The subtlies of language on the web

I was talking to a client yesterday about their project and we touched on the subject of language on the web; he turned round and said that would make a fantastic blog, so here we are. This is a short article that looks at just one aspect of how language can be used to improve your conversion rates and generate more sales and / or leads on your website.


We were talking about a sign up page for a subscription based system that we are developing at the moment. A couple of weeks ago the client sent through some information one of his colleagues had given him that discussed a specific website and how the had spent a significant amount of time monitoring various aspects of how people react to the website. This is an area the covers a number of aspects, including (a) the business objectives (outcomes), (b) the functionality that is required to fulfil the aforementioned and (c) the design that needs to take into account the former points. The original article looked out how the page layout and language (amongst other things) determined the success of the website whose primary object was to get people to subscribe to a service.

Real world examples

Whilst discussing the article I mentioned a couple of real world examples that I have come across when working with clients that have made an impact on the success (or failure) of a specific aspect of their website. For many small businesses, this might seem over kill and I would not expect them to think about these as in part your website designers / developers should use their expertise and experience and guide you through the process.

In my experience businesses have very fixed ideas about how they wish to communicate and can be closed to new ideas " be it because of branding guidelines, personal preferences or habit " and as a result can miss out on potential business. I have to admit I have very fixed ideas about how we, as a business communicate, especially when it comes to written documentation for proposals, specifications, etc.,

Anyway here are a couple of real world examples I have come across and as a result take in to consideration when designing a website or bespoke system.

Contact us

Most websites have a contact us page that allows website visitors to get in touch. This is often the primary objective (outcome) for a B2B website that is promoting a consultant based service or complex proposition.? Website designs often play with the language used to get people their " get in touch, find out more, take the first step, etc., " but then place a barrier in the way.

Last year we developed a Content Managed website for a Human Resource business and the Marketing Manager said that they found that changing the contact us to request a call back and removing the requirement of supplying your email address has seen a significant increase in enquiries generated via their website.

The primary reason for this is because people don't like providing their email address, for fear of being added to a mailing list and then being bombarded with newsletters they are not interested in (which is another entirely, but relevant topic that I am sure Vince will pick up on). By removing this requirement, the site sees significant increases in enquiries, which is slightly ironic, because what would you do the moment you get an enquiry, I am guessing you'll either email them, but perhaps more likely you'll pick up the phone.

Registration now

It is a well know fact the people are put of registering with websites " especially e-commerce websites " so asking a visitor to register now, before allowing them to buy your products is a little daft, isn't it?

How often have you found something on the internet, clicked the buy now button (if you can find it) and been asked to register before you can purchase the goods. People find it infuriating and will often go to a competitor, if a similar product or service is available and easily located (which on the internet is often the case).

When we design websites, you often find you need certain information to complete a process that will enable us to create a user account for the visitor, but you don't have to put a hurdle in their way to achieve this. Often the use of language can make all the difference and one of the best ways of doing this is considering the other persons perspective.

  • What are the benefits to providing this information?
  • Will the website abuse my information?
  • How much information are they asking me for and is it realistic?
  • Could you provide an alternative that enables visits to proceed without registering?

These are the sort of simple questions you should be asking and then taking into consideration and don't be scared to ask your existing client base what they think is reasonable, after all they made some of these decisions at some point.


This article touches on how you can improve your conversion rates on your website, but this is a vast area some businesses spend millions on! It is intended to get you thinking about your website and consider the use of language and presentation. It applies to most forms of communication within your business, so you'll find it is relevant when considering newsletters (be they email or printed) and other written documentation. Some would point you in the direction of Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), but the important issue here is that you take the use of language in to consideration as it can have huge benefits. I often ask clients why they are doing something, if the answer is solely about them you'll often find the results speak for themselves, so when you next do a newsletter ask yourself who is benefiting from this and if the recipient isn?t in the answer reconsider doing it.

Date: 18/06/2011


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