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Are Spelling and Grammar Important on a Web Site?

Published on July 14, 2011
Tags: SEO, Usability, Web Design London

An interesting news report this week suggests that poor spelling and grammar on websites is costing internet businesses millions of pounds a week. It seems to be common sense that if you are publishing anything on the internet, you should – at the very least – run it through a spellchecker first to make sure there are no glaring errors. It appears, however, that lots of people fail to do this and it’s having a massive impact on businesses.

A large part of the issue here is about trust: if people are going to part with their hard-earned cash online, they need to feel as though they can trust the website. If there are lots of spelling errors and basic grammar-related mistakes, they might feel as though the site is not particularly professional and is therefore not worthy of their business (this is the point where we frantically read back through this blog post to make sure we’re not guilty of the same sin).

It isn’t just ecommerce sites that are affected, either. It seems fairly safe to say that the vast majority of businesses have websites so they can promote their work and grow their company; even if they’re not directly touting for business online, their website still forms an important part of their marketing portfolio. Plus, as more people turn to the internet to research businesses before they use them in the ‘real’ world, it is more important than ever that websites offer a good first impression.

The source of this news story about the revenue lost by online businesses is Charles Duncombe, an online entrepreneur. He makes the point that websites have about six seconds to grab someone’s attention, and that sounds about right. Web users can tell extremely quickly whether or not a site is of good quality. The overall look of the website obviously plays a part in this, but so does the quality of the content – if there is a stupid mistake in the headline (other than perhaps in a clearly ironic manner), it’s bound to put people off.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that internet sales in the UK are worth around £527m per week, which demonstrates just how big a business this is. Additionally, an online experiment by Mr Duncombe found that online sales were twice as high once he had corrected an error on a website. This goes to show how much money is being lost thanks to bad spelling.

There is also the potential for websites to be negatively affected in search engine rankings thanks to spelling mistakes and other indicators of poor quality content. We have previously written about the Google Farmer update, which has had the effect of pushing lower quality sites down in the search engine rankings – proving that it’s not enough to just target keywords: quality matters for all sorts of things.

It’s also worth noting that the reputations of businesses are at risk, here. A company could offer a fantastic service, but if it doesn’t sell it properly or it gets something fundamental wrong on its website, it could stop that company’s success in its tracks. Mr Duncombe makes the point that when you sell something on the web, 99% of it is down to the written word.

It’s vital to get it right, especially when you consider that things such as bad spelling and dodgy grammar are traditionally taken as indicators of an online scam. It seems safe to predict that every single person reading this blog will have been the recipient of multiple scam emails that have been riddled with basic written errors. It also seems safe to predict that you will all have immediately deleted the emails as a result (well, we hope so, anyway!). Imagine if people did that with the website of your business, simply because you didn’t proofread it properly or put quite enough thought into the copywriting.

So, don’t let your business’s website lose out because you’ve written “it’s” instead of “its”. There are a few simple things you can do to make sure the content on your site is of a high quality so your readers will trust it and – hopefully – give you their business as a result. They include:

  • Use a spellchecker. It sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how many people don’t.

  • Remember your audience. It is fine to write in ‘text speak’ when you’re actually texting, but remember that your website is supposed to be a professional pitch as to why people should use your services. Imagine you’re a customer: would you be convinced by your site? If the answer is ‘no’, then you may have some work to do.

  • Get a copywriter. There’s no shame in admitting you need some assistance to help your website pack a punch for the right reasons. A professional copywriter will be able to make sure there are no grammatical slip-ups on your site and that the content is relevant to your business.

  • Proofread. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Even if you’re confident in your ability to write good copy, don’t post it online without checking it first. You never know when errors might have crept in without you realising.

By Chelsey Evans

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