Website Copy and Grammar

There is a general perception that professional writers have it all figured out where perfect grammar is concerned, truth is writers make mistakes and as much as they try to avoid them, it still pops up in their work. Writers need to remember that they are humans too and their passion for writing doesn’t make them perfect. We’ve put together a list of the most common grammatical errors professional writers make in their writing

  1. Apostrophes

It is confusing sometimes knowing where to use an apostrophe. The key is to remember that if you’re using an apostrophe to combine two words, the apostrophe should fall where the word would spilt. This error is common with the following words it is – it’s, We are – we’re, they are – they’re.

  1. When to use too/to/two

To: a preposition followed with a noun.

I am going to the restaurant.

These clothes belong to Sarah

Too: synonym for the word ‘also’

I love her too

I was at the mall too

  1. Overuse of Adverbs

A word or phrase that qualifies a verb or adjective usually ending in ‘ly’. If you use them sparingly that’s okay but overusing adverbs indicates weak verb choices, hence top writers use juicer verbs instead.

“Really awful” modifies the verb “bad” a better choice would be “appalling”.

  1. Cautious use of prepositional phrases

Prepositional phrases are the nouns or pronouns that follows the preposition to show location, direction or time. Excessive usage affects the wording of your writing so simplify where possible.

Wrong – The school bus came up the top of the hill

Correct – The school bus crested the hill

  1. Wrong use of words

These are words used in the wrong context; they sound the same with similar spelling and sometimes, the spell checker might not pick it up.

Sea/see

Weather/Whether

Cloth/clothe

Leave/live

  1. Split infinitives

When you split an infinitive, you insert an adverb between the two parts. It sounds correct because its’ been used for a long time and copywriters in advertising are sometimes guilty of this error. Writers should remove split infinitives from parts of the text that isn’t internal thought or dialogue.

Common split infinitives

To go boldly

To quickly go

To impatiently wait

In these verb phrases, the adverb should follow the verb. What is the target audience? How natural would the revision be with the adverb before the infinitive? Read the sentence out to know if it sounds better with the split infinitive.

  1. Subject-Verb Agreement

Singular verb should be used with singular subject and the same rules apply to plural verb. This might seem obvious but it is a common error with skilled writers to end a singular verb with the letter ‘s’

  1. Changes in tense

Your starting tense should remain consistent throughout the piece, although a change might be required to reflect changes in time but unnecessary shifts are unclear to the audience.

Wrong: when I go to bed at night, I always drank tea before sleeping.

Correct: When I go to bed at night, I always drink tea before sleeping.

  1. Spelling errors

Writers should have a spell checker on their PC, these are good tools for highlighting errors in your work. A recommended tool for professional writers is Grammarly, which offers a free plugin for Microsoft Word and some popular browsers like Mozilla Firefox. Some common words include Accommodate, access, chauffer, embarrass, address, ecstasy and many more.

  1. Dangling Modifiers

Grammatical error that occurs when an adverb, adjective or modifying phrase is used in a sentence but the modifier is unclear.

Wrong: Listening to loud noise slowly gives me a headache

Correct: when I listen to loud noise, I slowly develop a headache

  1. Contractions

Contractions join with pronouns or verbs and a verb contraction shortens a verb phrase or verb.

Wrong: ain’t

Correct: am not or is not

  1. Avoid vague statements

Quantify your sentences where possible, vague statements lack credibility and are open to misinterpretation.

Wrong: Microsoft made huge profits last year

Right: Microsoft made a profit of $250million in 2016.

  1. Comparison: using “like” instead of “as though”

The two words are not exchangeable. Like, can only be followed with a pronoun or noun. As though precedes verb clause because it creates the expectation of an event that is action based.

  1. Pronoun case

Pronoun case describes the status of the pronoun as a direct object, indirect object or subject. Writers sometimes use the subjective case where the objective should be used.

Subject: I, we, he, they, who

Object: me, us, him, them, whom

  1. Double Negatives

While most languages possess double negatives, Standard English forms do not. Unfortunately, this is a popular trend for sarcasm or emphasis.

Wrong: He don’t know nothing about the robbery

Correct: He doesn’t know anything about the robbery.

  1. Sentence Structure

Correct sentence structure confuses the most experienced writers. The proverb of knowing the rules before breaking them is invaluable here to understand that sentence structure is not rigid and it will continue to change.

  1. Sentence splices

To splice is to join so when a writer joins independent sentences with a comma instead of coordinating conjunction, that’s a sentence splice.

Incorrect: We have hundreds of clothes to arrange, it will be impossible to finish it before the exam.

Correct: We have hundreds of clothes to arrange; it will be impossible to finish it all before the exam.  

  1. Run-On Sentences

This is a type of sentence that combines comma splices, fused joins or conjunctions two or more independent linking clauses.

Wrong: Peter enjoyed the guitar Amanda gave him at his birthday however he prefers a piano.

Correct: Peter enjoyed the guitar Amanda gave him at his birthday; however, he prefers a piano.

  1. Inflated sentences

Communicate your message to readers using direct words instead of empty sentences that muddle up your message. Wordy sentences are annoying and frustrating because readers have to look for the passage instead of seeing it once they start reading your work. Streamline your sentences with nouns and strong verbs, not adverbs or trite adjectives.

Wrong: It has come to our attention that your utility bills are overdue and we ask you to pay them at your earliest convenience to avoid disconnection.

Correct: Your utility bills are overdue. Pay now to avoid disconnection.

  1. Incorrect irregular verb use

Grammar error with irregular verb forms are common in articles written by university graduates and media journalists.

Incorrect: Sanchez is alleged to have went into Peter’s room and stolen that some shirts.

Correct Sanchez is alleged to have gone into Peter’s room and stolen some shirts.

  1. Tautologies

When you express the same thing twice with different words, that’s’ tautology.

Wrong: John made a kite with his own hands for Diana

Correct: John made a kite for Diana

  1. Sentence Fragments

This is a dependent phrase or clause used by a writer as a complete sentence. The best rule is to see if the fragment sounds right in a defined text.

Wrong: Michael listened for the sound of crickets, nothing; there was none of the usual sounds of night, absolute silence.

Correct: Michael listened for the sound of crickets. Nothing. There were none of the usual sounds of night. Absolute silence.

  1. Semicolons and Commas

Some writers do not use commas in their work. This is safe for simple sentences but complex constructions require the occasional use of semicolon. The problem is the reckless insertion of comma after every couple of words.

  1. Incomplete comparisons

Wrong: My boat is bigger, cheaper and better.

Right: my boat is bigger, cheaper and better than Phil’s.

  1. Coincidence/irony

Do not make assumptions for the latter when it is the former. Irony is the expression of one’s meaning and the real meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning, usually for an emphatic effect. Coincidence is when an event happens by chance. There is a clear distinction between the two so avoid mixing it up.

Google

When you want your articles to appear at the top of Google’s search results there’s only one way: you need to think like Google; or rather you need to understand the Google algorithm and approach to rankings. It is not so much that the good old SEO methods have become totally obsolete, they almost have; cramming keywords into titles and slugs into WordPress posts is definitely not the way to your increase your ranking these days. You now need to structure your site and write content for the search engine’s Semantic Algorithms and Semantic Search.

So what exactly is Semantic Search?

It is the latest approach, designed to turn Google from an index-based model into a predictive one. In other words, the company doesn’t want to simply find the words you just typed into its search box and match them to websites anymore. It now wants to find what you intended to know. There is a dramatic shift in approach, one perfectly illustrated by the new knowledge graphs for example.

You can try it yourself: typing ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’s Birthday’ into Google will not only reveal the standard list of websites containing the requested information, but first and foremost a box containing the date in clear writing. (April 15, 1452, in case you’re wondering.) This is the perfect demonstration of Google’s understanding of what you meant to search for. The engine is clever enough to know you were looking for a date rather than the word ‘birthday’. It also guesses you are likely interested in learning more details about Leonardo Da Vinci through a short biography, picture or info on the period during which he lived and died.

Semantic Search not only manages to pull information about people, but also about ideas and concepts. Google is now becoming increasingly accurate in looking for synonyms and answering questions such as ‘How do I fix my bike’s light’ or ‘How do I bake gluten-free cakes.’ Once again, the top websites might not necessarily contain the full search string, but they will definitely give you some of the best answers to the questions.

So what does it all mean for your own website content? Well, there are a few rules, tips and tricks you can implement to please Google’s bots with your copy.

  1. Answer the questions your visitors might have

Rather than have a dry wall of information try to imagine what visitors to your site might want to find. Don’t just write ‘Napo Bros: Neapolitan Pizza, open every evening’. Imagine a little FAQ in which you answer the following questions: what kind of produce do I offer? What days of the week am I available? Do I offer delivery, if so, how far? Then turn all this information into a few paragraphs of text. Thinking about what your visitors are looking for is the best way to make sure they like what they find.

  1. Stop obsessing over keywords

Once you’ve decided on the keywords you want your text to contain, don’t worry about every adjective, permutation or variation you can write based on these words. Think instead about synonyms that might not have been as fully exploited by other article writers, then use these synonyms throughout your text. Have seed keyword themes running through your site, and think about the categories your site falls under. A good place to go to start understanding themes is the Dmoz directory. Alchemy.api is another really useful tool.

Google will understand that those looking for ‘Cheap car mechanic will also want results for ‘Cheap auto mechanic’. You don’t need a page for each word.

  1. Match your tone to your target audience

It’s common sense- if you are hoping to provide professional advice then write it professionally. If you are writing about entertainment, write it in a fun, engaging way. Not only is it good practice, but it will also help you develop ideas to get your visitors more engaged. You are then more likely to hit upon the right semantic themes if you are assuming the correct voice.

In conclusion, you need to think like Google to understand how it sees your content. Google is trying to rank content based on what your audience wants. You can pretty much do some theme, seed and keyword research and then forget Google- write for your target audience. Get inside their heads and you are going to have success with the new world of semantic search.

At Daily Posts we produce website page copy for clients all over the world. We have web design firms who come to us and ask us to create the content for the sites that they build. We have lots of brands request a content refresh, or series of new landing pages. Some see a 100% increase in conversions after the process. Each project is unique, but there are commonalities that seem to run like ubiquitous strands through the most successful converting sites. In this piece we investigate language, format, voice, and how certain words are infused with power, capture attention and drive consumer action.

The power of a single word

The power of a single word

Website page copy is a relatively technical form of copy writing. At the same time, the words that work best are often very simple. They are words that have emotional impact. Words that engage the reader at the basest level. No, I’m not just talking about sex, although that does definitely work. I am talking about words that motivate the reader to act; that tap into the natural human tendency to be impulsive  in online environments.

The Language of Purpose

There are many choices you make when you talk online; choices made either consciously or unconsciously. With your website copy you can stamp your style on your messages. However, you need to be mindful that brand consistency is key, and that you therefore need to fit all content you produce with your brand voice. A first step therefore in your copy writing journey for any site is to work out that voice.

The right way to get your business’ message across will be different from how another business should get its across. It will also be somewhat different between your landing pages, product descriptions, and newsletters. The words you choose should be geared to the format,  tailored not only to the reader, but also to the intended purpose of the website content.

The language you choose can lead to an engaged, motivated visitor base, or can lead to high bounce rates. As the old adage goes “it’s not just what you say {that’s important}, it’s also the way that you say it!”

At Daily Posts we talk a lot about the purpose of content, and focusing on the reader. That’s because they are crucial forerunners to developing content that makes an impact. You will notice these two threads running through much of what follows. If you don’t have a handle on the purpose of the content you are writing, and the characteristics of your readership, then you might as well go straight back to the drawing board. Language choice flows from and through these literary threads.

General rules are normally over-rated, pointless, impractical, and even misleading; we don’t like them very much. However, a general rule that we do like is to ‘keep web pages simple’. Very few website visitors have either the patience or inclination to read through paragraph after paragraph of highly technical content. If the reader is doing research, or is a distinctly techie type, then technical language may be appropriate, in moderation. Generally (there’s that word again), heavy language is best reserved for your in-depth reports, whitepapers, and technical guides, not to convert your prospects.

Here are a few web page copy guidelines to review before we delve further into language:

  • The entire body of copy should use the same voice and tone. It should be authored in full by a writer, and not a re-write of other sources. Re-writing steels creativity and power from the process. When producing content, research, understand and write.
  • The writing must not be overly analytical or technical, nor should the page focus on explaining terminology in layman terms. It should be written for the level at which the visitors are interested. If you are unsure on this then do some demographic research. If there is a diverse bank of visitors, representing different levels of linguistic and technical knowledge, then write for lower levels and provide extra resources (PDFs, links to blog articles, hidden extra information) to satisfy their craving for more comprehensive understanding.
  • The way in which the content is arranged and displayed is vital. Long blocks of text are going to turn people off, whilst website content that can be read with ease will enable you to keep the reader’s attention much more easily.

Many of the rules of copy writing are straightforward, but are forgotten the moment someone starts typing. Bad habits creep in due to fatigue, exposure to other people’s bad habits, laziness; there are a plethora of reasons really. Typos, run on sentences, bad research, lack of flow, and all the other consequences of these bad habits, quickly deflect reader attention away from your content, and ultimately away from your site.

A writer must cling on to every ounce of attention a reader can muster. To do this the writer must also draw out the reader’s emotions. From a website copy perspective, impulse and desire are two key emotions to hit. These are often triggered through ‘power words’ that help to persuade the reader to feel a certain way.

These mentally and emotionally charged words are seen and heard every day; they aren’t secret.

Here are five power words that can have a great impact in website copy.

  • “Free” – who doesn’t like free stuff!
  • “You” – the only thing people prefer to read more than you is their own name. It gives the writer authority as a guide.
  • “Because” – this creates a ‘reason’, a motivation, and allows the writer to solve the age old question that readers have wired in their brains, “what’s in it for me?”
  • “Instantly” – because when results take time there’s no reason to act right away.
  • “New” – the most recent version of anything is the “interesting” version of an outdated something.

Turning Power Words into Call-To-Actions

The purpose of power words is not to stuff them into your website content whenever you have the chance. It’s to draw out that emotion, and to entice the reader to act. Ultimately power words are there to induce a conversion or engagement.

A call-to-action is crucial. Take advantage of the use of power words when crafting your call-to-action.

Not sure how? Here are some examples that use the power words from above.

  • “For a limited time, take advantage of a free one month’s supply!”
  • “You want to get good at golf but don’t know where to start – how about our free beginner’s guide?”
  • “A 7-day Disney cruise is calling your name, because you’ve earned it!”
  • “Get our detox pills and instantly see an improvement in your energy levels!”
  • “Our new WordPress themes have features that you have never seen before!”

None of these are anywhere near perfect. We can’t give away all our secrets here; but they should give you a flavour for the power that language has to inspire action. You want to lead the reader into an action. Being direct works best. You let their mental and emotional selves read through the lines, then hit them with a direct call-to-action. It really is true that “if you don’t ask you don’t get.”

Learning how to create a call-to-action that converts is absolutely vital to the productivity of your copy. Quality website content is one thing, but without a killer call-to-action it will be nothing more than an engaging read.

When creating content take time to plan.  Think about voice,  format,  audience motivations and call to actions. The quality of your content can be the defining factor in your success or failure. Don’t waste your time… Do it right or get experts to do it for you if you can’t.