What sort of personality does your website have? No, this is not a trick question. Think about it. When you read your website are you “hearing” the voice of a professional wearing a suit? Maybe a woman leaning back in her chair wearing jeans? Maybe that guy down the hall that can always make you laugh? Or maybe you don’t sense a consistent voice at all. Maybe you get one tone from the home page but a completely different tone from the interior pages. Hmmm… this question is sounding more valid by the second isn’t it?

Before you start writing your website you should give some serious thought to the tone of your writing. That tone should be based on three key factors:

1. Your established brand: If you have a brand statement you probably have the tone well-defined already. Do not vary from that tone. Consistency is the key to brand marketing.

2. Your mission: Even if you don’t have a brand statement or established identity, your organization has a purpose. Your tone should reflect that purpose. If you are a fitness company, your tone should be energetic and even motivating. If you are a funeral home, you should have a soothing, comforting tone. Yes, those are obvious examples but every company has a mission that can be supported by the right voice. 

3. Your audience: Market research is a great tool when establishing a voice for your organization. The more you know about your audience, the better able you are to communicate to them. To hit their hot buttons. To talk in a way that hits home with them. Don’t have the time or budget for full-blown market research? Build Audience Personas and let them guide you. Learn more about Audience Personas.

Let’s step back for just a second. What exactly is voice and tone in writing?  

I think Grammar Girl (one of my favorite resources for writing dilemmas) says it best:

Voice is the distinct personality, style, or point of view of a piece of writing or any other creative work. Voice is what Simon Cowell is talking about when he tells “American Idol” contestants to make a song their own and not just do a note-for-note karaoke version. Many musicians have played “The Star-Spangled Banner,” for instance, but there’s a world of difference between the Boston Pops’ performance and Jimi Hendrix’s, even though the basic melody is the same.

In writing, the New York Times and the New York Post may cover the same story, but their headlines are likely to be quite different. For example, when Ike Turner died, the New York Times had a straightforward headline: “Ike Turner, Musician and Songwriter in Duo With Tina Turner, Dies at 76”; whereas the New York Post went for a bad pun: “Ike ‘Beats’ Tina to Death.”

Let’s continue with that example and examine a common website headline: About Us. Nearly every website has an About Us page and if any page communicates your organization’s style – it’s this one. 
  • A company with a no-nonsense, conservative tone might say:
    Learn more about us.

  • A company with a professional but casual tone might say:
    Check out the people behind the scene.

  • A company with a sarcastic, humorous tone might say:
    Pull these facts out next time you want to bore your friends and family.
Three titles for a page with the same type of information, but three very different voices. Each of those examples is equally valid because they are targeted to a different market.

How do you find your voice? 

You start with those three key factors I mentioned earlier. You might also need to do some brainstorming – anything from listing adjectives that describe your organization to reading your competitor’s materials (so you can make sure you stand out). You should read things that appeal to your market to get a sense for the tone and voice that attracts them. There are lots of methods to finding a voice and what works for one group, may not work for another. Here’s a good article with some exercises to help you find your voice in writing.

Now that we’ve got you thinking, we encourage you to step back and do some reading – of your own website. Need help finding that voice? Ready for a rewrite? Let us know, we’d be happy to help.