “my” (i.e. “your account” or “my account”) when copywriting the user interface and stick with it.

Wondering when to use “your” versus “my” in your copy?

There’s not a “one-size-fits-all” answer, but some general rules:

“My”: When you want to emphasize privacy, personalization, or ownership. (”my account” or “my wish board”)
“Your”: When asking questions, giving instructions, or describing something (“are you going to this event?”)

Another option is eliminating any point of view. “My account” simply becomes “account” etc.

The key is to choose a point of view and to stick with it. Seeing “My account” and “Your settings” is confusing.

Check out this Medium article for the full story.


Guideline #25. Avoid generic phrasing.

This guideline is the heart of clear copy. The more specific copy is, the more clear it will be:

“Fast shipping” leaves holes compared to “5-day shipping.”
“Buy with confidence” leaves holes compared to “Norton Secured and BBB Accredited Business.”

Be as specific as you possibly can be. Whenever you can use a word with more accuracy, do so. Look at the copy on your homepage: Are there phrases or terms that can be replaced with a more clear, specific term?

This is pretty similar to our guideline on superlatives. Basically, eliminate meaningless words in favor of rich, precise, and descriptive words.

Keep in mind, however, that although copy should be precise, it should not be overly technical.

How NOT to do it

Hatland

Hatland claims to have “Fast Shipping” in the yellow banner. This phrase would be more clear and powerful as “5-day shipping”.

On a UX benchmark analysis, Hatland ranked in the very bottom with 11% score for the UX dimension “Clarity”.
On a UX benchmark analysis, Newegg ranked with 49% score for the UX dimension “Clarity”.

When asked what they would change about the website, “a little clearer product category organization”.

user quote on Newegg

How to do it RIGHT

Crutchfield

This site prominently displays their shipping policy, uses geotargeting to give an accurate shipping time (3 days if you live in Texas), and provides a link to more details.

On a UX benchmark analysis, Crutchfield ranked in the very top with 95% score for the UX dimension “Clarity”.

J. Crew

Instead of using a vague phrase like, “Surprise Sale: free shipping”, this homepage is specific about the free shipping promotion, even including a countdown timer until the promotion ends.

On a UX benchmark analysis, J. Crew ranked in the very top with 97% score for the UX dimension “Clarity”.

I loved how clean and simple the site was.

user quote on J. Crew

Guideline #26. Mirror your customers’ language: look at social media mentions of your company, products, and brand – survey customers.

Knowing your customer/site visitor demographics allows you to understand how people talk about your products.

You can’t go straight into writing. You have to do research to understand your customers and site visitors. Without that qualitative data, you’re writing with your eyes closed.

The Fix:

  • Interview your sales and customer service representatives. They talk to your customers and visitors day in and day out. What questions are they asked most often? What are the common issues? What prevents people from buying?
  • Interview recent, first-time customers and long-time, repeat customers. What benefits do these people receive from your product? How do they describe your product? Would they recommend it to a friend?
  • Create a long list of words and phrases they use to describe your product, its benefits, etc. Look for patterns and trends in your list. What words and phrases are mentioned most often? Who is more likely to mention them?
  • Use words and phrases used most frequently, not just your personal favorites.
  • Aside from typos, leave spelling and grammar alone. Write the way your customers write!
  • Don’t add additional copy based on assumptions. Work with exactly what you have in front of you.

Incorporate this language into your own site to increase appeal and clarity.

How to do it RIGHT

Bodybuilding.com

The promotion cleverly titled “okto-bro-fest” shows that this bodybuilding website is well-acquainted with its customer base.

On a UX benchmark analysis, Bodybuilding,com ranked in the top with 89% score for the UX dimension “Clarity”.

American Eagle Outfitters

American Eagle takes this guideline to the next level with their current #WeAllCan campaign. Aware that their customer demographics include many young adults who use twitter, the site incorporates inspirational tweets and videos from young people.

On a UX benchmark analysis, American Eagle Outfitters ranked with 70% score for the UX dimension “Clarity”.

Guideline #27. Maintain a consistent tone in copy across homepage.

People notice tone of voice, even online. When it comes to tone, casual, conversational, and enthusiastic tones create the highest perceptions of brand friendliness, trustworthiness, and desirability (source). Craft homepage copy around these findings.

Keep in mind, however, that this tone won’t work for every site. Serious industries (e.g. insurance) should be wary of this guideline. Some users will be put off by a light hearted tone in a serious context (read this Reddit thread on what is called “chatty copy” for an example of this frustration).

Don’t rely solely on formulas, tactics, and round table discussions to determine your tone. Daydreaming about what your audience would respond to is rarely as effective as good customer research, no matter how creative you are. Craft your copy with qualitative and quantitative data from your specific audience.

Whatever tone you choose, apply it to all copy to avoid confusion.

How to do it RIGHT

J. Crew

Check out the casual yet enthusiastic tone consistent across this homepage.

On a UX benchmark analysis, J. Crew ranked in the very top with 97% score for the UX dimension “Clarity”.

Crutchfield

This homepage copy has a casual and eager tone.

On a UX benchmark analysis, Crutchfield ranked in the very top with 95% score for the UX dimension “Clarity”.

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Homepage & Sitewide » Clarity » Copy » CTA & Value Proposition