Copy that means business: how Canva aligns content with business metrics
Amelia Marshall

Copy that means business: how Canva aligns content with business metrics


We’ve all heard it before—content is king, especially when it comes to growing your business. But how do you ensure the content you put out there will actually achieve your goals? In this blog post, Canva’s resident content expert Amelia Marshall shares how we use the power of words to grow our user base, and reveals her tips on how to create content that is not only engaging and valuable, but also holds up against your business metrics.

Human beings love a good story. It’s hardwired into our brains—since the days when cavemen gathered around the campfire, stories have been a way to teach, learn, and connect with others.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and stories are everywhere, from ad campaigns to selfie captions. And storytelling’s cousin, content, is particularly prevalent: the average person now consumes about 34 gigabytes worth of information every day, or some 100,000 words worth of information.

So what is “content”? Content covers everything from blog posts to videos. To paraphrase Nora Ephron, everything is content. And content marketing is exactly what it sounds like—using content to promote your business to potential customers.

But here’s the thing: nobody wants to read content marketing. Research shows that millennials no longer respond to ads—and if your content sounds like an ad, they’ll know it. But a well-told story still cuts through.

It’s no secret that Canva is focused on growth—our mission is to empower the world to design, and by that we mean the whole world. And content has been a crucial part of our growth to date: from landing pages that bring in new users, to blog posts that garner thousands of shares and boost our domain authority.

In this blog, I’ll share our approach into using content to move the needle for Canva, starting with:

  • understanding your tone of voice,
  • understanding your target audience, and
  • understanding what makes quality content.

Voice and tone: striking the right note


First, a note on voice.

Tone of voice is essentially about being empathetic with a user’s state of mind.

It helps build the right rapport with our users: One thing we’ve tried to address at Canva is vague error messages. For example, the message “Oops... something went wrong! Try again later.” used to be displayed when an error occurred while downloading their design. For a user, the “Oops!” looks frivolous—and can cause a lot of frustration. We amended this message to “Something went wrong while preparing your design for download. Please try again.”

It helps increase engagement: Another example is when we send an onboarding email sequence to new people who have signed up for a Canva account. It’s the perfect opportunity to build momentum and to encourage new users to start designing. By changing the button on this email from the drier “Start the free tutorial” to the more exciting “Unlock my design skills”, we saw a 28% uplift in click-throughs.

before and after buttons


Canva’s content strategy covers everything from emails to ads and blog posts. Across every platform, we aim to speak with one voice. The Canva voice is friendly, empowering, inspiring and visual.

You can draw a direct line from Canva’s mission and values, to Canva’s voice. “Be a good human” and “Make complex things simple” are two of our key company values, and they’re a crucial part of how we talk to our users, too. When we pulled together Canva’s Voice and Tone guide, it was these values that we kept returning to.


How we created our Voice and Tone guide

Your brand’s voice remains consistent in everything you write – but the tone changes according to the context. Fun and irreverent might work on social media, but it won’t go down well in an error message.

Step 1: First, we defined Canva’s voice. This involved exercises to narrow down what makes Canva, well, Canva. We asked “who would Canva be if it were a person” (the answer is Oprah—helpful, warm, intent on making the world a better place) and did card-sorting exercises, where we listed dozens of adjectives that describe what Canva’s voice is, and isn’t.

Step 2: We then whittled this list down to four key attributes. Canva’s voice is friendly, empowering, inspiring and visual; it is not silly, intimidating, negative or flowery.

Step 3: The final step was specifying the Canva tone in all of its different expressions — emails, error messages, blogs, social media and more. Our audience’s frame of mind is different in each of these scenarios, and we have to change our tone accordingly. We specified the user’s mindset, then wrote examples for each scenario.


For any business looking to create a content marketing strategy, establishing how you want to sound is just as important as figuring out what you want to say.

There are plenty of ways to measure the success of a content marketing strategy – after all, that’s what this article is about. But as Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And if you’re converting a large number of visitors to your site, but you’re giving them the wrong impression about who you are as a brand, then you’re doing your business no favors. Days, weeks and months after a potential user has clicked away from your site, they’re left with an impression of who you are as a brand.

That’s the far-reaching legacy of your brand’s voice.

Who are you writing for?

The number one thing to remember when you’re creating content online is that it’s not about you. Sure, you might be creating it to sell your product, promote your business, or because you think you’re ‘supposed’ to. But these priorities need to be put aside when planning and writing content; your content needs to be in service of its audience.

Content that means business has to have one foot in both camps. Now, I may not be a data scientist, but I like a graph as much as the next person who works in tech – so here’s a Venn diagram demonstrating the content marketing sweet spot.

The content marketing sweet spot


So how do you decide what to write about? With user research. By finding out what your target user (or customer) is interested in, you can create an endless treasure trove of content inspiration.

For Canva, a lot of our content is tied to retention – so it’s aimed at our current user base. This means we can look at all of the information we have about our users, and find ideas for our next story. For example, we know from our most-used design types that a lot of our users are creating marketing material. So we have a wide range of articles that bring value to these users by teaching them about marketing. It’s never sell-sell-sell. Instead, it’s about lending insights.

In her book Badass: Making Users Awesome, Kathy Sierra talks about the product, and the context around the product. For Canva, that context is design – and it’s a fertile ground for content marketing. And it’s also tied to the other plank of Canva’s content strategy, which is product education. Product education helps users realize the full potential of Canva.

Canva also creates content to attract new users. With this in mind, we research topics where people have a high amount of ‘intent’ – for us, that’s people searching for information related to design. We’ve shared our strategy for growing our audience in the past, and the approach remains fool-proof: identify the content that your audience is interested in, find the market gap, and create high-quality content.

Take one of our highest-converting articles in 2018 as an example: Here’s what your resume should look like in 2018. It answers a burning question in the mind of the Googler, providing them with expert perspectives and actionable tips. Yes, we want users to try our resume templates, but we also want them to feel like they’ve learned something useful. It’s no wonder that so many readers decide to click through and try a Canva template.

How did we come up with this particular post on resumes? Well, first we looked at user research – in this case, the document types that are most likely to bring in new users. I looked at user data tracking the most commonly made designs in Canva, then looked specifically at new users. Resumes turned out to be a popular design type for this cohort. Next, we looked at the kinds of questions people ask about resumes using SEO keyword research. I started by using a handy (and free!) tool called Answer The Public, which reveals the kinds of questions people ask about a particular keyword. For resumes, questions like “what resume should look like”, “what resume template is most successful” and “what resume format should I use” dominated the results.

The content marketing sweet spot


Keyword research showing the kinds of questions people ask about resumes

From this research, it was clear that we could offer some valuable insights on this topic. Finally, we wrote the post, and peppered it with CTAs that bring new users on board – every template displayed is a call to action. Some 15% of visitors to this post sign up or create a design in Canva.


Be of service: this is the principle that guides our entire content strategy. With error messages, for instance, we tell the user what went wrong, and what to do next. For this reason, clickbait is never acceptable. It doesn’t offer value to your audience, and it doesn’t provide a high-intent opportunity for conversion.


Optimization: the key to quality content

But how do we know if this content is any good?

Every article, email, and push notification we write features a call to action. That means that no piece of content is an end in and of itself. It has to be a stepping stone to some sort of business goal: say, acquiring more users, or upgrading them to Canva for Work. This means that every piece of content features a call to action.

At Canva, all of our marketing is done within the Growth Marketing team. This means that we have to uphold the principles of growth marketing: measuring results and using 10X thinking.

So it’s crucial that these calls to action drive results. We test every piece of content we create. If it’s a blog post, we track how much traffic it receives; but this is but no means a fait accompli. From there, we measure how much of that traffic leads to conversions.

The next step is optimization. This is where the real magic happens. You look at the data and you ask: how could I improve this? For posts that under-perform in terms of traffic, we might look for longtail SEO keywords that we can expand upon in the article, to bring in more organic visitors. Then we add to the original article. For posts that have a low percentage of conversions, we’ll tweak the wording of the CTA. The options are endless, which is part of the fun: you can never stop optimizing.

One of my first projects at Canva was re-writing the Canva for Work landing page. The original version had been around since the product’s launch in 2015. The most prominent tag-line on the page read “Easily create beautiful documents and designs. Use Canva’s drag-and-drop editor to design stunning graphics.” While this is absolutely a selling point, it’s ultimately a selling point for the free version of Canva. So why pay for the premium product? To optimize this page, I looked at user reviews of Canva for Work, and discovered what it was that people rave about.

This process is pretty scrappy and straightforward: we read reviews of Canva on sites like Capterra, and look for the phrases that people use again and again. With Canva for Work, people constantly mentioned how it makes them look professional. So that became the new tag line: Design made professional. Coupled with a design overhaul, the new landing page nearly doubled conversions overnight.


The original Canva for Work landing page


The original Canva for Work landing page


The updated Canva for Work landing page


The updated Canva for Work landing page, featuring a design and copy overhaul

Iteration is the second prong of this strategy. If you’ve had some success with an article, or a landing page strategy, a hundred more opportunities are unlocked.

Say you’re writing for a wellness blog, and your article “7 great smoothie bowls to try this week”  has really taken off. There are a number of hypotheses you can test based on this article’s success. Maybe your readers really like listicles – so you could try “10 brilliant supplements you haven’t heard of”. Perhaps smoothie bowls are having a moment – so why not try “9 smoothie bowl flavors you’ll love” ? Or it could be the weekly meal guide format that really connects with your audience, so try “7 healthy weeknight meals made in 20 minutes”.

One way we do this at Canva is by revising content that’s performed well in the past. For example, the world of social media is a fast-moving one, so while our 2016 article See how these companies win on Instagram — and learn how you can do the same without a professional designer still brings in traffic, there are new trends and insights that are much more relevant. So, we spoke to branding and design experts and created a new version of the post filled with current insights – 12 brands that are killing it on Instagram. This post now brings in 20x the traffic of its predecessor.


The 2016 post


Before: The 2016 post shows its age with old Instagram UI, and filter-heavy graphics


The new version


After: The new version features current UI – and the latest trends

Final thoughts

In a world where anyone with a keyboard is a writer, there is endless competition in the content marketplace. But clickbait is not the answer; useful, high-quality content is the key to unlocking success. Instead of asking “how can we stand out”, ask “how can we be of service”. Your content strategy will fall into place from there.




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