An Englishman, Irishman and a Scotsman walk into a bar. The bartender turns round and says, “Is this some kind of joke?”
I’m sorry: terrible gag. I don’t know any good jokes. However, love it or hate it, would you put it on your company website?
One of the hardest things to get right with online content is tone. A lot of content – both on intranets and the internet – is written in a formal ‘company’ voice, thick with information and respectability. More light-hearted styles of writing are often shunned for coming across as inappropriate.
Grabbing your readers’ eyes
Information is important, never more so than online. Attention spans are short and most readers tend to scan text rather than absorb every word. That said, there are compelling reasons to make the tone of an article lighter than a standard internal report.
For a start, you want people to retain information. Formal writing tends to be less readable: people have to work harder to interpret an article, because it reads like a college essay and loses any sense of conversation.
Life of the party
Less formal writing also boosts the chance that people will want to read more, because it can be (when done well) entertaining and mood-lifting: it has a distinctive ‘voice’. Dry, formal writing is a chore to read, and online visitors will skip over it and never come back. You want to retain high traffic, right?
Of course, this is not to say that every article should start with a bad joke, or that you absolutely must keep a light-hearted tone. Your tone sets the mood for an article. If you want your readers to be excited about a new product, be excited! Be enthused! Use exclamation marks (properly)! But it would be inappropriate to attempt a jocular attitude for an obituary or an article about, say, a product recall.
Think about what you want to say, and match your tone accordingly. Your readers – and your traffic stats – will thank you for it.