Plain English Patrol

  • September 23, 2015
 

How do you choose the right words for your website?

 

A copywriting blogger I follow has an irregular series of posts on English that offends him. Easy pickings.

We often see corporate websites fall into the same traps of trying too hard, being too stuffy, being long-winded. When it comes to choosing your words, simpler is usually better.

Well-crafted words establish your credibility. We all make snap judgments on whether we ‘like’ a website, whether it comes from people we’d like to do business with.

We offer copywriting services to our clients but clients often prefer to supply their own content. That’s fine, that’s good – they are the experts on their own business, after all. But that closeness to the business means they can lose perspective.

What are people looking for? Note that this is not always the same as what you’d like them to be looking for!

 

Try a little thought experiment:

    How would you describe your business?

    And how would your best friend describe what you do?

Is the first version a bit pompous? Which gets the message across more clearly? Which is more believable? This last is key – you have the first few seconds (or maybe even less!) to engage your readers, to sound like a human, to keep hold of people for a little bit longer.

Avoid ‘marketing-speak’ (no offence to marketers – we’re all marketers here). Avoid corporate fluff telling people how great you are. Let them make their own mind up about that. What they want to know is quite simple:

 

    “What’s in it for me?”

 

Can you make them look good?

 

Our own website majors on our portfolio – the sites we’ve built for other people.  If we can’t convince you we’ve built some nice sites for other people, we might as well go home. Clients have been kind enough to say some nice things about us in the past, so testimonials are important too.

 

Picking your words

You could do worse than follow this advice:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

 

These rules date back to 1946 from an essay by George Orwell. Some of the phrasing looks a touch dated now but the sentiment is rock-solid (Rule 1 violation?). And when you’ve done all that, get someone else to read things through. We all miss things.

But if we could leave you with a one piece of advice it would be this:

    “Don’t be dull!”

 

Find out more:

Can I Change Your Mind? Lindsay Camp
5 Rules of Effective Writing George Orwell

 

 

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