Do you know someone who uses perfect grammar, spelling and punctuation for their Twitter, Facebook and text messages?
It almost looks out of place these days. The rise of the ’emoji’ has made punctuation redundant and text-speak has replaced everyday words. Believe it or not, I don’t think it matters too much when communicating with friends and family.
But when it comes to business, my view is very different. I recently read an online discussion about this subject and whereas some people felt that it was important for a business website to have perfect spelling and grammar, others thought it very much depended on the line of business.
For example, some felt that someone who paints and decorates houses should be judged only on their ability to paint and decorate houses.
Up to a point, I agree with this. Absolutely, the most important thing is that they do a great job of decorating your house. It shouldn’t matter if their website is covered in mistakes. But how far do we take this view? Does it matter if your painter and decorator keeps accurate financial records? Absolutely. That’s why you’d expect them to pay an accountant or bookkeeper. It shows they take their business seriously. And the same goes for their marketing materials.
Imagine you are that painter and decorator, targeting homeowners with high incomes. Or large commercial properties. Your potential customers have money to spend and they want to spend it wisely. They want to be sure you run a professional outfit. And one of their first impressions of you is formed when reading your website and marketing materials.
There’s a very short window of opportunity when a potential client visits your website – after just a few seconds they will decide to stay, or go. If your website is littered with errors, best case scenario is that they might not be turned off and click away. But really, you’ve handed them a reason on a plate not to use you. It’s about promoting your business in a professional manner..
I’m no fan of the grammar police and I don’t like the public shaming of the odd misplaced apostrophe or misspelt word.
If I noticed a mistake on your web content, I would drop you a line to let you know (I do this regularly – I’m not into naming and shaming on social media). But I would think twice about buying your product or service.
It’s worth investing some time and effort to get it right. Your written messages need to be clear and concise, with an obvious call to action. They don’t have to be written in a formal style. Most linguists would rip apart the majority of work churned out by copywriters (including my own). Especially as copywriters often break grammar rules deliberately to create more of an impact.
In fact, some of the grammar rules of old are considered unnecessary now. And long-winded sentences and posh words can turn people away just as effectively as copy filled with mistakes. So a middle-ground is needed.
A good way forward is to write as you speak. In fact, this is a basic copywriting technique and if you have a distinctive, likeable character, it’s a good way to bring your message to life and build a recognisable brand and tone of voice.
It’s important that your copy is easy to read, free of obvious spelling mistakes and grammatical errors and that it’s produced in a format that doesn’t work against the reader (for example, black print on a white background is far easier to read than dark blue on light blue, however funky it looks). Design is important, but it should work with your copy and not against it.
So when a prospective client clicks through to your website, they’re not turned off by mistakes, difficult words, hard to decipher fonts and flashing images – they see plain, readable English that tells your unique business story and shows them what they need to do next to get in touch with you.
Over to you
Do you cringe when you see obvious mistakes on business sites? Or do you think it doesn’t matter anymore? Maybe you’re worried that your content is full of errors that you can’t see. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Alison is a Freelance Copywriter in Milton Keynes offering a range of services for small and large organisations in MK and across the UK. For further information visit www.mkwordstudio.co.uk