When writing mobile app copy, remember these golden rules:

  • usability trumps tone – if it’s tonally strong but doesn’t help users complete a task, remove it
  • shorter is better – if a tonal flourish means the page is too cluttered, cut your word count

When it comes to getting across your brand’s voice on mobile, it’s all about striking a balance between usability, length and tone.

If you’re not sure the balance is quite right, test it – that’s the best way to know for sure whether your customers get a sense of your brand while still being able to complete a task.

1. Develop a tonal lexicon

With fewer words, you need to be even more careful about the ones you use.

Start up a tonal lexicon document, so whenever you strike upon a word or short phrase which is in line with your tone of voice, you use it consistently.

  • What goes in it – any reusable copy eg greetings, errors, thank you messages and confirmation screens
  • How to use it – appoint an owner to manage and approve all entries, review the document regularly and make it accessible to all copywriters

Using consistent terminology will help your customers navigate your site quicker. And it’ll make sure your copywriters know the terms they can and can’t use – and don’t have to start from scratch every time they create some content.

Similarly, you can have blacklisted words which you won’t use at all – things you want to weed out of your digital copy, like industry jargon or overly formal words.

2. Work out how you say hello (and thanks, and sorry)

When a user opens up your app, do you say ‘Welcome’, ‘Howdy’ or ‘Hi’? The choice of greeting says a lot about you and how you want to communicate with your customers. If you’re not sure what you’d say to a customer, think about how you’d greet them in person.

If you can do so, personalise your salutations by adding a name. Depending on your brand, you might use a customer’s first name or their title plus surname. Again, replicate the in-store experience as much as possible.

It’s not just ‘Hello’ either. How do you say thank you? ‘Thanks’, ‘Thank you’ or ‘Our utmost thanks’? If the site’s down, do you say ‘Sorry’, ‘We’re sorry’ or ‘Our deepest apologies’?

3. Standardise some key calls to action (CTAs)

Good, repeatable CTAs make it easier for a customer to navigate an app or complete a task on their mobile – if ‘Continue’ is the CTA for each screen in a process, customers quickly get used to it.

However that doesn’t mean your CTAs need to be bland. Get started is a little more characterful than Start, Explore all offers might be better than Find out more.

Just remember rule #1: usability trumps tone. If your CTA is memorable but difficult to understand, ditch it.

4. Fix your error messages

Fewer words on the screen give extra meaning to each one. If an inline or popup error message appears, it’s likely to be a significant percentage of the total word count on the screen. So don’t leave the copy to a developer or just use a system-generated one.

No brand – whether they are a multinational conglomerate or local smoothie café – wants robotic error messages. It’s neither useful nor professional. Every error message should be helpfully written in plain English and explain a) what’s happened, and b) what the customer should do.

It’s then up to you if you want to add a little humour or personality.

Be careful of annoying your customers with overly cutesy error messages. If you’ve messed up, better to offer a solution than a joke.

5. Make your onboarding processes work harder

Most apps will have introductory screens when a customer opens it for the first time.

Use this opportunity to get your brand across – it’s likely to be your only opportunity for more prosaic copy, as opposed to the very functional stuff you’ll need inside the app.

Remember to still lead with the customer benefits ie why should someone use your app? Around that core message, you can add some tonal flourishes.

Image of mobile phone screen shotsBut remember rule #2: shorter is better. If your onboarding process has a strong tone but is 600 words long, no one will read it.