We need to talk: Why you should be using conversational copy in 2020

Conversational copy isn’t new. But 2020 is the year in which it will become the definitive copy trend that you need to embrace.

2020 is set to be the year of conversational copy

Conversational copy isn’t new. But 2020 is the year in which it will become the definitive copy trend that you need to embrace. Why? It may sound counterintuitive but the rise of new technological factors such as next-gen chatbots, voice-search, and enhanced search algorithms means that in 2020 and beyond, it’s important to make your copy sound human…

Modern conversational copy can trace its roots back to the early 2000s when ‘wackaging’ transformed product packaging by using copy to inject a sense of personality into a product. If you’ve picked up a yogurt, cereal bar, smoothie or any number of other packaged snacks over the last 15 years then you’ll have likely discovered that your food wants to have a chat with you.

Perhaps the most well known brand to use conversational copy on its packaging is Innocent Drinks.

Innocent Drinks are the most well known users of conversational copy

(Image via London Copywriter).

I mean, look at it! Who’d have thought that something as mundane as a drink carton could brighten up your day? Yet, here we are. In a world in which a piece of packaging is talking back to you… Conversational copy has featured prominently on packaging since the early 2000s and it doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon.

And now, thanks to several new tech trends, the time has come for conversational copy to move beyond packaging and dominate the digital domain.

Writing for search: the rise of Natural Language Processing and BERT

During the early days of the web, copy was focused around keywords (and it still is, albeit in a more nuanced way). If you wanted your product page to appear high up in Google’s SERPs then the trick often involved little more than cramming every sentence with as many variations of the keyword as you can imagine.

It quickly descended into farce as copywriters and content creators attempted to crudely game Google’s algorithms. Pulling upon an anecdote, I recall a fellow copywriter telling me that they were once instructed to deliberately include typos and poor grammar as a means of gaining traffic from incorrectly typed search queries…

Naturally, Google quickly remedied this situation and through a series of punishing algorithm updates, severely penalised those businesses that were sticking to their keyword-stuffing ways.

The methods by which Google’s algorithms parsed copy became more intelligent. Copywriters followed suit.

But it’s a development which was launched in late 2019 which is set to really transform the relationship between copywriters and search engines. It’s called BERT.

Without getting overly technical, BERT (which stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) is Google’s attempt to improve their language understanding capabilities and better answer ‘conversational-type’ search queries.

In case you think this is just another run-of-the-mill algorithm update, think again. Here are Google’s own words about the importance of BERT:

“With the latest advancements from our research team in the science of language understanding – made possible by machine learning – we’re making a significant improvement to how we understand queries, representing the biggest leap forward in the past five years, and one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search”. (Emphasis ours)

Rooted in Natural Language Processing, BERT has been applied to both ranking and featured snippets in search results, resulting in Google being able to do a much better job of helping searchers find the right information related to their query.

What does this mean for brands (and by extension, copywriters)?

You have to write for humans.

BERT really does seem to have signalled the end of mindless keyword-focused copy. Instead, BERT is enabling Google to better understand the context and sentiment of search queries. To quote Google’s own words again:

“Particularly for longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like “for” and “to” matter a lot to the meaning, Search will be able to understand the context of the words in your query. You can search in a way that feels natural for you”. (Again, emphasis ours).

As the last line of that quote implies – it means brands need to be writing about themselves in a way that feels natural to the reader. In other words – you need to be using conversational copy.

This is a breakthrough moment for creative copywriting. At last, brands will be able to adopt an online voice that truly aligns with their values and purpose. Their copy will be able to sing, to soar, to evoke emotion and connect – without the constant nagging notion that it should also be factoring in SEO and search factors. Google is giving brands and copywriters the opportunity to talk creatively. It’s up to us to seize this opportunity and write our creative truths.

When you’re attempting to rank for the web, it’s time to kiss goodbye to the ‘keyword-ese’ and say hello to conversational copy.

Voice powered search

“Ok Google”, “Hey, Siri”, “Alexa”, “Hey, Cortana”.

Regardless of which voice assistant you’re using, one thing is clear – voice search is gaining market share when it comes to search.

Thanks to the widespread incorporation of AI into today’s smartphones and home voice assistants, they’re ‘smart’ enough to recognise and interpret human speech queries and provide an answer.

Google, Apple and Amazon’s voice enabled products draw their answers from the world’s two biggest search engines, Google and Bing. As we examined earlier, changes to the way Google interprets search queries means you should be using natural, conversational copy to communicate with your target customers.

So, you should be using conversational copy to optimise for voice-based searches too. However, writing specifically for voice search requires a slightly different approach than the one you would take for traditional search:

  • You must try and answer very specific queries – think of the types of questions someone at home or on the go are likely to ask.
  • You must make sure your answers are concise. When was the last time you heard a voice assistant droning on for minutes with an answer? The answers that will get picked up are the ones that answer the query in the most accurate yet concise way.
  • Consider the context – understand the potential situation a searcher could be in when they ask their question, and what their needs could be based upon that situation.
  • Be conversational! An obvious point – but an important one. Voice assistants may be powered by artificial intelligence, but the companies behind them want these devices to be perceived in a human-like light. If you can provide answers in a conversational tone, you’ll stand more chance of featuring in voice search results.
  • Make sure you include answers to potential follow-up questions. Devices such as Google Home now utilise sequential semantic search so that they are better able to answer a series of related questions. If you want your content to feature in voice results you need to write in a conversational tone, answering every possible follow-up question to an initial query.
  • Understand the ways in which your customers talk about your brand and the services / products that you offer. The way you market your products / services may be very different from the way in which people talk about them. For example, you may sell vacuum cleaners – but someone initiating a voice search may say “Hey Google, find me the best priced hoovers online”.

In an environment in which people are more likely than ever before to interact with search engines through conversation, it bolsters the case for your brand to be using conversational copy in your digital marketing.

Next generation chatbots

85%. That’s how much of the interaction between customers and businesses will be handled by chatbots in 2020 (according to research agency, Gartner). The growth in chatbots has many factors, amongst which are the reduced cost compared to human call centres, their consistency in adhering to brand voice, and their ability to be more easily measured through analytics.

But, whilst companies love chatbots, their customers are less enthusiastic. The 2019 CGS Customer Service Security and Compliance Survey found that 42% of consumers prefer to switch to a phone call when a chatbot asks for personal information.

The key to overcoming this barrier is to make the chatbot feel less robotic, and more human.

The solution? Conversational copy.

If you’re intending to use chatbots within your business, then ensure you’re using a copywriter who is adept at crafting conversational copy.

Like voice search, you have to think about how a customer is likely to phrase a question. And then think about potential follow-up questions and most importantly, how a human customer service representative would answer.

Another useful tip is to get your chatbot to seek confirmation from the user. That way your chatbot will have more information to pull upon and is more likely to provide the correct answer. People ask for confirmation and for questions to be repeated all the time – there’s no reason that your chatbot can’t do the same, so long as it does it in a way which is human.

By the way, if you’re a business which deals with repeat customers on a regular basis (FMCG, Retail & Lifestyle, Food & Groceries) it’s likely your customers will be interacting with your chatbots on a regular basis. As such, you should be updating and adding to your chatbots’ vocabulary as often as you can. Customers will quickly get tired of reading the same responses – losing some of the human sheen of your chatbot.

The changing language of generational cohorts

If you think Millennials are speaking another language, wait until Gen Z and Gen Alpha have become major consumers. Linguistic drift is developing between the generations and it appears to be speeding up in conjunction with the widespread adoption of technology.

Not only is language changing between generations, it will also change over the course of an individual’s lifetime – a process known as age-grading.

This presents a challenge for companies that are trying to engage with customers in a way that truly connects.

Conversational copy can help you bridge the gap between generations by using shared terminology, a relaxed tone of voice and ensuring that your vocabulary is aligned with that of your customer base. For example, if you’re targeting Gen Z then you have more room to experiment with words and phrases like ‘lit’ and ‘on fleek’. If you’re targeting a money-rich baby boomer segment then you’ll need to pay attention to your oxford commas.

It’s time to talk conversational copy

Technology, culture, generational cohorts; they’re all changing the way words are interpreted, understood and communicated.

It’s easy to dismiss copy or ignore it as a minor part of your overall digital marketing efforts – but as we’ve demonstrated above, conversational copy represents a cost-effective and crucial element in the ongoing battle that every marketing team faces to engage and convert customers.

If you’d like to find out how conversational copywriting can benefit your business, let’s have a conversation…