May 13, 2009

Cures for 10 Common Web Copy Mistakes


Hostway Team

Sometimes it's difficult to communicate what you know about your company in a meaningful and direct way. When you’re planning the content for your Web site, watch out for some of the most common writing mistakes and find out how to make your words speak volumes.

1. Using company-focused language

Open your Web site copy with "We're the largest sock retailer in the Midwest", and your visitor thinks "Great. So what?"

While being the largest is impressive, you're telling your potential customers about yourself, rather than explaining what you can do for them. Use customer-focused language such as "Keep your feet warm this winter with the Midwest's largest selection of socks."

2. Touting features, not benefits

You don't buy a vacuum cleaner for its powerful motor. You buy it because it cleans your floors and your home. The first one is a feature, and the second is a benefit.

When you write copy for your Web site, focus on the benefits over the features. Benefits make a better impression on your customers and may increase sales.

3. Relying on business-speak

There are two types of business-speak: jargon, understandable only to those in the industry, and buzzwords, trite words and phrases that lose their impact through constant repetition.

Your readers may simply not understand jargon or buzzwords. When you find yourself wanting to use jargon or buzzwords, fight the urge by using a more specific way to communicate your thoughts.

Rather than saying a deal creates "synergy", for example, you can say that the deal combines your supply chain with company x's worldwide distribution network for next day deliveries.

4. Writing in the passive voice

We've all heard this one before. But it's worth noting again that lively, active verbs make your copy more interesting to read.

Consider this example:

Passive: "Your wait time is cut by ordering directly from our Web site."

Active: "Online orders cut your wait time in half."

Writing in the active voice makes your copy more concise and easier to understand.

5. Writing for the wrong audience

Your writing style will have a big effect on your audience. If you write your copy as if you're writing an academic paper, your average reader will click away. When you're writing for your Web site, write for your customers and prospective customers, not a college professor. Use a conversational tone and avoid complex words that will send your readers to the dictionary.

6. Creating large blocks of text

Unlike the printed page, it's difficult to read large blocks of text on a computer monitor. Limit your paragraphs to just a few sentences. Also, use bulleted lists to make it easy to scan your text and pick out the important thoughts.

7. Publishing before proofreading

It's tempting to publish your copy as soon as you're finished writing. But make sure you thoroughly proofread it before posting it on your Web site.

First, take a break and walk away from it for a while. Come back and read what you wrote. You're sure to make a few changes yourself. Then, ask a friend or employee to read it over. Sometimes you're too close to your own work to notice an extra word or a typo.

8. Misusing quotation marks

Many people will put a word in quotation marks to emphasize it. But boldface type or an underline is more effective. Quotation marks should only be used to indicate dialog, a direct quote from another source or irony. If you use quote marks for emphasis, they're actually read as an ironic statement.

For example: We're having a big "Sale" today.

In this example, it seems as if the sale is either fake or suspicious.

9. Overusing your caps lock button

Using initial caps on words for emphasis is another common mistake. Often people will capitalize the first letter of every important noun in a sentence. Again, using boldface or underline would be better than breaking one of the simplest rules of grammar.

Only proper nouns should have an initial cap and the first word of a sentence. In titles, use an initial cap for the first word of the title, and important words that follow. Do not capitalize the first letter of articles (a, the) or prepositions (of, to) unless they are the first word of the title. Using initial caps in other places looks sloppy and creates confusion.

10. Mixing metaphors

Perhaps one of the most amusing mistakes for readers, mixed metaphors create a jumbled image by combining two unrelated, but common metaphors. For example: "He stepped up to the plate and grabbed the bull by the horns."

While we know what the writer is trying to communicate, the phrases used create a funny picture of someone bullfighting on a baseball field. Mixed metaphors can detract from your message by causing readers to stop and think about your word choice. When you use a metaphor, be consistent in the images you evoke through your word choice.

Following these 10 tips can help you focus your text and create a professional impression on your site visitors. To learn about writing Web copy that enhances your position on search engines, read "Writing for the Web."

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