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How to communicate online with the right language

How to communicate online with the right language

From digital communications consultancy CDA

Understanding consumer behaviour is the foundation of brand strategy and understanding how consumers use and respond to language online is vital to informing and shaping digital communications, brand messaging and service delivery strategies.

The language that brands employ on websites can often be too formal and this can alienate people, according to CDA’s research, Online Language Pathways.

Jupiter and Forrester research have studies online consumer behaviour in terms of activities, interests, actions and inactions as well as demographics. Digital linguistics behaviour – or online language – is a consumer attribute which, to date, has been barley explored.

And yet marketers have access to a wealth of linguistic data via the ‘mouthpiece’ of the internet experience – search engines.

CDA’s belief that language is the currency connecting consumers and brands online isn’t uncommon – plenty talk about ‘online conversations’. However, until now, very few practitioners have developed and tested theories to help brands understand how to use and evolve online language strategies to target and engage customers.

Language that people appear to respond to most favourably when they finally engage with a website is a language that more closely resembles their natural language of intent – less mechanical and more human.

Language that engages people on web pages is not the same as the language that forms the pathways to a site.

People adapt their natural language when searching for information online, often employign more mechanical terminology.

The language of intent is often lost in application, such as there is a disconnect between the language people use to describe intended behaviour and their actually language behaviour when they engage with the internet.

People apply associative thought processes when using the web. They’re looking for relevant and useful information, so brands need to associate their content proposition with answering consumers’ questions.

Brand messaging and information gathered from the search results influences consumers’ decision making and filtering processes, as well as the information provided on the destination website.

There seems to be a direct correlation between what language a website uses and how a visitor feel. In many cases participants are put off by what they find because it is not in line with their previously articulated expectations and requirements.

An inherent online behaviour in comparing. Participants surveyed in CDA’s research were using the web to compare information such as pricing and deals. However, few searches included the word “compare” in their search language.

Consumers expect their web experience to be useful but they want to remain in control of the process. People want very clear language as site navigation and this is critical to engagement.

If people can’t see, at first glance, where to find the information they want, they’ll leave the site and try another route.

Comparison sites are a core component of the personal finance information retrieval process and are arguably the most influential, satisfying the need for third party of impartial advice and guidance through the decision making process.

Some consumers have preconceived expectations of where and how they’ll find the information they need while other seem to ‘go through the motions’ of researching online, but their decision making process and site selection conforms to a pre-existing opinion.

Others might combine their online research with offline influences such as peer recommendations, expert advice, direct phone conversations and offline marketing.

The language of intent changes when consumers type in their search terms, going from a narrative style to a staccato style language.

The actual language used is often less specific or prescriptive than the language of intent. Participants begin their search journey using structured language. During their task the language they use becomes more unstructured, as they refine their objective and employ search terms. But they still appear to respond to language that is closer to their original language of intent once they engage with specific websites.

Adjectives such as ‘best’, ‘easy’, ‘instant’, ‘quick’ and ’high’ are often used by participants and overused when searching for the right proposition.

The words ‘best’ and ‘good’ are regularly used in both the language of intent and the actual search language. However, financial compliance and regulatory policies demands that financial services brands restrict the use of superlatives in their promotional messages. But this in turn can often mean the language of these sites is too formal and therefore deters customers.

Some users treat their first website selection as a comparison benchmark for future site selections. Despite using ‘machine language’ few users understand how to get the most out of their search process and few tailor their language to refine their searches.

Our language of intent, how we consider and think about our intentions, changes when we go online, where we use a different dialect or linguistic subset. Internet users adapt their language to the language they think search engines will understand.

Here are our top five tips on using linguistics to maximise your search listings:

1. Develop the right search engine presence and deploy the right language in your content
2. Understand how your customers communicate through the web, what their information needs are and how they want to engage with you
3. Use the right language – human language, not sales and marketing speak
4. 4. Make your content useful: answer questions and provide access
5. Learn how to harness the adaptive power of language.

To read the full CDA study, please visit 

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