The Only Time to Use the Word “We” in Web Copywriting

The Most Interesting Copy in the World“We” is a bad, bad word in copywriting.

You should reword every line of copy you have that begins with “we”.

Whether in an email. Or on your website.

Reword it.

Here’s what I recommend: Change sentences that begin with “we” so they either:

  1. Begin with “you”… or
  2. Begin with no pronoun at all (like a question or a command / call to action)

Simply: Cut the word “we” wherever you possibly can.

Yes, even on the “About Us” page.

Why?

Because your visitors don’t want to hear about you.

They want to hear about themselves – about their problems, about their needs, about their futures.

As I write in Book 1, your message is not yours at all. It’s gotta be about ‘them’.

By and large, if you want to write copy that gets results – like shares, signups and sales – it’s important that you start thinking of the word “we” as the root of all evil.

Really hate on it.

Growl when you see it.

Slap your fingers when they consider typing it.

(While you’re at it, hate on this word that begins with “we” and that absolutely never belongs on your site: “Welcome”.)

HOWEVER!

However, there is an exception.

One exception. Just one.

There is ONE time when you can and should use the word “we”.

Do you know what it is?

Do you want to?

Ready for it?

You are hereby granted the right to use the word “we” in your copywriting in this case only:

We promise…

But first things first: Do you even have a promise? What do you promise prospects and customers?

~ Why a Promise Can Increase Your Conversion Rate ~

An article in the Harvard Business Review gives a pretty awesome rationale for promising your customers something real:

“If you’re running a business, this is what you contend with: the rampant assumption that your main goal in life is to part fools from their money.”

In Likeonomics, Rohit Bhargava offers further explanation:

“The first and most basic reason for distrust is because there are so many companies and people who choose to lie to us either by making misleading claims or simply by hiding the truth.”

Nobody trusts anyone.

Least of all companies.

Could it be that your <2% conversion rate is due to visitors not trusting you?

I’m not talking about security icons and McAfee logos here.

I’m talking about deeper trust.

I’m talking about the difference between not trusting the guy in the dark alley carrying a switchblade… and not trusting your partner who’s mysteriously started texting “a friend” a lot.

There are layers of trust. Levels.

Security logos only get through the topmost layers. They scratch the surface.

A promise, on the other hand…

A promise is the thing that makes you trust your partner. She promised, in front of God and everyone you love, that she’ll always be true to you. So you have an easier time trusting her.

What if a new business to whom you were considering giving your money made you a flat-out promise?

What if your business made a promise to its customers?

You know promises work. Youve been sold on promises already.

Here are 2 biggies:

THE PROMISE: Your Pizza in 30 Minutes or It’s FreeCopy Hackers post on promises in copywriting

THE PROMISE: To Deliver Your Package by 10:30am the Next Day

Familiar with those promises?

Now, before you start comparing yourself to Pizza Hut and FedEx and feeling all weird ‘cos you aren’t them and you don’t have the ad budgets they have, give me a sec.

What those 2 companies have is a “brand promise”. And that brand promise was expressed to the masses in slogans while highly paid consultants and agencies disseminated it through the ranks of each company. They worked hard to get an important promise out there and to live it.

Sure, you need a brand promise – but, right now, you just need a basic promise.

A specific thing that you can promise people you will do for them.

A succinct and real promise you can put on the page with the words “We promise”.

This doesn’t have to be the core promise of your brand. That can come as your startup grows.

It just needs to be a specific promise people can read and instantly trust in.

Because your prospects need to know you’ve got some skin in the game, too!

So, what might your promise be?

~ How to Find Your Promise ~

Remember how, at the beginning of this post, I talked about how people only care about things that matter to them?

That knowledge will come in handy now as you start to think about what you can and should promise your prospects.

What do they want from you?

What are they worried you’re only SAYING you’ll do?

Once you know what they want and what their worries are, then the Captain Obvious No-Brainer of the Day is 1) to make sure you can give them what they want… and then 2) either PROMISE them you’ll give them what they want… or PROMISE them you won’t do the thing they’re worried about. Some examples:

Consultancy That Helps Lawyers Select Ediscovery Software
Prospect Concern: That the consultants will try to force their fave software on the firm.
Promise: “We promise to help you choose the software that’s exactly right for your firm’s needs.”

Web-Based Home Security Service
Prospect Concern: That whenever the Internet flakes out, their home will no longer be secured.
Promise: “Our promise to you: Even if the Internet goes down or the power goes out, your home will be as protected as ever.”

Etsy Retailer That Makes Gold Jewelry
Prospect Concern: That the ‘gold’ won’t be gold and it will turn fingers and necks green.
Promise: “We promise that the only gold we use in any of our designs is 24K gold. It will never turn your skin color.”

You could state specifically why you are better than your competition. You could be offering lower costs, greater speed, or technological benefits that other companies cannot match. Don’t hide promises like those. State them openly.

You could promise prospects they’ll save 30% on a client’s payroll costs, for example, or that you’ll deliver all products within 24 hours.

If you do that, give proof of your promises by citing the results you’ve achieved for other companies, if possible. And consider adding an outcome or guarantee if you don’t come through on your promise – like “or it’s free next time” or “or we’ll buy you a copy of X”.

~ What Should You Do With Your Promise? ~

For starters, make sure you can follow through on it.

It would be very bad if you started promising something you couldn’t deliver. Like a free domesticated rattlesnake with every purchase. Or 2-day shipping during the holidays.

Then… put it on the page!

Test it as your new home page subhead. Or as your headline itself. Or as a click-trigger near your primary CTAs. Or in your cart. Or in all of the above places!

But DO NOT water it down, soften it up or ((shudder)) “make it sing”.

This is not a tagline.

It is a promise.

And it is your one chance to talk about yourself on your own damn site.

So write the promise out on your page, just like I did in the examples above. I recommend testing it as your headline (or in close proximity to it).

Your promise should begin with “We promise” or “Our promise to you”. (Because we’re conditioned to listen to and believe in those words.)

It should be SPECIFIC. (Because summaries suck.)

It should be unmistakable.

And it should be kept.

Happy copy hacking,
Joanna

What If Your Copy Didn't Bore the Crap Outta Prospects?
You've only got so much time to write emails and landing pages. Stop wasting your time - and your visitors' time - on weak attempts.

  • Get a free 120-page persuasion guide
  • Get a free 7-part copy mini-course
  • Be the first to hear about cool shizzle

  • Leah

    Is it the same with “I”? Are you also against it? What about the page “about the author” or “about us”? Do you think the page should also be written in the third person? I see it here and there, but it sounds strange to me when the person describes herself/himself in the third person singular. What can you advise?

    • Joanna

      Yeah, Leah, I’d generally recommend against “I” as well. The overarching point here is that you should always talk about your visitors. But when I say to people “always talk about your visitors”, that’s not quite as actionable as “don’t use the word ‘we'” — so this post is meant to get really practical with the concept of using customer-centric messages.

      That said, on your “About” page, in a bio, I’d agree that, depending on your brand, you should probably stick with “I” — as in “I’m Joanna, and I’ve been writing conversion copy for a decade”.

      Outside of the bios, though, if you use the word “we”, you really have to ask yourself why you’re doing so. Do people really want to hear about you?–or do they want to hear how what you do ties in with what they need? Ask yourself that question with each line you write.

      Remember that the “About” page is one of the most visited pages on a site. So if you’re getting sloppy or lazy with your messaging just because you lie to yourself that visitors actually want to read a whole page about you, you’re losing money. And you can’t say no one told you so. :)

  • Jacob

    Joanna, thank you for another great post. Do you hold this same stance regardless of the copy being meant for website or email copy? Even if the email is from a “one-man shop,” service provider?

    • Joanna

      Hi, Jacob. :) I know I’m getting a wee bit overzealous with the idea of never using the word “we”, so, yes, there are times to use it.

      Rare times.

      Few-and-very-far-between times.

      It helps to think of “we” as a swear word —- there’s a time to use it, but you shouldn’t just throw it around or drop it casually. Use “we” intentionally, not because you got sloppy. If you can keep that in mind, then, sure, there are other times to use “we”. But best to lead with “you” or a command wherever possible. The more you talk about what your visitors are going through – and the less you talk about yourself – the better.