Copywriting in mobile apps has to be brief, branded, and usable. Just like billboard ads, text has to be short and with character, so that a glance is enough to understand what’s being communicated. An additional requirement for mobile apps is being user-friendly: reading the copy is important to do significant tasks that are comparable to desktop software. Now that’s a lot of requirements to consider!
From working on only a single app for the past two and a half years I have learnt quite a bit about copywriting. Anghami, the music streaming app that I help design and manage, has gone through so many copywriting iterations. Each time we create copy for the app, we strive for clear and direct wording, not to mention maintaining our friendly and approachable tone.
Our audience uses the app in English and Arabic mainly, and it can be challenging to write copy that is effective and the same in both languages. Users are mostly based in the Middle East, so those who have Anghami set to English aren’t native English speakers. That’s why we assume they have an intermediate English understanding, and complicated or technical terminology is not allowed. In turn, Arabic is a beautiful language but it’s tough to deal with. The Arabic language didn’t keep up with tech slang properly, so a lot of thought is put into every new term we want to add.
So how does a music app adopt an intermediary English level? By looking for simple words and by ensuring that copy is easy to understand than being professionally correct. Throughout the app, Anghami uses the term song, not track (اغنية). A new release is communicated as new song. It might not be as sexy as release, but new song is more obvious. Our Charts are referred to as Top Songs (افضل الاغاني). We don’t say characters, we say letters (احرف), even though the correct word is characters. Genre is already too much for our audience, we use kind of music or music style (انواع الموسيقى). When adding a song to the play queue, no queue is mentioned — Anghami says play next. Even a basic tech term like offline is substituted by without internet (من دون انترنت). An error is only useful for developers — users only want to know that something wrong happened.
Choose clear and obvious words
The importance of clarity cannot be understated. We have a premium plan called “Anghami Plus”. The call to action used to be “upgrade” to Anghami Plus, which is a powerful and actionable word. But people comprehended “upgrade” to be a one-time payment, not a monthly one. Also, upgrade is often confused with “updating” the app to the latest version — even the team at Anghami confused both. That’s why we retired “update” and opted for “subscribe” which clearly shows that Anghami Plus is a subscription, just like a gym subscription.
Consider the user’s context
Another important use of copywriting is insinuating context. Anghami suggests music based on the time of day, like energizing music in the morning, smooth songs in the evening, and party playlists on the weekend. To give higher value to these recommendations, a title indicates the context. We give thought to come up with concise and friendly messages such as “Need a morning boost?”, “It’s the weekend!”, “Put your headphones on and relax” — a perfect message at 10pm on a Wednesday. This is extended to all communication we make, even outside Anghami on social media and ads. After all, music is a great accompaniment to almost all our daily activities.
In addition to context, Anghami is very personalized to each user. Based on the music a user listens to, we recommend playlists and notify the user of new songs. Instead of using language about the complex algorithms that make suggestions based on their usage, we use an approachable language so they feel the value of the picks we made. Terms like “New songs for you” and “We think you’ll love this playlist” help create a personalized environment.
Sometimes we create a new term to suit our copy’s objective. One good example is Anghami’s “Personal DJ” (منسق الموسيقى), where users can easily play music based on their activity, mood, or taste. Personal DJ does not have a dictionary meaning, but it gives the right feeling we’re aiming for. It’s also easily memorable so that users can remember that feature without effort.
Creativity is also needed when translating English terms to their Arabic counterparts. It’s important that the translator have a clear understanding of the context. Translations are rarely word-for-word, and often times the meaning is slightly changed to better suit Arabic users. If Personal DJ were to be translated word for word, it would be “منسق الموسيقى الخاص بك”. No menu can hold an item that large, so we opted for “DJ” in our Arabic version (منسق الموسيقي).
Don’t say anything
The best copy is often times no copy at all. Only essential communication should be made. When a duplicate song is added to a playlist, we wanted to alert the user that this song already exists in the playlist. But we figured that there’s no need to alert the user, and Anghami can silently ignore the request. When the user opens the playlist, the song will still be there. By only keeping essential communication, the user will more likely read and understand what we’re saying.
Editing copy is a constantly evolving process. Our understanding of users is always changing, and users’ perception is continuously maturing. That’s why changing copy should be easy.
We centralize all our app copywriting in one source. That way changing copy is transparent to the developers, and we can easily manage copy that needs to be translated. Copy that resides in Anghami’s servers is also centralized. Changing text on the server side doesn’t require any developer time and is immediately reflected in the app. We can change text at will and analyze user behavior to find the best copy.
It’s important not to fall in love with a term, and be open to changing it. If the translator or any colleague asks for clarifying a phrase, it probably needs to be rewritten.
For the love of copy
Good app copywriting should have its own voice, but also be easy to understand. It’s a significant part of the user experience. Copywriting requires as much thought as other design elements, but it’s much easier to sketch, share, and evaluate. A visual User Interface idea can take a lot of work to be convincing (colors, spacing, animation, typography). Alternatively, demonstrating a copy idea can be as simple as sending a text message. It’s easy to spend more time on visual design, and disregard copywriting as secondary, until it’s obvious users don’t understand what the app is saying.
“Good music will change your day”