Striking the right website tone of voice seems like an easy task, but there’s a little more to it than simply relaying all of the necessary details on each page of your website. When you dig into the tone of a web page, you ensure that you’re saying the right things, the right way, to the right people.
And what organization wouldn’t want to strike that balance? Your website tone of voice is critical to connect and engage with site visitors. It’s a crucial part of building relationships, from inspiring supporters and partners to talking directly to the community you serve.
What is Website Tone of Voice?
Thinking about your own speaking voice, you can change your tone and speak sympathetically, sarcastically, seriously or happily to someone. But it’s still you that is speaking.
Your website’s tone of voice is the feeling that’s conveyed throughout each page on your website. The tone can and should change from page to page, depending on the content and the audience that it’s intended for.
For example, a page detailing your upcoming anniversary celebration may have an excited tone of voice, while a page highlighting your mission may strike a hopeful and inspirational tone. Check out this detailed list of descriptors for more examples.
Your website tone of voice is about conveying feelings, and the structure of the page, word choice and other little details can all contribute to that. Many things work together in setting a tone for a website, and while you might use images and graphics to set the tone, the words that you choose and how you string them together to get your message across will play a big role.
Distinguishing voice and tone
While the tone can shift from page to page on your organization’s website, your voice should remain constant. Your nonprofit’s voice is a distinct personality that is present in your writing, unifying your organization and all those who speak for it. Learn more about developing a voice and sticking to it.
Finding Your Website Tone of Voice on Each Page
If you’re sitting, staring at a page on your website, and wondering if the tone of voice matches what you want to convey, you’re not alone. Setting the tone on a page can be harder than it looks! But there are three simple questions to answer that can help you strike the right tone on each page.
Who is the audience for the page?
Who are you speaking to on this page? Rather than assuming that each page on your site is intended for your entire community — donors, volunteers, clients, staff, ambassadors, etc. — let’s dig a little deeper and select one group of folks to be the ideal audience for the page. While others can certainly find it, read it and learn something from it, each page should be tailored to one sector of your overall audience.
I find audience personas incredibly helpful to get inside the head of your audience for the page and create content that is easy for them to read, understand and connect with. And if you have multiple donor personas, you can narrow down your audience for those pages of your site even further.
You can then speak directly to your audience persona through the content of the page to strike the tone that will resonate best with that person. No need to worry about pleasing everyone and conveying a range of emotions for each topic!
What’s the subject matter?
Another piece of the puzzle is the content itself. The tone that you use should match the message that you’re trying to convey on a page. No one wants to attend a happy hour that’s described in a somber way, and you’d never want to appear untrustworthy by using sarcasm on an Impact page.
Is the subject matter serious or light? Exciting or frustrating? The tone of voice should match the message on each page. Some of your content can be lighthearted, but if you’re reporting about a serious problem or appealing for help, be sure to inject the gravity of the situation into your writing.
- Celebrating a big success? Fun, upbeat, happy, and witty is great!
- Asking for help for a big project? Sincere, trustworthy, and genuinely concerned are better.
- Recruiting partners and sponsors? Formal, polite, and professional will work best.
What’s the call to action?
What do you want your audience to do after reading the page? That action should tie into your tone for the page to make your case, connect with your audience and encourage them to take that next step.
Each page on your website should have a call to action that’s customized to the audience for the page. Get our tips for upleveling your calls to action and increasing conversions.
Audit your existing website to land on clear answers to these three questions on each page, matching the tone to the audience, subject matter and call to action. Try starting with the most important or highly trafficked pages on your website and working your way down.
Keeping Your Voice With Various Tones
The best nonprofit writing reads like a conversation. And your website voice should emulate the tone of conversation you strike with members of your community when you’re in person. In some cases, that might be lighthearted and fun. In others, it might be more serious and professional.
People tend to have a baseline tone that you use most of the time, changing it as necessary to convey a particular message. Your nonprofit can do the same on your website.
Create and reference documentation
To ensure that your current content and any future content that you create use your website voice and keeps these potential adjustments for tone in mind, be sure to update (or create) internal guidelines for content creation, like a style guide.
Documenting guidelines for your voice and tone (and actually remembering to reference them) will help you keep your voice consistent across all of your communications — no matter what tone is best for the particular page or piece of communication.
You want to be able to connect with the people who come to your site. You want to find common ground and show them that your cause is something they should care about. You want to create an emotional response and build trust. And this all becomes much easier by striking the right website tone of voice throughout your site.
More Content Tips
For even more tips on creating content that will resonate with your audience and transform website visitors into supporters and advocates for your nonprofit, be sure to check out The Beginner’s Guide to Nonprofit Website Content.
What does your website tone of voice sound like? Are you conscious about how it varies throughout your website and other communications? What other tips do you have for striking the right tone? I’d love to hear them in the comments.