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Trish O'Loughlin
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Word concubine since 1989.
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How Sloppy Copy Can Cost Your Business

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We’re all human, and we all make mistakes from time to time. I get that. But few things crush my spirit more than a fresh slab of content glaring with spelling errors, typos and incorrect grammar.

And I’m not alone. An analysis conducted back in 2011 showed that a single spelling mistake on a website could cut a company’s online sales in half. That’s a huge chunk. At the time, UK online entrepreneur Charles Duncombe stated that the poor quality of written English was heavily impacting “cutting-edge companies… because when you sell or communicate on the internet, 99% of the time it is done by the written word.”

 

When you sell or communicate on the internet, 99% of the time it is done by the written word

 

Fast-forward six years later and the exponential growth of digital marketing indicates that it’s more important than ever for businesses to comb through their copy and ensure it’s error-free. After all, when you only have about six seconds to capture your consumer’s attention, you need to do so in a way that evokes professionalism, efficiency and competence.

 

The window to making a good first impression is miniscule on the internet

The old adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ might still apply to print, but the digital realm is another story (pun wholeheartedly intended). Consumers are inundated with web content daily, and they make extremely hasty decisions when it comes to choosing what material to engage with.

If you’re serving up a website that is pocked with mistakes, users are going to bid you adieu and shift their attention to something they consider worth their time.

Let’s sidestep for a moment and colour things up with an example from our friends in the US.

Amongst a plethora of other markedly questionable actions, Donald Trump is renowned for his ongoing battle with grammar on Twitter. The American President’s error-ridden tweets have ignited plenty of mockery, further tarnishing an already tattered reputation. After all, who willingly places their trust in a man to lead their nation when he doesn’t know the difference between ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’?

 

Donald Trump tweet grammar error

 

The same concept applies to businesses using the internet as their marketing podium. If you fail to show that you understand core principles of the English language, you will have potential customers narrowing their eyes and clicking that X button in the corner of their screens. Don’t believe me? Well, a 2013 study conducted by communications experts Global Lingo found that 74% of users notice the quality of spelling and grammar on the websites they visit, while 59% said that bad grammar and obvious spelling errors would make them reconsider making a purchase. Yikes.

 

These days, the sales funnel often starts with the written word

Keeping up with digitally savvy shoppers is a unique challenge. Customers are no longer simply stumbling upon brick-and-mortar stores; they are conducting their research online and scoping out companies before deciding to commit to their services.

The accessibility granted by the internet combined with 1) the saturation of choices; and 2) the preciousness of time means that consumers are far less likely to give you a second chance if you trip up. As soon as they land on your website’s homepage, they should be made aware that you are a proficient company that can give them what they need. If you can’t string a sentence together or don’t know how to use a comma, you place great risk on damaging that relationship from the get-go.

 

Make a good first impression

 

A misspelt word doesn’t only dampen your credibility; it can also trigger fears of spam or phishing efforts

Yes, poor writing can result in customers viewing your business as lower-shelf, but more than that, it can also divert engagement altogether. It all comes down to trust. Grammar errors, spelling mistakes and typos are like shiny little emblems of phishing emails, which means that if you’re disseminating poor copy, your customers could potentially red-flag you as a cyber attacker.

 

Most people don’t have the training or experience to write well-tuned phrases

As much as you might fancy yourself the next Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde, it takes a lot to carve a career as a professional writer. Yes, writing is something we are all taught in school, but stitching phrases together in a way that makes sense, sparks interest and evokes emotion takes refined skill.

This was highlighted just a few months ago when the New York Times published an article revealing that one-third of American employees were poor writers, with businesses spending as much as 3.1 billion USD on “remedial training” to fix the problem. Dr R. Craig Hogan, a former university professor who runs an online school for business writing, described the issue ever so eloquently: “E-mail is a party to which English teachers have not been invited. It has companies tearing their hair out.”

 

So, what do you do to avoid the car crash of crappy content?

  • Hire professional (and high-quality) writers!

Yeah okay, sounds like a no-brainer but the reality is, many businesses take to creating their own copy while trying to juggle their operations. Often, this results in slap-dash copy that hasn’t been properly proofed. Given the importance of the written word in the age of the website, your copy should be a priority, not an afterthought.

The other pitfall many businesses fall into is outsourcing freelance writers at extremely cheap prices. Sure, the work gets done, but the quality is not guaranteed, and the writing often needs to be thoroughly tweaked or even totally reworked. To give an example, I recently came across a website for a structural engineering company that had clearly been written by a freelancer, and the business owner had failed to proof the copy before uploading it to the site. As a result, the content was filled with awkward phrasings and ugly typos that diminished the professionalism of a reputable company.

 

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  • Create a style guide to ensure consistency

If you decide to hire multiple writers to create content for your website, or if you take the risk and write your own copy, take the time to draw up a style guide to be used company-wide. There’s nothing worse than three different variations of your brand name appearing on your website. Not only will a style guide make sure your content is consistent and on-brand, it can also detail simple grammar rules for you and your employees to keep within arm’s length.

  • Don’t rely on Spell Check

One of the reasons we’ve become so sloppy with our spelling and grammar is because we’ve become accustomed to digital devices like Spell Check and Autocorrect. Yes, these tools can flag issues in your writing, but remember that they are robots, not real people checking your work. Sometimes they will be right, sometimes they will be wrong, and sometimes they will miss glaring errors altogether.

  • Enlist the help of an expert editor

Following on from the previous point, an expert editor is really the way to go to ensure your copy is clean, concise and correct. These professionals devote their lives to curating good copy, so you can trust that they will make sure your content is spick-and-span, ready to be uploaded to your site.

Furthermore, if you work in an industry that is highly specialised, an expert editor will harness the necessary knowledge to spot errors in your work, including the most dreaded typo of them all: the incorrect-fact typo. Your goal is to position yourself as an authority figure in your industry, not to glean information from questionable sources. Inasmuch, one simple mistake can cost you greatly.

  • Proof one thing at a time

While we argue that it will save you money in the long-run if you hire professional writers and an expert editor from the outset, we understand this may not be an option for all businesses. If this simply is out of the question for you, make sure you are diligent with your proofing. Not everyone is going to be a natural at picking up errors in content, which is why we suggest focusing on one thing at a time as you proof-read. Start with pinpointing spelling errors, as these tend to be the most common mistakes people make. The second time reading through, look out for grammar mistakes, which can be a little tricker to spot. Then check for punctuation, keeping in mind that each sentence should flow and end neatly. Lastly, double-check your facts and figures, especially if you’re discussing statistics, dates, names or historical references.

 

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By Trish O'Loughlin


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