April 29, 2019 § Leave a comment
When you speak to someone they know what you’re saying because they can hear the words and, importantly, how you’re saying them.
When you text someone they can’t always be sure of what you’re saying – or, at least, exactly what you mean – because they can see the words but can’t hear the tone of voice behind them. So your innocent reply can be misread.
The same goes for content on a website. It’s a real craft to write content that’s friendly, appealing and easy-to-understand-in-one-reading.
Going back to text messages, I received one the other day from a friend who was replying to a ‘Happy Birthday’ text I’d sent her. It said: “Many thanks” which I thought was a stilted and corporate reply between two good friends. To be honest, I worried about it over a cup of tea and wondered what could be wrong – I’d got the right date, sent her a card as well (and in time) and my text to her was just the cherry on top.
It turned out, I discovered some days later, that she’d been at the hospital accompanying her mum to an appointment and had just been called in when my message pinged through. Rather than not answer it she dashed a reply to acknowledge it – a message that led me to worry for days because it didn’t sound rushed, just formal.
In the scheme of life, a slightly misunderstood text message is not so damaging because you can put it right quickly. Reality is that if you’re texting, you’ll also have the recipient’s number so that you can call to check out the meaning of something you’ve received, if it doesn’t sound quite right.
Not so simple is the website example. Many, many people will visit your site and it’ll be a long time – if ever- that you find out they’re not responding to it because they don’t understand what you’re saying. You won’t have the telephone number of everybody who visits because you don’t know who they are.
The fact here is that website content is best written by someone who initially doesn’t know your business, has to ask loads and loads of questions to understand it and then can craft good written copy to make it sound friendly, appealing and entirely understandable – without the visitor even having to try to work out what it means. I can help you with that – 07946 450708 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
November 24, 2016 § Leave a comment
I’m surprised I even had to write that headline – I thought everyone knew. Spellchecks are helpful – I use them as a guide – but if I left it at that, it would be corporate suicide.
I was chatting to a friend about this the other day and her reaction was: “Yes, you couldn’t afford any errors – being in the ‘words’ game.” That’s true. If I made mistakes people would be quick to point them out.
On the other hand she’s a gift retailer and her communications output is critical to her business, particularly at this time of the year when customers will be looking for Christmas presents.
She always sends an invite to a list of her customers with a message that says something like:
- Come along for an evening of wine, mince ties and a chance to buy gifts for your nearest and dearest, hopping at leisure.
Although only something like that because it actually reads:
- Come along for an evening of wine, mince pies and a chance to buy gifts for your nearest and dearest, shopping at leisure.
The point I’m making, is that a spellcheck wouldn’t have picked up any spelling mistakes in the first sentence because there aren’t any. The sentence just doesn’t make sense and it takes a human brain to work that out, not a computer.
In short, a spellcheck can tell you when a word is spelt incorrectly but not when it’s used incorrectly. Use it but know its limitations.
November 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
That may sound a bit (outrageously even) harsh but I’ve just had an email that’s prompted this outpouring. I haven’t even checked the supplier’s work – it may be fabulous and well-priced. But since they couldn’t manage to spell their introductory email to me properly, I’m not going to be able to find respect for them.
‘Words’ is an area I understand so I can spot their mistakes but they’re offering a data provision service that is much more difficult to check and I would only buy from a supplier who had earned my respect. They managed to trash that in their first sentence.
I know people think I bang on about stuff that isn’t critical in the ‘real world’ of commerce (where do they think I live, by the way…) but how you say what you say speaks volumes about you.
I don’t confine my rants to grammar – but that message is spot-on
So let’s clear up some myths:
- If you’re in sales/ recruitment/ finance/data provision…should you also be expected to produce word-perfect marketing copy or client communication?
- Answer: Absolutely yes, if you want to be seen as a professional and top of your game. Children can be forgiven spelling mistakes, you can’t.
- What if the error has no direct bearing on your offer? Say, the price and other info are essentially right but spelt wrong.
- Answer: Would you visit a client if you were looking scruffy? Obviously not so don’t send them sloppy communication that suggests you overlook detail.
And the persistent offenders:
- There (place); they’re (they are); their (belonging to them);
- It’s (it is); its (belonging to it);
- You’re (you are); your (belonging to you);
Apostrophes have nothing to do with plurals, for example:
- More than one RT are RTs (not RT’s)
- If there are four Emmas in a class, that’s how you write it;
- The 20s, 30s, 40s etc. simply take an ‘s’ and don’t also need an apostrophe;
The tone of your communication is also really important because if people find it easy to read they are much more likely to do so. If it’s full of jargon and goes over their heads they’re unlikely to invest much time trying to work out what you’re saying. Often you’re too ‘close’ to your company to read what you write objectively and you need feedback from people outside of the business before you sign off any written word about it.
And – probably this sounds politically incorrect but it’s worth saying – if you outsource any part of your work to overseas companies or any of your staff have English as a second language, make sure you have a good look at the language they’re using when they’re writing to your customers. Non-native speakers have turns of phrases that don’t really work. As customers, we worry that you’re looking after the detail.
To some extent, corporate literature and websites can be the easier pieces of communication to get right because you’ll invest time and, almost certainly, money in getting them together. Watch out for the emails that are fired out from your company or the text messages that staff are sending to customers.
Next time I receive a ‘Hope your ok’ message I’m going to name and shame!
July 23, 2014 § 2 Comments
I have no idea why I get half the emails I do.
I don’t want new tyres because I don’t have a car, I don’t speak Spanish so someone’s misread my French surname, anything ‘free’ is only going to make me give away more info and invite more emails so I’m not going to do that, I don’t gamble and of all the cheap offers I want, I DON’T want cut-price eye surgery! The list goes on…
Often I just delete the stuff and motor on with the day.
Sometimes, though, I try to clean up my machine by properly unsubscribing from the stuff but it’s not easy, is it. They don’t want you to go so they make it seem a lot more difficult to unsubscribe than it was to subscribe in the first place (if, indeed, you did anyway.)
The following form is a case in point – with the subscribed bits already ticked!:
Other attempts are a little less sophisticated. A message will pop up asking ‘Did you unsubscribe by accident?’ That’s highly unlikely, isn’t it. In fact I wonder if anyone has actually done that – scrolled to the bottom of an email, managed to select the ‘unsubscribe’ option that always seems to be in tiny four-point (light) and clicked on it accidentally!
In those cases, I’d like there to be a facility for me to be able to add ‘No, actually, I’ve made a lot of effort and I’m very, very definite about my decision.’
At the other end of the scale there are systems in place which are far more elaborate than the one I’ve illustrated. In the first instance they’ll ask me to give reasons for unsubscribing: Am I receiving too many emails? Am I no longer interested? Or is there another reason? And then (when I’ve ignored all of that) they tell me they’re still not letting me go because they have two special offers that I can’t resist (I can, though!) and therefore they’ll continue to mail me.
Am sure that’s breaking some privacy law somewhere but am too busy to work it out and anyway it added neatly to this blog.
June 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
We live in a world where we use far too many words in the hope that the more we say, the more likely it is some of our message will ‘stick’.
Quite the opposite is true, in fact. The more succinct we can be, the more chance we have of being remembered.
The plain truth is, so many words are unnecessary our consciousness filters them all out so it’s an entire waste of time to throw a lot of words at a subject.
I was taught this ‘back in the day’ at journalism school when a tutor scratched a headline on the blackboard and asked us which word (or words) was (or were) superfluous. He told us it came from a sign outside a fishmonger and read:
Ok, here we go:
- You don’t need the word ‘fresh’ because a fishmonger selling rotten fish wouldn’t be in business.
- You don’t need the word ‘sold’ because a fishmonger who gave away fish would soon go out of business.
- You don’t need the word ‘here’ because the sign’s right outside the shop – where else would the fish be!
- Oh – and you don’t need the word ‘fish’ because you can smell it a mile off…
I know, in the real world, shop signs much like the ‘fresh fish’ one will always exist in the hope of hooking in some extra consumer interest. But marketing wasn’t the object of the exercise we were given in this instance.
We were forced to examine which words really served a purpose – and out of just four words not one actually did a good job. The exercise certainly made an impact on me and I’ve never written anything since without checking for ‘superfluous frills’ that aren’t going to help my message.
Why don’t you do it for yourself – by having a look at your company website, maybe. Are your words really working for you or could the site be a lot sharper and smarter if you threw out those that are just, frankly, wasting space, clogging up your message and putting some people off from even reading it?
February 1, 2013 § 1 Comment
Have just had a debate with someone who was telling me that he writes his own website copy because he believes that customers will forgive the ‘odd spelling mistake’. After all, he pointed out, he’s not in the ‘words’ business. He’s a life coach.
I don’t get it. Here’s a man who wants us to trust him with our lives and he can’t be bothered to make sure his site’s spelt properly! Or that it’s grammatically correct, for that matter.
“Also, they know what I mean even if I’ve got an apostrophe in the wrong place,” James said. “You’re just being picky because it’s your business.”
I think that’s true – people will understand what his copy is saying. But the same people, in their search for a life coach, without question will be looking at several sites and because James thinks it’s acceptable to present his services complete with spelling and grammatical mistakes, he’s given them the impression that he’s a bit sloppy and not very professional.
They won’t forget that when they come across a site offering a similar level of life-coaching expertise, finished off properly with all apostrophes in the correct places!
“Of course you’d say that – you’re a copywriter,” he said.
No. Come on. Think about it.
There are two messages we (and I’m counting myself as a consumer here) usually get when we come across a badly written piece of marketing copy:
- The company is careless – and if it’s careless when it’s trying to sell itself what’s the rest of the service going to be like?
- The company couldn’t afford to get it right – that doesn’t bode well.
This is how my discussion with James ended: I’ve got a rough idea of what it takes to be a life coach but I wouldn’t attempt to do the job – he, on the other hand, has had serious training and can offer solid skills. I’ve had serious training as a copywriter and offer solid skills.
Your website is your online shop window, people judge you on how you present yourself and a copywriter can help you make the most of your presence. It’s not good enough just to have a website…the content is key.
And it’s corporate suicide if your (sic) getting you’re (sic) message messed up!!!!!