Can a spelling mistake really result in a significant loss in sales? What effect do spelling and grammatical errors have on brand credibility? And does Google penalise websites with poorly written content? Here we take a look at what a brand stands to lose by failing to take steps to ensure its online copy is proof-perfect.
A website is, in many cases, the first point of contact for new customers and will therefore act as the gateway for business revenue. The old adage ‘first impressions count’ could not be more relevant when it comes to how your website makes people feel as they get to know your brand.
Of course, design has a great deal to do with first impressions. The way a website appears and the experience it delivers to the user are of key importance. But that user still has to learn about what your organisation has to offer and the fact is, the majority of selling and communication on the internet is done through the written word.
Here at Figment, we are no strangers to promoting the importance of quality copy. We’ve looked at the mistakes businesses make when writing their own website content, and how to make your content count so it raises your profile. Another crucial aspect of getting it right with website copy is making sure it is 100 per cent free from spelling and grammatical errors.
Online entrepreneur Charles Duncombe, quoted by the BBC having made some hard-hitting remarks about how the quality of the content on a website is costing the UK ‘millions of pounds’ in lost revenue, says that the timespan for capturing attention on a website is just six seconds. Furthermore, he believes it is possible to identify the specific impact of a spelling mistake on sales, which is precisely what we are going to investigate in this post.
So, just what does a company or brand stand to lose by publishing imperfect copy?
Charles Duncombe, who runs a range of internet based businesses, says an analysis of website figures shows a single spelling mistake can cut online sales by 50 per cent. He says that sales figures suggest misspellings put off consumers who may have concerns over the credibility of a website.
Mr Duncombe measured the revenue per visitor to the tightsplease.co.uk website. He found that when the word ‘tights’ was misspelled on one of the pages, revenue dropped. As soon as the mistake was corrected, conversions sprung back up by 80 per cent.
Brand credibility is a key factor that triggers the buying impulse of a consumer. With credibility comes the ability to compete in a huge and ever-growing market.
Innovator, behaviour scientist and teacher BJ Fogg, creator of the ‘Fogg Method’ of behaviour change, says that credibility means ensuring your website comes across as knowledgeable and trustworthy. He believes that credibility can be earned through a positive customer experience, and that content littered with typos and factual errors will damage credibility.
Usability.gov, a leading US-based resource for user experience best practice and guidelines, produced an article dedicated to credibility. Whilst a few years old now, it is still highly relevant, one of its key points being that poor grammar must be avoided. Their stance was that the majority of credibility factors were quickly judged and based on first impressions. As they put it, ‘the first credibility cues are perceived very quickly.’
Interestingly, their studies also revealed that different audience sectors respond in varying ways to credibility cues. For example, it was found that respondents in the younger age groups delivered a harsher reaction to websites displaying typos or broken links.
Charles Duncombe agrees that spelling is important to the credibility of a website. “When there are underlying concerns about fraud and safety, then getting the basics right is essential,” he says. And William Dutton, director of the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University concurs, commenting that when a consumer might be wary of spam or phishing efforts, a misspelt word could be a ‘killer issue’.
Credibility and professionalism, we believe, go hand in hand. James Wilson is a director of Proof Master Ltd, specialists in proofreading, enhanced editing and other copy related services.
James says that brand image runs through every element of a company, including their website. “Our Editing Director, Charlie Bamford, once asked, ‘Would you go to the office in your slippers?’ The likely answer is no, because it lacks professionalism. Poor grammar or spelling errors on a website may not be as extreme as going to the office in your slippers, but it still presents the wrong image to your prospective clients.
“A well written website demonstrates professionalism, pride in the brand and also reliability. Consumers have greater confidence in a flawless website, and therefore are more likely to engage with the brand. Proofreading your website not only reflects positively on your business, it also contributes towards increased sales.”
James at Proof Master also says that the internet has led to consumers being able to access a large number of companies with a simple search. “This means increased competition for each company to stand out to their consumer.”
He feels that companies are investing more money in developing outstanding websites that entice consumers, but often neglect to consider the impact that poor spelling or grammar can have, as well as ‘readability’. “If a consumer struggles to read the website, they have no reason to persevere as there are so many alternatives to engage with. This is why proofreading is so important for websites.”
Search Engine Rankings
Every business owner that runs a website tends to have Google on his or her mind much of the time. Google matters and the position a website occupies in the internet’s most popular search engine is crucial to the success of any organisation.
Google engineer Matt Cutts is an important voice in the realm of search engine optimisation. His reaction when asked whether proper grammar and spelling are key elements that determine page ranking was, “We noticed a while ago that, if you look at the PageRank of a page — how reputable we think a particular page or site is — the ability to spell correlates relatively well with that. So, the reputable sites tend to spell better and the sites that are lower PageRank, or very low PageRank, tend not to spell as well.”
Cutts also revealed that ‘spelling, stylistic elements and factual accuracy’ is one of 23 elements used to determine whether websites and blogs are being properly monitored and edited to eliminate careless work and poor editing.
How to Make Sure Your Copy Cuts it
There is clearly a lot to lose by failing to take steps to make sure your online content is proof perfect. But just what steps should website owners be taking?
If you are tempted to ‘pass your copy to a friend’ for a read through, or rely on your spellchecker, then please do think again. As Proof Master’s Editing Director says, “Friends are amazing, but a professional proof reader is trained with the sole purpose of locating errors, correcting them and enhancing the quality of your work, and if you are relying on a spellchecking program to bolster your brand’s credibility, don’t forget they can’t pick up correctly spelt English words that do not fit your sentence.”
So the moral of the story? Engage a professional proof reader. It will save you time, it will free up internal resources and, best of all, it will save you in terms of lost revenue, Google rankings, competitive edge and credibility.