A tagline is a pithy phrase that characterizes the whole enterprise, summing up what it is and what makes it great. Taglines have been around for a long time in advertising, entertainment, and publishing: “Thousands of cars at impossibly low prices,” “More stars than there are in the heavens,”¹ and “All the News That’s Fit to Print,”² for example.
On a Web site, the tagline appears right below, above, or next to the Site ID.
Taglines are a very efficient way to get your message across, because they’re the one place on the page where users most expect to find a concise statement of the site’s purpose.
Some attributes to look for when choosing a tagline:
- Good taglines are clear and informative and explain exactly what your site or your organization does.
- Good taglines are just long enough, but not too long. Six to eight words seem to be long enough to convey a full thought, but short enough to absorb easily.
- Good taglines convey differentiation and a clear benefit. Jakob Nielsen has suggested that a really good tagline is one that no one else in the world could use except you, and I think it’s an excellent way to look at it.
- Bad taglines sound generic.
NationalGrid can probably get away with using a motto instead of a differentiating tagline, because they’re a public utility with a captive audience, so differentiation isn’t an issue.
Don’t confuse a tagline with a motto, like “We bring good things to life,” “You’re in good hands,” or “To protect and to serve.” A motto expresses a guiding principle, a goal, or an ideal, but a tagline conveys a value proposition. Mottoes are lofty and reassuring, but if I don’t know what the thing is, a motto isn’t going to tell me.
- Good taglines are personable, lively, and sometimes clever. Clever is good, but only if the cleverness helps convey—not obscure—the benefit.
1. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, in the 1930s and ’40s.
2. The New York Times. I have to confess a personal preference for the Mad magazine parody version, though: “All the News That Fits, We Print.”