You’ve Got Questions About Web Content. We’ve Got Answers!

Ask and ye shall receive! Here are the answers to the questions we get asked the most about content. Hopefully they answer some of the questions weighing on your mind! But if you’ve got a question that we didn’t answer here, please feel free to fill out the contact form on this page or call us at 888-886-0939.

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  • How often should you add new content to a law firm’s website?

    When to add new content to your website

    Fresh content is good for your website’s visitors, and it also lets Google know that your website is alive and kicking. Adding and updating compelling content frequently means that you stimulate more keywords, attract search engine crawlers more often, increase your online authority, and give your visitors something of value. That’s hard to beat!

    Google considers a lot of different ranking factors, but the “freshness” of a website is one of them. While updating your content won’t necessarily rocket you to page one, it’s a good practice that is truly the core of effective content marketing.

    But how often is often enough to add new content?

    Evergreen Content Stands the Test of Time

    The quality of your content will always be more important than how frequently you update. If you are focusing on in-depth, “evergreen” content (content that doesn’t lose its relevance to your perfect clients over time), then you can worry less about quantity. “Evergreen” content should be content that your audience can really dig into. It should also help you set yourself up as an authority in your field—both in the minds of your readers and search engines. Even just a handful of informative and engaging posts or pages each month can be enough to do the job. 

    However, even the classics can get a little stale over time. Improving and updating your “evergreen” content once in a while can add freshness to your website. Search engines recognize page edits and user comments as a sign that you’re alive, so you don’t necessarily have to add brand new content all the time. Visitors also appreciate websites that offer the most current information in a seamless style that matches what they see on your other pages, so edits and updates to older content can improve the overall user experience.

    The goal with evergreen content is high page views, low bounce rate, and longer session lengths. If you’re not seeing those kinds of numbers on your “evergreen” pieces, then you know they’re ready for some tweaking.

    Regular Updates Keep Your Perfect Clients Engaged

    Your law firm’s website isn’t just an information resource, though. It is also an important tool that helps you attract the right kinds of clients to your services and convince them to convert.

    That means that more regular updates are important to you in a way that they aren’t for a purely informational site. Frequent content updates help keep you top of mind, and adding new pieces gives you a steady stream of fresh content to promote through social media, email campaigns, and more.

    While you don’t want to wait so long between updates that your audience forgets who you are, you also don’t want to overwhelm them by pushing out so many updates that some get lost in the shuffle.

    Start with a simple digital content schedule that you and your marketing partners can comfortably maintain. This may mean posting new content a few times a month or a few times a week, depending on your resources and the size of your audience. After that, you can adjust your frequency as you test and measure your performance. Your website’s content should grow and evolve with the success of your website, your business, and your target audiences. 

    Coaching and Guidance to Help You Do Online Content Right

    There is no single answer about content frequency that will work for every law firm, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a schedule that will fit your and your perfect clients’ needs. If you need help, contact us at 888.886.0939 or sign up for a free FWM analysis with our team. 

     

  • What topics should I write about for my personal injury website?

    Personal injury attorneys typically work with a wide range of clients who have been hurt in very different kinds of circumstances. One of the biggest challenges on personal injury websites is to create content that can resonate with all the kinds of “perfect clients” you might be looking for. The next biggest challenge is organizing it all in a way that makes sense to readers and leads them toward the right goal.  

    If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, you can get started by looking at our general guide to finding topics for website content. However, personal injury law is a broad industry, and your content will benefit from ideas that are a little more focused on what you do best.  

    Breaking Down the Wide Scope of “Auto Accidents”

    In DSS, you can organize your website’s content under different “service areas.” For most personal injury law firms, especially large firms, this is a deceptively simple way to organize big blocks of content into digestible topics for your readers. This can also help you focus your website on the types of clients you’re most interested in working with.

    Auto accident cases are a great example of this function in action. If your law firm takes a lot of auto accident cases, you may get better engagement by breaking it down into more specific service areas, such as:

    • Car accidents
    • Truck accidents
    • Bus and transit accidents
    • Motorcycle accidents
    • Bicycle and pedestrian accidents
    • Drunk driving accidents

    You can then write content that is focused on the subgroups of auto accidents that are most relevant to your firm, assign it to the appropriate service area in DSS, and give readers much better options for narrowing their search for content on your website. By writing content that speaks directly to the unique circumstances of each subgroup, you will also generate better and more natural “longtail” keywords that help bring more relevant people in from Google searches.

    Breaking auto accidents into smaller categories can also help you come up with tons of highly focused ideas for great content. For example, think about what makes a commercial truck accident different from a wreck with a personal vehicle. What kinds of questions would someone have after they’ve been hit by a drunk driver? What kinds of injuries are more common in certain types of accidents? For the auto accident portion of your practice alone, the potential topics are nearly endless.  

    Talking About Other Kinds of Injuries

    Auto accidents are often a major source of cases for personal injury firms, but that doesn’t mean that you should totally ignore other types of cases your firm is interested in. Think about the kinds of cases you would like to see more of or have taken in the past. You may benefit from creating content focused on other subcategories, such as:

    • Medical and drug injuries. If medical and pharmaceutical injuries are a component of your practice, consider writing content that is focused on the major subgroups of cases you take. For example, you might write content that focuses on birth injuries, malpractice lawsuits, or mass drug recalls. You might even create a “cluster” of information-rich articles around a very narrow topic or case type to help launch a focused campaign, such as content about knee-implant litigation or mesothelioma lawsuits.
    • Premises liability. Dog bites and slip-and-fall accidents may not be your main focus as a personal injury attorney, but you may want to have a few pieces of content that speak to premises liability clients. You don’t have to go crazy creating content for these cases if they aren’t a main focus, but having a few relevant pieces can help bring in potential clients and educate them about the kinds of cases you take.
    • Maritime and workplace injury. If you work with clients who have been injured at work or at sea, your content can be the key to their understanding of the different laws and regulations that apply to their circumstances. This is your chance to explain complex information in an approachable way and really show off how you help. Think about what your potential clients need to know after they’re hurt working on the oilfield, with a railroad company, on a vessel at sea, or at an unsafe construction worksite.
    • Wrongful death. Surviving family members often have a lot of questions, and you can provide a more comfortable user experience by writing content that is specifically focused on them and their needs after the loss of a loved one to negligence, regardless of the cause.

    Keep in mind that you don’t want to generate so many subcategories of your practice that you confuse people, but you do want to break it down enough to funnel readers to the content that is most relevant to them. Just like Goldilocks, you should aim for just enough subcategories to be “just right.”

    Curing Your Writers’ Block When You Run Out of Topic Ideas

    Check out step two of our guide to estate planning topics to find out how to dig deeper for topic ideas with a quick Google search. This really is a quick and easy way to find out what else is out there, what kinds of competition your potential clients might see when they search, and what kinds of topics you might have overlooked.

    If you’re producing a lot of content across a lot of different practice areas, we also strongly recommend that you plan out a content strategy. With a plan in place, you’ll already know what you need to write about and why, which means less time spent staring at a blank page without ideas. An organized strategy also gives you a better foundation for tracking and analyzing your success with the content you write.

    Storytelling with case results can also be an awesome source of content that resonates with your readers. Case stories tend to be “evergreen” content that showcases you at your best and educates potential clients by example.

    If you’re still having trouble finding engaging topics to write about online, talk to us about a free FWM marketing analysis, which will give you a better idea of how your content is going over with your readers and what you can do to increase engagement with the potential clients who matter most. We are dedicated to your success, and we love talking about how attorneys can create better content for the Web.  

     

  • What's the best way organize my law firm's website content?

    Then, when people then look at the blog page on your website, they’ll have the option to narrow their browsing by the topic they’re most interested in: Because your “perfect clients” search the Internet for everything, it is wise to constantly improve and update the content you write for your website. While what you write for your potential clients is important, curating your website’s content may be even more important in a digital world. You can write exactly the kind of content that your perfect clients are looking for, but still see it fall flat because it’s hard to find and poorly organized on your website.

    Are you ready to whip your website’s content into shape? You might want to get started by performing a complete content audit. This process will give you a better idea of what kinds of content you already have and how to categorize it in a way that makes sense for you and your readers. After that, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and start organizing.

    Step 1: Break Down Your Practice Into Its Component Parts

    You may be a personal injury attorney, but your cases probably fall into a few specific categories. For example, you might primarily do car accident cases, wrongful death cases, and dog bite cases. If you want to improve your online content and make it work better for you, you may need to break down your practice into appropriate “service areas” based on the kinds of cases that best represent your practice or that you want to attract. After all, someone who is attracted to your website after a dog bite is unlikely to be interested in your guidance for car accident victims. Make it easy for them to see only the content they want to see.  

    In DSS, you can create “service areas” or “practice areas” for these niches and subsections of your practice, then organize your blogs, articles, FAQs, and more under those categories. For example, you can choose a category option when you enter or edit a blog in DSS:

    FWM DSS Service Area Dropdown

    Then, when people then look at the blog page on your website, they’ll have the option to narrow their browsing by the topic they’re most interested in: 

    Content Categorization in DSS

    Categorizing content under relevant practice areas also helps you lead readers to other relevant content, whether you’re manually adding links to your pages or using DSS’ capabilities to feature related content in sidebars or panels:

    DSS Content Categorization

    Step 2: Create Compelling Content That Fits

    Organizing your content not only makes it easier for potential clients and search engines to find you, it also creates an excellent framework for your ongoing content creation. Writing content for these specific audiences will stimulate more relevant keywords and key phrases, giving you a better chance to beat out your competitors for highly specific searches. Rather than competing on a broad level with many other law firms in your area, you will get better results by focusing on creating content for the specific areas of your practice.

    If you are a personal injury attorney, for example, try writing content focused on a specific niche of your personal injury cases rather than competing with everyone in the large pool of personal injury cases. You might create a “motorcycle accidents” category, then try writing content that focuses on what an injured motorcyclist would want to know after an accident. By writing about motorcycle accidents, you are targeting a more specific market with your attorney website content and helping to produce quicker, better results for your audience.

    Are you itching to get started? Find out more about choosing topics and categories for:

    Curate Your Online Content With Help From the Pros

    If your goal is a quality, information-rich site that will be recognized by search engines and potential clients alike, you have to stay on top of your content. Does your content lack structure? Contact us today to learn more about organizing your online content and writing for the audiences you want to bring through your door or ask for a free demonstration of content management with DSS.

     

     

     

  • What topics should I write about for my estate planning website?

    Content-packed websites are a great solution for estate planning attorneys because there is often so much information to communicate to your clients and potential clients. Featuring a mix of in-depth educational content, quick answers, and interesting guidance actually saves you time in the long run, while still helping engage and convert the people who visit your site.

    At Foster Web Marketing, we are big believers in planning out content strategies ahead of time. When you have a content plan, you have a roadmap that will help you cover all the most important topics in ways that make sense for you and your website’s users. Whether you are building up all your content from scratch with a new website or just auditing an older site’s content, here are some suggestions for topics that will help you accomplish your goals.

    Step One: Cover All the Basics

    Your first priority is to provide basic top-level content targeted toward your perfect clients. This means providing answers to the most basic questions that they may have about who you are, what you can do for them, and what they can expect from you.

    Think about this content as the “bones” of your site. What kinds of information do you expect to see on an estate planning website? What are the most common questions you hear from clients? What kinds of general information would be helpful to link back to when you need to talk about more complicated or specific issues?

    Not sure what we mean? Here is an example of what a plan for top-level topics on an estate planning website might look like:

    • Wills. What is a will? What are the types of wills? Can my spouse and I draft a joint will? What happens if you die without a will? How can I execute a will? How should I pick an executor? What does an executor do?
    • Advance directives. What is a durable power of attorney and who should hold mine? What is a living will? What is a health care proxy? Do I need a DNR (do not resuscitate) order?
    • Trusts. What is a trust? What are the types of trusts? What are the benefits of a trust? Do I need a trust if I have a will? What do I need to know before naming a trustee? Do trustees need attorneys?
    • Special needs trusts. What is a special needs trust? What should I consider if my adult child needs a guardian? Can I use a special needs trust for a spouse with special needs?
    • Gifts. What is the maximum gift I can give without being taxed? How does the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act work? What is the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act?
    • Probate. What is probate? How long does probate take in your state?
    • Litigation. How can I challenge a will? Who can challenge a will? What can I do if I have been unintentionally left out of a loved one’s will? How do courts decide on ambiguous wording in a will?
    • Estate taxes. When is an estate taxed? What is the generation-skipping transfer tax? What is a step-up in basis?
    • General. Why should I work with an estate planner? What is the fee arrangement? What documents do I need to bring to our meeting?

    As you can see, we’ve first broken our ideas into major topic areas, then into questions that can be answered in individual articles under the major topic. To apply this method to your own website, sit down and determine your major topic areas, then write out the kinds of questions you need to answer. Plan articles that will answer each of those questions, and schedule them on your content calendar.

    Don’t worry if it takes months to create and publish everything you need at this stage because the investment is worth the timeline. Ultimately, all of this is “evergreen” content that will be useful and relevant on your site for years to come.

    Step Two: Give Them Something Extra

    Once the basic topics are established, you can do a little research to further flesh out your content.

    One great way to do this is to do a Google search for a generic term related to your practice, like “estate planning law.” This gives you several options for developing topics. First, you can look at competitors’ sites that rank highly and see what kinds of content they currently offer, as well as what more education-based sites (like Wikipedia) might have to offer when your potential clients perform a search. Google also gives you several options for digging deeper right on the search page.

    First, you will see a “People Also Ask” box on the search page:

    n search results, Google includes a list of questions other people have asked


    Second, you will see a “People Also Search For” box as you click through results:

    : Google also list similar terms used in searches


    Third, near the bottom of the results, you will see some suggested related searches:

    Finally, you are shown a list of similar search topics

    What all of that means is that, with a single Google search, you get essentially four different springboards for content ideas.

    Still Need Help Coming Up With Content Topics for Your Estate Planning Website?

    Ultimately, there are lots of ways to come up with new topics and ideas for content, and lots of those methods will work for anyone in any industry. Learn more about how to find topics for online content.

    Are you concerned about being able to do it all yourself? Do you need help planning a content strategy or writing online content to fit your perfect clients’ needs? You can always contact us today to talk about our coaching and content-writing services and how that might fit into your overall marketing plan.

  • How can I use my website's content to build trust with potential clients?

    When potential clients search for an attorney or doctor online, they are usually confronted with a problem and confused about whom they can trust. That means that the content you choose to feature on your website—and how that content is presented—can have a big impact when someone needs your help.

    Does your content make you seem trustworthy? Are you offering what your potential clients need? Here’s how to make sure the content on your website is ready to make a positive impression.

    Trustworthy Online Content Brings Potential Clients Through Your Door

    Trust converts. Even Google has urged businesses to pay attention to what motivates potential clients when they search for answers online. If you are looking to establish your credibility and build trust with your online visitors, here are some things your online content should offer:

    • Helpful answers. Most of your potential clients will find you because they had a question and typed it into a search engine. Think about the most common questions you hear from new clients, and put yourself in your potential clients’ shoes. Create content that provides answers and points readers toward the next step. If you can provide helpful and relevant answers to their questions, then they will be more likely to trust you and turn to you for advice. You’ll also be more likely to show up in search results for people who need your help.
    • Relevant video. Don’t underestimate the power of video content! This is your chance to let clients know that you are a real human being who is available to them if they need help. Videos can do a lot to show clients what your brand is all about, who you are, and how you can help them solve their problems. With videos, you can get a lot across to viewers in a short amount of time, which is especially great for mobile users.
    • An idea of what to expect. Many potential clients who are facing legal or medical troubles are anxious about what to expect and how long it might be until they see some resolution. Offering this information up front can go a long way toward making your potential clients feel more comfortable and in control. Let them know what your first meeting might be like. Show photographs of your office and staff. Explain what they might need to bring with them or what they might be expected to do. Explain your payment policies. Let them know what kind of timeline to expect. Being straightforward and transparent with your potential clients from the start helps them feel at home and positions you as a trustworthy professional.
    • Prompt responses. You need to be quick to respond online because people won’t wait around. Your content pages should load quickly, both on desktop and mobile. If a current event or change in the law is making waves in your community, providing more information and immediate responses to questions can establish you as the authority to turn to with legal problems. If someone reaches out to you after reading your online content, you should be there to answer him. Let people know that you are paying attention and that you are there for them exactly when they need you.

    Finishing Touches That Keep Potential Clients Engaged and Coming Back for More

    How you present your content matters, too. Make sure that you write with the reader in mind. Make your content easy to scan and understand. Break up “text walls” with headlines and relevant images, and make sure everything looks great on the page. Your most important content should be easy to navigate to from your homepage, and it should also be easy to get to related content on your website. Overall, aim to create a positive user experience on your website that lets your potential clients know that you care about them.

    If you’re a DSS user, you’re probably already taking advantage of our sidebar modules that point readers toward relevant content. For example, if someone finds an article on your website about truck accidents, they’ll also see suggestions for related content:

    Sidebar modules suggest related content to the reader

    There are also several ways to include in-text links that point readers toward other information on your website that helps clarify or expand on the ideas you’ve presented:

    Links in the text or in a table can direct your audience to read deeply

    Connecting relevant content on your website helps establish your authority and lets readers know that you have much more to offer.

    The more you allay fears, show your human side, and demonstrate your expertise in your online content, the more likely it is that your potential clients will feel at ease and trust in your legitimacy. If you need help writing attorney website content that establishes your credibility, contact our digital content experts for guidance or sign up for a free marketing analysis.

     

  • How do I develop a digital content strategy?

    Stop writing online content just for content’s sake! You need a plan if you want to succeed.

    Google has been clear that it is looking for online content that is:

    • Useful and informative.
    • More valuable than the content on other sites.
    • Credible and high quality.
    • Engaging for readers.

    If you aren’t hitting the mark with your online content, then your search rankings will suffer. The good news is that you can avoid problems by planning a content strategy to help you better provide exactly what Google and your online audience want. Then, add an organized calendar that keeps you on track toward your content marketing goals. That’s it! You’re ready to create more effective content for the Web.

    What Is a Content Strategy?

    A content strategy is simply a plan for how and why your content will be created and managed.

    It may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds. We like to break it down into a few simple steps so you can start laying the groundwork for your content strategy right away:

    • Identify your perfect client. What kinds of clients and cases are you trying to attract? Who is your target audience? If you aren’t sure who you’re writing for, you can’t create an effective strategy to attract them. Want to get started? Find out how to identify your perfect client.
    • Define your goals. Why are you creating content? What do you want to achieve? Some examples of common content goals include brand awareness, increasing traffic, generating leads, converting leads into clients, improving client retention, or driving new referrals. Putting a laser focus on your goals and your perfect client are the two most important things you can do for your marketing.
    • Develop list of topics. The topics that you write about should be important to you and your perfect client. Think about common questions and things you’d like your potential clients to know before they meet with you. Not sure where to get ideas? Find out how to find topics for online content.
    • Document your strategy. Write down your goals, topic ideas, and vision of your perfect client or clients. Keep an ongoing content calendar—we’ll walk you through that below—to help keep you on track. Check your progress by gathering and analyzing hard data on content performance. As you continue to plan ahead and adjust your content strategy, this kind of documentation will be worth its weight in gold.

    Once you know what you want to achieve and why, it’s time to create a content calendar to make it all happen.

    How to Create a Content Calendar to Support Your Digital Content Strategy

    We recommend that you start by developing a three-month content strategy and creating a content calendar that contains all this information in one place. To help you get started, here’s an example content calendar for a personal injury attorney:

    A content calendar allows you to plan your content strategy for months ahead

    Having a pre-planned content calendar lets everyone on your team know what’s happening and when. It helps keep you organized and focused, and it streamlines the content creation process. The bonus is that it’s also easy to go back and see what you’ve covered in the past and what you need to do in the future.

    You content calendar should include:

    • Monthly topic themes. Choose one or more general or “big picture” topics to focus on for each month of the plan, which you’ll support with more focused individual pieces. You should also choose an appropriate call to action to use throughout the month to help encourage your readers to take the next step.
    • A list of individual content pieces to support monthly topics. Variety is the spice of your online content marketing. Keep your readers engaged by creating different types of content that support your monthly theme. Decide how many pieces of content you’d like to create each month, and come up with detailed topics for each one. Along with your blog posts and website articles, you should also include a plan for any other content you plan to create during the month, such as email or print newsletters, drip campaigns, email blasts, and guest posts.
    • Planned publish dates. Decide on publication dates for each piece of your content. We recommend that you schedule content evenly throughout the month so that you are consistently releasing new content and encouraging repeat visits. This is also the time to determine if and when your content will be shared on social media sites.

    Once you have a strategy and calendar in place, it’s time to start writing. Be sure that you always aim to write original, interesting content that you’d want to read if you were in your potential clients’ shoes. Don’t forget to proofread and edit your content before publishing to the Web!

    Do you need help planning or creating online content that will wow your perfect client and boost your success? Start by signing up for a free marketing analysis that will help you identify what’s working, what’s not, and how to create a better strategy for the future.

  • How can I create better website content to attract the patients I want?

    Is your message getting lost in a muddle of medical jargon and buzzwords?Most medical professionals who develop websites want content that attracts the perfect patient and presents their practices in a positive light. They want content that sounds professional, yet personable, and they want their staff to appear knowledgeable and skilled. Writing in a way that accomplishes those goals can be challenging and requires language that “hooks” a potential patient and keeps him reading about your professional intelligence and expertise. 

    Because people come to your website seeking information, you want to provide content that offers that information in a clear and understandable way. If potential patients are confused by your content, they may be less inclined to contact you for an appointment. Writing in a way that builds trust and showcases your experience can help attract the patients you want most.

    Content That Attracts Potential Patients to Your Website and Keeps Them Reading

    Here are some important points to help you provide content that attracts potential patients to your website and keeps them on the page long enough to read your material:

    • Remember that the attention span of the average person is eight seconds. Like most people, web users want to find information quickly, so you want your content to get to the point. Put the most critical information up front, and leave the details for later.
    • Make it personal. Tailor your message to your perfect patients. For example, if you’re targeting people with diabetes, be sure your headline and subheads pose a question or address an issue that diabetics may be dealing with.
    • Use the ‘less is more’ rule. When people search for information about a medical condition, they don’t need a lot of content—they just want the ‘right’ content. Avoid presenting an overload of generic medical content or a ‘wall of text’ that makes it a challenge to read through. Use short, focused pieces of text that present your information in small, readable chunks.
    • Use bullet lists. Help your website visitor stay on your page by giving information in quick, brief statements that capture a specific point in a clear, succinct way.
    • Use headlines to your advantage. Speak to your desired patient. Pose a hypothetical question or address common issues. Use your headlines and subheadings to capture the readers’ attention by letting them quickly know, “What’s In It For Me?”

    What Not to Do

    You can also keep a potential patient on your website and interested in your content by avoiding certain techniques, including:

    • Being clever or anecdotal. Telling long stories, being cute or clever, or providing unrelated information are sure ways to lose your website visitor.
    • Using jargon and complicated medical terms. You want to educate your website visitors, but be sure you’re not talking over their heads. Write to potential patients the way you would speak to them in your office if they were your patient. 
    • Using too much background information. Stay away from text that gives broad background information or long narratives that bury the point or never get to it.

    Writing for Your Perfect Patient

    Some medical professionals want to attract a generic set of patients; but most want to attract their perfect patient. Ideally, your website should speak to those people directly. The words you choose and the approach you take in presenting yourself and your practice are critical in keeping potential patients at your website and turning them into actual patients.

    If you’d like more information on how we’ve helped many medical professionals provide effective website content, feel free to browse our testimonials page.

  • You keep nattering on about how bad grammar and spelling in website content hurt my business. Where’s your proof?

    The road to success is littered with the broken remains of companies that couldn’t finish the trip. When you pick through the rubble of their websites, you’ll see horrible misspellings, tortured word choices, and grammar that doesn’t belong in any English sentence. It’s obvious that most of this wretched website wreckage wasn’t made in the United States, and that the webmasters tried nefarious SEO techniques to attract customers.

    So much effort wasted to so little effect. Makes you sad, doesn’t it?

    Even if we gave you names of some of the companies, medical practices, and law firms that failed, that’s not the sort of evidence you want, is it? Anecdotes are fine for stories told around the campfire, but proof comes in the form of scientific results that anyone can reproduce. The question is, do we have the evidence you want, or not?

    Yeah, we’ve got it. Pull up a campstool, Bucky. This will take a little bit of time.

    A Proof by Counterexample

    Bad grammar and incomprehensible spelling usually don’t draw a big fan club. Frankly, it’s not believable that website readers have been sending feedback to complain, “Oh, man, this site is far too informative, helpful, and clearly written! We demand more incomprehensible bilge, like we get from your competitors!” Our experience has been that when a business owner starts complaining about the burdens of good word usage, that’s a sign that some other game is being played.

    You can bet that “other game” is about money.

    Now, we know that good grammar and interesting, informative content really doesn’t cost any more than weak and incoherent gibberish. Your staff members can learn to write fantastic content as part of their regular job duties. But money can become part of the equation when an unethical web marketer tries to sell a bargain package to a naive business owner. The long-term result is always unfortunate for the business.

    So if you’re really asking for our permission to neglect all ethical considerations and try to fool Google into giving you a leading placement in search engine results, we have one answer: it’s your business. We don’t get a vote, and you don’t need our permission. If you manage to prosper over the next year or two, please come back and tell us about it; you definitely will have beaten the odds.

    Do you really feel like wagering the future of your business on one roll of the dice? If so, we wish you good luck.

    Globo Lingo Captures Evidence From the Field

    But we promised you hard data, and we haven’t forgotten that promise.

    Hard data’s not so easy to come by, as you’ve probably realized. We can’t do double-blind testing because we can’t set up two identical law firms or podiatry clinics or some other company, create two complementary websites, and test whether good grammar attracts and retains more business. We can’t even create two websites—one grammatical, one not—for one company, because the existence of the “bad” site will potentially skew search engine results and contaminate the data.

    But about a year ago, one company, Globo Lingo, figured out a way to extract some valid statistics in a real-world social experiment. Although news links change over time, you still may be able to find contemporary news reports of the experiment. Globo Lingo’s researchers found that 59 percent of its participants would be less likely to use a service or product if there were obvious grammatical or spelling mistakes on its website or marketing materials.

    Fifty-nine percent. Much more than half. If this were an election, they’d be calling it a landslide.

    Now, the study wasn’t perfect. The sample size was fairly small (just over a thousand people). Globo Lingo is a translation service based in the United Kingdom, so perhaps its results don’t translate perfectly to U.S.-based business websites. But we probably can trust the overall direction of the results—the qualitative data—because they align so well with what we’d expect based on reasoning and the real-world anecdotes in case after case.

    Don’t Buy Pandora’s Box

    If someone is trying to sell you on a marketing system based on promises that grammar, spelling, and even content itself doesn’t matter, think again. Remind him that anecdotes don’t count. Demand to see his hard evidence and statistics before you pick up that black hat.

    High-quality content writing is easier than it looks, and a bargain at almost any price. Why? Because your website content is at the heart of your marketing strategy. You’ve heard us say it time and again: Content is king, and there are no signs of an abdication any time in the near future.

    Don’t just take my word for it: read what the best minds in the marketing business have to say. Take the time to download our FREE book, The Foster Web Marketing Clients’ Guide to Great Content. It may change your life; it certainly will open your eyes to possibilities you haven’t considered before.

     

  • Who gets to decide what proper usage and grammar is? You? Why should I believe YOU?

    In America, we have a proud and defiant tradition of resisting authority. It’s not at all obvious that you should obey the instructions of some “cranky grammarian” just because he has a regular forum for his views.

    In fact, this question—“Who gets to decide about grammar?”—has been the center of the target in a long-standing dispute about language: the conflict between prescriptivism and descriptivism. This struggle is mostly waged in academic halls, but now and then, it engages public attention, often when dictionaries issue new editions.

    • Descriptivists argue that dictionaries and grammar guides should collect the way the people actually use words, without making judgments about correctness. In their view, it’s perfectly okay—valuable, even—for a dictionary to include the word ain’t, or to add the latest popular Internet slang, or to say that one meaning of the word literally is “figuratively or metaphorically,” because those are all examples of how English is truly used. In summary: English is a living language that constantly changes, and we must adapt to today’s words, meanings, and grammar.
    • Prescriptivists believe that dictionaries and other reference works have an obligation to mark the acknowledged boundaries of English by pointing out when usage isn’t considered standard. Sure, prescriptivists say, languages change over time, but if something is not yet fully accepted as conventional English, it’s important to tell potential users that a word may be obsolete; limited to a region, dialect, or subculture; slang; or roundly rejected by a panel of usage experts.

    Steps Beyond the Dictionary

    Every dictionary will express its editor’s viewpoint on the prescriptivism vs. descriptivism debate. But English is more than the static word lists trapped in dictionaries. For grammar and usage, the equivalent references are the stylebooks maintained by various publishing organizations. Many newspapers, for instance, follow the rules of the Associated Press Stylebook. The University of Chicago publishes the Chicago Manual of Style, which is widely used in the book publishing industry. Many academic papers follow the rules established by the Modern Language Association (MLA). I’ve always been partial to the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual.

    You know what? Each of these sets of rules flatly contradicts all the others at one point or another. And yet the editors of each stylebook can cite a long list of historical examples to show that esteemed authors preferred the usage rules this book favors. We have a case of many emperors issuing contradictory laws: the result is anarchy.

    Does the English Language Exist?

    So, what does it mean when the very best experts we can find can’t agree on how words should be defined and used? I think that we can draw three important conclusions:

    • There’s no such thing as definitive English. No one individual—nope, not even a grumpy content editor for the best U.S. web marketing company—has the exclusive right to determine what is or is not good grammar and usage.
    • Nevertheless, chaos does not rule. Most people who have made a serious study of English will agree on the rules of grammar most of the time. You can make an analogy with a map of a partially explored land. Some of the borderlands may be fuzzy, but there really is a discrete English language that is our common heritage.
    • In the end, English belongs to its users. If you’re a writer with a special fondness for run-on sentences, then you’re free to use them and to garner support from other writers. Perhaps you’ll be so persuasive that run-ons will become conventional English usage a generation from now. Perhaps you’ll be dismissed as a crackpot. But it’s your language, your freedom of expression, and your opportunity to try to rewrite the rules.

    Ultimately, then, those are my credentials too. I’m a writer, a lover of English, and someone who has taken the time to study grammar and usage enough to be able to teach others. I will necessarily be taking stands on issues that do not have universal agreement. Readers who disagree are welcome to respond by adding comments to blog postings, clicking on my contact information, or by reaching out to the Foster Web Marketing content team by phone or email. We always welcome the vigorous and lively exchange of viewpoints.

     

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