Signposting: the role your copywriting plays in a user’s journey

Online, every word acts as a signpost – so don’t underestimate the value to your users’ experience of having a damn good copywriter on your team

When most people talk about user journeys, they usually get wrapped up in the technical aspects of an interface. But the experience is much richer than that. Your user’s journey is as much determined by the signposts in your content as it is by the structure of your site.

Content is the perfect guide from consideration to conversion.

Whatever you’re writing, be it the body of a piece of campaign content for a CRM email, or button copy in a bookflow, you need to remain focused on the destination you want your users to reach. And your copywriting needs to be pointing the way.

Final directions

Transactional copy – the little bits of writing that are often the last thing users read before conversion point – are in fact huge signposts.

Often overlooked, they are absolutely vital, and should never be left to a UX-er to jot down at the last minute, or be dropped in by a stakeholder with their own agenda. They may only be 50 characters or so, but they’re the final signpost before the end goal. 

Bad diversions

And If your site contains robotic instructions and error messages out of keeping with the rest of your copy, your users will be deterred from buying. And that’s not good news for your conversion rates.

In the noisy digital world, it’s at these crucial audience touchpoints that the craft of a skilled copywriter can make all the difference. And it’s the best place to start when looking to optimise your copy as these following examples show.

First pointers

Which?, a consumer advice and product reviews service, is a membership organisation with a paid subscription. It uses the cumulative weight of its content to encourage new members to commit and sign up for its service.

For them, the user journey to the sign-up engine starts with search. Which? highlights its expertise and research credentials right at the start of the consumer journey – by mentioning it in the meta description.

Right: Which?’s meta description immediately signposts the consumer to the point of conversion

Which? meta data example

Show don't tell

Meanwhile product-specific landing pages use positive language to reassure the user that they are following the right information scent to find the answers to their ultimate question: which product should I buy?  

Right: Positive language encourages the reader to read on to find the answer to their ultimate question: Should I buy a laptop?

The site’s navigation supports this user journey too: the sidebar offers numerous considerations that audiences may need, to reassure themselves they're on the right track to the right buying-decision.

As a copywriter, you’ll often find that the more targeted you are with your copy, the easier it will be to persuade people to go your way. Here, by offering a broad range of routes on the sidebar, Which? keeps as many potential members as possible heading towards the point of conversion.

That final destination, of course, is a landing page for a trial membership. It’s a couple of pages in to the user journey, by which time a potential member will already be sold on the service provided by Which?

Which? menu example

Right: Which?’s sign-up form only pops up when consumers have been warmed up to the service

In cases like this, where you are trying to move users directly from consideration to conversion, the route to sign-up doesn’t always need to be the shortest. Sometimes, you can be more effective by showing more scenery along the way.

Master channel-hopping

One of the most acrobatic jobs you need to master as a copywriter in the digital world is to persuade your readers to switch from one channel or platform to the next. It’s even harder when there’s a change of device involved, or a real-world action to be completed at the finish, so you need to make your signposts really clear.

One of the best examples of this challenge currently in action is the forthcoming UK election. All political parties need their content to direct to a very clear point of conversion: the real-world, physical polling booth. And digital copy is being used by everyone to steer people along that journey.

Which? sign-up example

The biggest element in a political party’s content plan in the run-up to an election is, of course, their manifesto. It explains what their party – or brand, as it were – stands for, and it’s there to persuade voters to pick a side.

But with a broad audience, how do you avoid falling into the trap of ‘write for everyone, write for no-one’ to keep voters on track to vote for you at the polling booth?

One way is with an online personalised manifesto generator. All the user needs to do is check the boxes of the issues they’re most interested in, and ping! their very own manifesto pops out. Of course, the real reason behind personalising content in this way is to make the user feel special, moving the user from channel to channel, then out into real-world action.

Get back on track after a wrong turn

What about when signposting goes wrong? How can you, as a copywriter, make sure that you don’t lose customers forever or, worse, send them off to your rival?

Last December’s Black Friday – the busiest online shopping day in the run-up to Christmas – revealed some interesting strategies from retailers faced with bandwidth-busting levels of traffic.

Catalogue retailer Argos adopted a multi-channel approach to keep its customers on the path to conversion. When its website crashed, an error message appeared pushing people to purchase via mobile, or to reserve products via a telephone hotline.

Right: When Black Friday traffic overwhelmed the site, Argos displayed this holding page

This signposting was great for consumers who already knew what they wanted to buy, but potentially alienating for more opportunistic shoppers who just wanted to browse the site.

And even more discouraging was the lack of stay-on-the-track reassurance offered by the copy when the site began stalling – just a vague ‘try again in a few minutes’.

Electrical retailer Currys, meanwhile, adopted a different strategy – and kept customers online in a queue. While the copywriting was appropriately apologetic about the waiting time, it also included a big nudge to keep people hanging on just a little bit longer: These are ‘Must-have deals’, ‘When they’re gone, they’re gone’.

Argos Black Friday example

Right: During the Black Friday black-out, Currys tried to keep consumers online with this reasurrance text

If users go somewhere else, the copy implies, they'll miss out. So hang tight. And they even tell users how long they've got to wait. Just like Alton Towers.

Reach your destination

So, whoever you’re writing for – be it a membership organisation, a political party, or a retailer – remember this: online behaviour is task focused.

Every page is there for a purpose, and every word has to help the user get to their goal. That might be a sign-up, a download, a purchase, or something else.

Your content should always be working to point consumers to a point of conversion – and like every journey in life, everyone needs signposts to show them the way.

Currys Black Friday example

Is your copy signposting people in the right direction? If not, talk to us. Call us on +44 (0)20 7963 7070 or email us


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