Everywhere I look these days I seem to be able to find mistakes in copywriting. From magazine articles and adverts through to corporate websites and television programmes.
Now I don’t want to turn this into a rant, so instead let’s think of this as a copywriting workshop, because I’m going to focus on something close to my heart – copy on websites. Or, more to the point, copywriting mistakes on websites. These are the kind of typos, bloopers and inconsistencies that can readily be found on websites across the net, representing the corporate image of organisations great and small.
What is the Purpose of Your Website?
It does not matter whether you are a multi-national corporation, a small one man band, an e-commerce solution or a charity. Your website should exist to enforce your brand and instil confidence in your visitors, whether you want their time, money or praise as a result.
These purposes are eroded by mistakes and inconsistencies, which in extreme cases will leave people concerned about an organisation that does not take care of its online persona. Your website is a huge investment so it’s a shame to let anything detract from all the hard work that has gone into its construction.
Am I making a fuss about nothing? Surely a few spelling mistakes can’t have that much of a negative effect on a business? A recent BBC article shares my fears about sloppy copy. According to the article spelling mistakes “cost millions” in online sales, with consumers being put off from making purchases by spelling mistakes on e-commerce sites.
Doesn’t seem like I’m moaning about nothing now does it?
Common Copywriting Mistakes
To illustrate my point I’m going to go over some easy to make (and fix) mistakes I see time and again.
This one rears its head so often it’s amazing. Now bad spelling should be reasonably easy to avoid, but what about those words that aren’t really spelling mistakes and won’t always get flagged up by a spell checker: “your” “you’re”, “their” “there”, “weather” “whether”, “wait” “weight” , “to, too” are all common mistakes that you should avoid.
Be prepared for a shock if you ask someone to bare with you!
Sentences work best with a capital letter at the start (and a full stop at the end). This is conventional wisdom and helps your readers out. However your design may involve the use of all lower case letters for headings and sub headings, if this is the case just try and be consistent across your site, then everyone knows it’s a part of your design.
Which Side of the Atlantic are you from?
There are obvious differences in spelling between some English words and their Americanized (easy my pedantic friends I’m only illustrating my point) counterparts. I really don’t have any problem with the use of American English on the web – please just use it consistently if you do.
Why Do Companies Make Copy Mistakes?
As I’ve hopefully made it clear above, misspellings, poor grammar and other general errors are easy to make (particularly if your spell check is set to the wrong version of English). But sometimes companies will deliberately make mistakes in their copy. Why would you do this? Simple – for SEO purposes.
If your keyword research suggests that a misspelling has a great search volume and very few competitors, it’s tempting to optimise your website for that phrase. But please, don’t use this strategy – bad spelling has no place in on page copy. Any ethical SEO agency will tell you that Google’s “Did You Mean” feature automatically shows results for a correct spelling, which really makes optimising for bad spellings kind of pointless.
In case you still think it’s a good idea to target misspellings – in spite of the lost business and the Did You Mean? results – maybe the words of Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team will help you see sense:
Tons of spammers target typos and misspelled queries all the time.
By deliberately making mistakes with your copy, Google thinks you look like a spammer. Maybe potential customers will too.
How to Avoid these Pitfalls.
Above are just a few examples of easy to make copywriting mistakes that can let down the feel of an otherwise great website, and thankfully, they are just as easy to fix.
- Take your time when you are planning your website and don’t underestimate the power of well written copy.
- Try and use a professional copywriter (and brief them thoroughly) for your project, this will save you time and money as well as ensuring your message gets across to your prospective audience in the clearest most concise way. Please don’t be tempted to do it yourself or use your web developer.
- Copy and paste from Word after using the spell checker (and a visual check for those wrong words spelled right). Typing copy directly onto your website is an accident waiting to happen.
- Proof read your copy thoroughly and get some outside opinions.
- Watch your formatting and ensure you consistently use headings, sub-heading and capitalisation across your site.
And here endeth the copywriting workshop.