Cookies on Knowhow Nonprofit

We use cookies in order for parts of Knowhow Nonprofit to work properly, and also to collect information about how you use the site. We use this information to improve the site and tailor our services to you. For more, see our page on privacy and data protection.

OK

Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Community-made content which you can improve Case study from our community

How to be persuasive online

How to write web content which inspires someone to do something.

I've been doing some work around writing persuasively recently as part of the iKnowhow project and via some freelance work looking at how charities promote their fundraising online. Here are my main recommendations. This is a big topic so if you have insights to share, please add them.

1

Think about motivation

Before you write anything on your page think about the following:

  • who is your audience?
  • what action do you want them to take?
  • what might motivate them to take action?
  • what might stop them?
  • what might persuade them to take additional action?

If you don't know the answers to this question, think about doing a short survey to find out. This can be done online or informally. Brainstorm with colleagues or look at other similar organisations to get an insight into triggers.

Once you have an insight into these motivations, incorporate them into your content. Don't assume that because someone has come to your website / page, they have already decided to support you. You still need to influence them to take action.

2

Make an impact

First sentence

You only have a short time to persuade someone to read on - so start with an engaging / powerful statement. This could be a:

Ideally this sentence should be short (10-20 words) and punchy. It should start with the most important or emotive words (known as front-loading) to give maximum impact so that readers are drawn in to find out more. So, to give a different perspective the Oxfam sentence above could be changed to:

Serious food crisis is threatening the lives of 13 million people across West Africa.

Here, starting with the word serious rather than the number (even though it's a big one) could be considered stronger. How you write is very personal and what you write will depend on what you are trying to achieve. The first sentence especially has the potential to captivate or alienate readers. If you are not sure how you should pitch your opening line, do some testing. You could test two versions of the page and see if there is any difference in response or your ask contacts which means more to them.

Pictures

Images work well to instantly tell a story. A powerful picture is one that is easy to understand. Viewers shouldn't have to think about what it is about. The subject should be obvious, the image should be uncluttered and tell a simple story.

Pictures of people on their own rather than in groups seem to be more persuasive.

Writing for the web

Remember that how you structure the rest of your page is important too. Writing for the web tricks will make it easy for people to skim read and quickly understand what your page is about. Use short headings to break sections up. These headings could be calls to action or take readers through a journey.

Usability

The usability of your page (or the way it is designed) is a vital part of persuasion. If you haven't made it as easy as possible for someone to download a pack or fill in a form or register or buy something, then they will give up. You might think that a link is obvious but others might miss it completely. You might think that your explanation of the registration process is clear but it may be confusing and mean that users don't complete the process.

Test, test and test again with friends / family / colleagues / users to check that you the journey to do something is easy.

3

Think about language

Think about the words that influence behaviour and encourage a sense of participation.

Manners

Saying please / thank you is good as it shows you recognise the effort someone is taking to support you.

You and we

Connect with your readers by addressing them as 'you' rather than 'they'. So, for example:

  • You: "You can make a difference by XXX"
  • They: "Our supporters make a difference by XXX"

The 'you' is more immediate and personal and makes readers feel like they could get involved rather than reading about something they are not part of.

How you talk about your organisation and the work you do will have an impact too. Use 'we', 'us' and 'our' rather than the more formal name of your organisation. 

Tone

Think about the tone of your page. You may want to use these words to convey:

  • enthusiasm (excited / impressed / fantastic work / happy)
  • worry (plight / help / need)
  • challenge (difficult / tough / barriers)
  • urgency (now / today / join)
  • gratitude (without your help / means a lot / thank you).
4

Show the power of community

A powerful influencer is showing that people like you are already doing something. Being part of a big effort is more motivating that thinking you are the only one doing something. Lots of people doing the same thing (and talking about it via social media and their networks) makes participants feel important, powerful and inspired and will (hopefully) make a significant difference.

A way of communicating this is by having targets and goals eg:

  • Over 400 people have already written to the the Chancellor. Add your voice and help him understand why XXX needs to change. Email G
  • We need £1000 to run this service. So far you have raised £695. With your help we can continue to help people with X.

The Blue Peter-style totaliser (whether used for fundraising or campaigning) has a persausive impact as it shows how much has been achieved and how much further there is to go. Sites like JustGiving use these types of graphic well.

Fundraising

When writing fundraising content, think about these three levels of showing the power of group activity to influence future participation:

1) show how many people have previously done something for example taken part in an event or raised money through eBay or sold raffle tickets

2) show the difference those funds have made

3) show that with a little more effort, even more could be raised (for example: "If everyone sold just two more tickets, an extra XX would be raised").

5

Use opportunity windows

Once someone has taken action (written to their MP, signed up for a newsletter, made a donation etc) they are more likely to do something else, especially if you make it easy for them. After they have done their task, say thank you (on a web page or email) and then present further ways they can get involved.

Related tasks

Present further tasks which are similar to the one they have just done. For example if they have registered to recycle a phone, show them how they can recycle printer cartridges too.

Sharing tasks

A supporters' personal network can be very valuable to you. Make it easy for someone who has just done something to tell their network about it and therefore encourage them to do it to. You could include a suggested tweet or message for Facebook to your thank you message or make it easy for someone to forward an email to their friends and family.

Unrelated tasks

General supporter tasks such as sign up for our newsletter or follow us on Twitter are good easy options for additional methods.

Think carefully about whether you want to do a hard ask of requesting donations at this stage. This won't always be appropriate and may put more people off.

6

Evaluate

Given that persuasion is so subjective, it is important to analyse and evaluate how much action you are actually inspiring. You might think you've got it right but without monitoring activity you don't really know. Look at your sign up / donation rates - what percentage of visitors to the page are being converted into taking action?

Use Google Analytics (which is free) or an alternative web statistics package to monitor access to particular pages and user-journeys. Other useful data may come from sources outside your website (such as fundraising sites or online petitions). Bring all your data together and analyse effectiveness over periods of time. Don't forget to factor-in other triggers which generate extra interest such as promotion you're doing (newsletters, press coverage or social media) or general news coverage of your cause. 

If you're not getting the results you hoped for or expected, try rewriting or reordering the page and see what difference it makes.

Further information

If this has got you thinking about how you write for your website, take a look at this writing accessible web content how to and my StudyZone course on making the most of your web content.

Useful links about persuasive writing and design

Contributors

Page last edited Sep 12, 2017 History

Help us to improve this page – give us feedback.

1 star 2 stars 3 stars 4 stars 5 stars 2.9/5 from 1743 ratings