The Power of One Word, or, Why Copy Matters

A single word can have a powerful effect on conversion.

The beginning of this post is taken from an excellent episode of RadioLab (they’re all excellent) and I encourage one and all to listen to it.

Shift the Feeling from a Person to a Thing

Facebook had a problem; users were reporting photos as abusive and offensive when they weren’t. Why? People were posting innocuous group photos of family and friends and it turns out that other people in the photos simply weren’t happy that the photo had been posted. They may not have liked their pose, their facial expression or simply didn’t want it public. Having no other option to have that photo taken down, the self imagined victims were reporting the photos as offensive content.

Facebook created a solution, they asked users to select from some options in a drop down to describe how the photo made them feel. Some of the options were things like “embarrassing,” “upsetting,” “bad photo,” and “other” along with a box to enter text to describe “other.” When they released the feature they found 50% of users selected one of the named emotions and 34% selected “other.” But of the people who selected “other” the number one typed in response was “it’s embarrassing” – a slight variation to one of the drop down choices.

In light of this data Facebook tweaked the interface. So instead of just “embarrassing” and “upsetting” they changed the choices to “it’s embarrassing” and “it’s upsetting.” This raised the number of people who selected one of the listed emotions from 50% to 78%. One word: “it’s” increased interaction with that content by over 50%. By including “it’s” the blame is shifted from a person to an object. I’m not embarrassed, it’s that photo that is embarrassing.

Shop vs. Discover

I recently did a copy test in the global navigation bar of a major electronics manufacturer. The global navigation had 5 options including two items; “Discover” and “Shop”. Now if you’re looking for a new widget from this company, which would you choose to learn more about it? You aren’t ready to buy it just yet, so you might want to “Discover” more information about it. But when you go to “Discover” you find glossy articles talking about other products from the company, not the one you want. “Shop” is the menu item you want, it is where all the products are listed by category and you can drill down to the product detail information. So we changed “Shop” to “Shop Products” and saw a 54% increase in interactions with that menu item and a 35% decrease in interactions with the “Discover” menu item. 

Venture to Fail

A travel business client has a gift card line of business where you can buy someone a card with a dollar amount attached for travel anywhere. The default amount shown (you can change it, but the dollar amount is very prominent) is $1000. I suggested we do a Valentine’s day promotion with the headline theme of “send the ones you love to the places they love”. It’s a message of giving something you know the recipient will enjoy and the word “love” is used twice – a powerful emotion and a powerful word. The client’s marketing department came back with a different approach of “venture big this Valentine’s day.” The word “venture” as in “venture capital” means to take a dangerous risk. The first definition from is below.

Venture, noun. 1. an undertaking involving uncertainty to the outcome especially a risky or dangerous one: a mountain climbing venture.

So the message is: spend a lot of money ($1000 suggested on the page) on the outside chance that your loved one will appreciate it. The test did indeed fail and my suspicion is that the word “venture” is primarily responsible.

And so you see, a single word can have a powerful effect. Take care with your copy and test it rigorously.