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How to Attract Your Target Reader With These Language Tips and Tricks

I know that you know it’s really important to have an attention-grabbing headline. It attracts traffic and readers. However, traffic just for traffic’s sake won’t deliver your target audience. And in the few seconds it takes a reader to scan your blog post or web page, they’ll decide whether to stick around and read it in detail or move on.

So how do you boost the likelihood of attracting and keeping your target audience on the page? It’s simple.

  • Choose language your audience is familiar with.
  • Tell stories your reader connects with.
  • Describe (and solve) problems your potential customers deal with.

Now you know what you need to do to attract your target audience, but HOW do you do it?

Read on to find out.

Stalk Your Prey…I Mean, Really Get to Know Your Reader

To really connect with your reader, you need to speak their language. You should also know everything you can about them, including their age, sex, income, demographics – the basics of a standard customer profile. In addition to your customer profile, you also want to know what your reader worries about, what they look forward to, and what they most want from your service or product. While you’ve probably heard this before, it’s time to pay attention to how your reader describes their needs, wants, concerns, and to take a closer look at the language these customers use so you can communicate using the same words and phrases.

Clues in the Complaints

Learn the language of your readers by visiting the social media networks they frequent. Look at the comments, questions, and the complaints. Pay particular attention to how your target reader phrases their concerns. What words are they using to describe their anxieties? Start listing commonly used words, and often-repeated phrases. Look at the comments and content being shared and/or upvoted. This will give you an idea of the language and terminology that resonates with them.

zendesk screenshot

Zendesk has an awesome source of info about their customer’s language – user groups, a customer community and developer community that they host.

Mimic their language

Why invest such energy in getting to know your reader? So you can talk about what’s important to them using their language style. To attract and engage your reader, they must believe you understand their world. Do this by communicating in words and phrases they’ll understand. “Talking their talk”, or, to be more accurate, “writing” their talk identifies you as one of their pack, but the one with the solutions to their problems. Your words need to strike a chord with them. What better way to do that than to use their own words?

As Tommy Walker says in the article Guaranteed Success: How to Find Your Target Market So Content Sticks on Crazy Egg, “The best way to resonate with a market is to become a reflection of its ideal self.” To become a reflection, you need to stalk your reader/prey.

Find Common Ground and Plant Familiar Phrases

first impressions

Tatiana Mejia’s word choice helps establish a quick connection with readers of Adobe’s Digital Marketing Blog.

Here’s an example from a blog post aimed at the digital marketing crowd. Tatiana Mejia of Adobe’s Digital Marketing blog knows her readers will connect with the title of this post – ’50 First Impressions’. They’ve either seen the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore movie 50 First Dates, or else the title sounds familiar enough that they read on to learn more.

Mejia quickly draws the parallel between Sandler’s character who’s trying to make a memorable first impression on a girl suffering from short-term memory loss, with the common dilemma facing digital marketers. How can I be compelling in the few seconds it takes to grab my potential customer’s attention?

Scan the post. As a writer focused on digital marketing, I see words and phrases like ‘conversion’, ‘social media’, and ‘customer interaction’. Which words do you see immediately? Think about the words and phrases most likely to capture your ideal reader’s attention and sprinkle them into your next blog post.

Writing Tricks: Turn Questions into Titles and Subheadings

No matter who your readers are, they have problems and questions. He has arrived at your page looking for an answer to a question; she needs a solution to her problem and you have approximately eight seconds to convince these readers that you can help them. One easy way to do this is to show them their question in either your title or subheadings, using the language and phrases your reader is familiar with. A second option is to give them a short answer in your subheadings.

Where Are All the Questions?

If you’re wondering just what it is your readers are having problems with or want to know, here are a few places to start looking.

  • Your customer complaints or customer service department.
  • Your competitors’ customer complaints (check out their Facebook pages and FAQs on their website, for starters)
  • Reddit and relevant Subreddits
  • Quora
  • Twitter search

Once you’ve identified a question to answer, catch your reader’s attention with the promise of more than just answer – and then deliver. Use a story to explain how someone just like them solved a problem. Provide a “unique” or “simple” or “best” or “complete guide” to answer the question and solve the problem better than anyone else out there.

get elastic

In this blog post, Linda Bustos not only answers the reader’s question ‘How can we use geographic personalization?’ she provides three “untypical” solutions.

Answering questions can keep you in blog content indefinitely – just take a look at Richard Branson’s Virgin blog. As of mid-June, 2014, six of his last twenty post titles were in a question format.

Attract your reader with their own question, and then keep their attention by giving them three to five action items that will help “answer” their question.

First, Second, and Active Voice

Choosing the voice to share the story in the language of your reader is key to setting the tone of your message. Whether you’re working on a blog post, landing page copy, a case study or an ‘About’ page, the voice you use in business writing says a lot about what you offer your reader in that particular piece. Are you providing advice as a respected and experienced industry leader? Are you sharing the story of how your services helped a customer overcome an obstacle? Or are you explaining how to install software?

Here’s what you need to remember about your voice when writing for business:

The first person says “I did this.”

Second person says “You do that.”

And the active voice says “Do this. Do that.”

So how do you choose which voice to use? It depends on the format and the purpose of the piece.

I Can Help You

Using the first person “I” – is particularly effective when author has, well, authority in their field. The reader recognizes that the person writing the post knows what they’re talking about because they’ve dealt with the issues, solved the customer expectation problems, fixed the onboarding issue, solved the overnight shipping dilemma.

my first million followers

Using the first person voice in this guest post on Hootsuite makes sense for respected serial entrepreneur James Caan because it’s his experience and advice that attracts readers.

I’ve been there, I learned from it, I’ve studied it, here’s how I did it. I am now an authority in this field.

Using the first person is effective in blog posts, ‘About’ pages, LinkedIn posts, and some guest posts. It’s a great voice to use to tell a story from the perspective of someone who has been there, done that.

It’s all About “You”

If your business is serious about building a blog to attract readers, put the focus on them. As Marya Jan wrote in Problogger’s 23 Top Tips to Make Your Blog Posts More Conversational, “The most important word in blogging is “You.”

it's your fault your customers expectations are ridiculous

Britni Schwartz, Operations Director at Todaymade, (you know, the creators of editorial content and social media scheduling calendar app Coschedule?) wrote a great blog post that makes use of several clever language tricks for connecting with readers.

Now, it stands to reason that the people most likely to want to use Coschedule are busy and time-strapped – if you’ve ever tried to produce and schedule a business blog you understand. In It’s Your Fault Your Customers Expectations Are Ridiculous Schwartz immediately establishes that she, like her readers, is busy too. In fact, so busy that she “finally” got around to watching a movie, and she “finally took a trip to Red Box.” By using the first person “I” – she’s making her advice personal, and by using “you” she makes it intimate – she is talking directly to the reader. She talks about “we” and “our customers”, aligning herself with her readers. She and I are alike, you think, but she has information that I don’t…yet.

Use Your Bossy Voice

Sometimes it’s not only okay to be bossy, it’s preferred – especially when you’re trying to attract readers who are ready to sign up, take action, make a purchase. Also known as the “active” voice, this voice works well for email subscription landing pages, sales copy, DIY posts, tutorials, and how-to articles.

If, however, your research tells you your reader will respond better to a more gentle coaching voice than a direct teaching or advising tone, choose less forceful action words. But beware– this may make your writing less clear. For example, “Insert a call-to-action in the third line of your broadcast email” is an example of a clear direction given in an active voice. You can soften this to “Why not try a call-to-action in the third line of your broadcast email?”

The first example is a straight-up command – do this. It’s the voice to choose when the reader is on your page to get things done as quickly and simply as possible. The second example attracts a reader who is browsing or looking for suggestions on how to do something. She needs encouragement rather than commands, and isn’t as far along the sales funnel as the first reader.

Slanging with Style

Ever heard the advice to “write like you speak, but better?” Using slang and/or casual language appropriately can help you do this while attracting the reader you want.

Whether you should use slang or less-formal language in your blog posts and on your website depends on two things. Will your reader respond favorably to it? And does using slang undermine your business authority and credibility?

Using slang that your readers use themselves in conversation and will easily recognize can help them feel that your business and brand is one that “gets” them, but accomplishing this while maintaining your professionalism can be a bit of a balancing act.

I like to think of slang as the spice in the writing dish. Use it sparingly, to flavor the main ingredients of your blog post or web copy. Slang can work well in headlines and subheadings to catch the reader’s eye. It also has its place in storytelling and case studies as it may identify either the writer or the subjects as being peers of the reader.

The key to ‘slanging’ is to make sure you’re using words and phrases that your reader will immediately connect with, and that are appropriate to your product or service.

5 steps to improve saas onboarding

Good examples of effectively using slang and casual language in “Another awesome post” by Lincoln Murphy

Lincoln Murphy is a SaaS growth strategies consultant who runs the Sixteen Ventures blog. Not surprisingly, Murphy’s blog attracts SaaS owners and marketers. His blog post on 5 Steps to Improve Your SaaS Onboarding Process includes several examples of the effective and appropriate use of slang and casual language.

Take a look at heading number two.

ask 'em what's wrong while they're on the screen

The “slang” is short, sweet, and to the point. Ask ‘em what’s wrong. If Murphy was speaking to a room full of SaaS professionals about onboarding, these are probably exactly the words he’d say.

Here’s another example from the same post.

The language Murphy uses sounds natural and casual without making him sound less credible to his readers.

Pay attention to how you speak to customers on the phone. When you draft your next blog post or sales copy, copy your speaking pattern, then make it better by adding the words to flesh out your idea. It will make for a more naturally flowing post.

Wrap it Up

Using phrases and words your ideal reader recognizes and relates to makes your digital marketing materials more effective in attracting and engaging new readers. Research your target audience to discover not only what will catch their eye, but what will keep them reading.

Visit the social media networks and websites they frequent and make note of how they talk about the problems you can potentially help them with. Use this language to tell stories, describe problems and provide answers to situations and questions they relate to.

Talk about your service, app or product using your readers’ preferred words and phrases.

Above all, pay attention to their language! The more you know about their word and phrase choices, the better you’ll be able to tailor your writing and web content to connect with your reader, increasing the likelihood they’ll go from your ideal reader to your ideal customer.

About the Author: Sarita Harbour is a freelance writer and professional blogger covering business, finance and tech topics. You can follow Sarita on Twitter and Google+.

  1. I own a turnkey blog writing and management service and I always use client questions for sub-headings. It takes a little bit of digging on the sites you mentioned like Quora and Yahoo Answers, but I typically have each client provide me with a list of the most common questions they receive.

    Great points about social media, you can find a lot of great info there as well!

    Thank you for the awesome post!

    • Sarah, glad we could help. Thanks for the feedback. We look forward to hearing more from you :)

    • Yup, customer questions not only make great sub-headings, they’re a good source of entire blog posts.

      Thanks for the comment, Sarah!


  2. Lincoln Murphy Jun 26, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Thanks for including me in the post Sarita.

    I wanted to add a bit of context to your awesome post. When I first started writing, I was trying to be “professional” and use terms that only exist in Silicon Valley boardrooms. But it wasn’t me. It was inauthentic.

    And whenever I would work with a client who connected with me because of what I had written (in that inauthentic voice), I either had to put on a show, trying to be someone I’m not… or let them get to know the real me and hope that isn’t too shocking. It sucked… and I hated it.

    When I finally found my slangy voice – in other words, I just started being myself – all of the sudden things clicked. I could produce more content, it was more engaging, maybe even entertaining, and it helped me connect with people on a more, well, authentic level.

    If you like my posts, you’ll probably like talking to me in person which means you’ll probably like working with me. And I know that if you like the way I write, that I’ll probably also like talking and working with you.

    That said, my style has certainly turned away some otherwise well-meaning folks… and that’s actually awesome. Those folks who don’t like my style, probably wouldn’t enjoy talking to me in person and most likely would not enjoy working with me. So as much as my style attracts the right audience… it pushes away those that I don’t want to engage with. Win-win.

    • Hi Lincoln,

      Glad you enjoyed the post. You raise a great point that really drives home the idea of paying attention to language when trying to attract your ideal reader — self-qualifying audiences. If they like your writing style and view your message as authentic, they’re more likely to be the reader/customer you’re trying to reach.

      Thanks for the input. :)

  3. Amy Dunn Moscoso Jun 26, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    Hi Sarita,

    Great ideas here. I especially like your suggestion about looking up complaints. It’s always good to send out signals that resonate with your ideal customers.

    Thanks for the read.


    • Hi Amy,
      Yes, customer complaints are near-and-dear to my heart, lol. An often overlooked source of topics for content, as well as a great place to get ideas for new marketing angles as well as potential new product lines or entire businesses.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • Amy, glad we could help. Thanks for the feedback :)

  4. These are amazing inputs on how to really engage with the targeted audience. Few months ago, I have started my own e-commerce startup and started a platform where I can learn and identify the problems / issues of my customers.

    Most of the time, I tell my team to speak in their language and try to know the customer as much as they can.

  5. Whilst this is very interesting, I do feel far too much is being considered here. I wouldn’t view it all as an opportunity to ape other people’s colloquialisms – be yourself and don’t fret about how managing your language around customers. There’s nothing more off putting than seeing a brand trying to be hip and cool with #YOLO tags and what have you. Innit, yo.

    • Lol! I agree with your last point – forced hipness is really uncool. Just ask any parent desperately trying to connect with their teenager. However, when you are trying to share information and build a connection with a reader, they’re not going to get it if they don’t understand it and/or can’t relate to it. And like Lincoln mentioned in a previous comment, you want to sound natural and authentic, not forced. That’s why paying close attention to language in marketing materials and online content is so important – so you can craft multi-tasking content that sounds natural, conveys information, and connects with the audience you’re aiming for.

    • Great point! I think if things are done in moderation then it’s good. You should always try avoiding being too “hip”

  6. Sylvia Parker Jun 27, 2014 at 7:32 am

    I like that you talked about the importance of language in this post. Using words that your audience will understand and relate to is so important. Too many people try to lace their posts with big, fancy sounding words in order to sound impressive, but in reality it just pushes people away. Nobody likes feeling like an idiot if they don’t understand something.

    • Sylvia, glad you liked it! Thanks for the feedback. Looking forward to hearing a lot more from you :)

    • Thanks for the comment Sylvia! There are so many things to consider when creating content, it can be easy to overlook language choice.

  7. Great post! I like to use a variety of those voices. Some posts require an active voice and some are better in first person. Some posts I use more slang but the key is combining the styles. But I hadn’t given it as much thought as you have discussed here. Great ideas for connecting with my readers and hopefully gaining more readers! I’ve gotten some pretty lengthy questions over email and now I will post those with answers every once in a while. Thanks for the ideas!

  8. It’s absolutely my pleasure, Lisa. Glad you found the post useful. Email questions (and even complaints) are a great source of new content that your readers will find relevant. Chances are, if one person goes to the trouble to email you the question, there are more readers out there who have the same questions.

  9. Stephen Krauska Jun 16, 2015 at 8:32 am

    love the idea to check comment sections for upvotes when trying to learn the best language to use. I’ll be stealing that!


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