Nothing gets my back up more than poor grammar. In particular, the two things that really get my goat are apostrophe abuse and copy about a company as a plural instead of singular. Grrr.
Rant over, but this sort of thing does matter. Perhaps it doesn’t keep the youff of today awake at night, as they generally have less requirement for a conspicuously-placed comma or subtle semi-colon. However, demographics show that our population is ageing at a rate of knots and these baby boomers are not only the holders of much of the UK’s wealth but they are also more likely to be sticklers for the correct use of the English language: getting less confused with fewer is certainly more of a deal breaker here.
When it comes to website copy, businessman Charles Duncombe famously said that online sales can be cut in half by a bad spelling mistake. For zealots of the written word, an online spelling or grammar mistake could be off putting in itself but for most of us, it’s the lack of attention to detail that starts to raise eyebrows.
In an era of cyber security risks, internet users also want to feel reassured that they are visiting a trusted site. Once again, copy errors raise alarm bells and can negatively influence the level of confidence that the user has in a site.
Another consideration is that website copy littered with mistakes can also simply be off-putting and detract from the overall message that an organisation is trying to convey.
What about search engines’ take on things? Google announced a while ago that good spelling and grammar do not matter directly in that neither are featured as one of the 200 signals used to assess the quality of a page and therefore rankings. However Matt Cutts did go on to divulge some interesting stats revealing that sites with a higher Page Rank do tend to have a better grasp of spelling and a higher reading level, so there is a correlation of sorts.
Touching on my ‘youff of today’ comment earlier, I’m not suggesting there is a need for formal content all of the time. In fact, as this Guardian article discusses, the Queen’s English is perhaps going the same way as Latin.
As with all first impressions, erring on the side of caution when addressing your audience is no bad thing, so a little extra formality and treating your customers with respect can go a long way. You can still employ the correct grammar and check spellings even if your target audience requires a more relaxed tone.
As a short aside, I was amused by Google’s autocomplete suggestions for two similar searches, one using text talk and the other using the Queen’s finest (thank you Jerz’s Literacy Weblog):
Of course, some areas of the internet are more tolerant of spelling and grammar mistakes or misdemeanors, particularly when the channel is character specific, or in real time when conveying the zeitgeist is more important than addressing the odd speech mark omission.
When it comes to creating your own website copy, you don’t necessarily need to refer to the FT style guide for every piece of content but ensuring it is free from obvious errors could win you plaudits from your customers – particularly if your competitors don’t have such standards. Good grammar, spelling and punctuation are all signs that the content has been written by someone with credibility, and ultimately aids readability and comprehension…
If you are going to produce a lot of content for your site, potentially written by various individuals, departments or agencies, it is worth investing some time in creating an in-house style guide. I’d like to assume that anyone you invite to create copy would have some ability but a style guide can be useful in determining how you address your audience; whether you write in first or third person; which words you capitalise in headings (or not); how you write out job titles etc. The style guide could of course include a number of the keywords and phrases that you are targeting too.
If a style guide sounds like a headache that you don’t need, then it is worth designating a blog editor or copy curator who can ensure that the way an organisation addresses its stakeholders digitally is consistent.
Whilst I realise that by writing this blog I am leaving myself open to a myriad of comments about my own grammar and the content across the Browser Media website as as whole, I don’t think we’re getting too much wrong. If you’ve got the time and inclination (someone will have, of course) then you will probably find the odd mistake but overall we write, check and check again before publishing and we have one person who oversees the publishing of content. I’m also hoping that my headline serves its purpose in drawing in sufficient readers to offset the potential lack of organic traffic due to the rather dubious spelling and lack of search-ability.
The fact is that there is no downside to correcting or creating content that contains good grammar and spelling – both Google and your visitors will be more inclined towards you, which can never be a bad thing.