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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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.
I believe that many of the people visiting my business website have weak reading skills. What’s the most important thing I can do TODAY to make them feel at home?
We’ll get to the answer to that question in just a moment, but first: a test. Grab a piece of scrap paper and a pen or pencil. I’m serious. Do it now, before you read any farther.
There will be some mathematics involved, but you are not allowed to use a calculator.
This is a high-stakes test, too. If you don’t pass it, you’re probably not going to get any value out of this essay. In fact, there’s a good chance you’re learning the wrong lessons from every page you’ve been reading on this site.
You have only thirty seconds. Time starts…now.
- Write down the number 12. This is the first number in the series.
- The rule for writing down the next number is as follows: double the current number, then add one.
- As quickly as you can, write down the next three numbers in the series. Hurry up! Your time is running out.
- Finally: circle all the even numbers you wrote down. How many numbers did you circle?
What This Test Reveals
As you will already have deduced, the purpose of the test is not to grade your ability with arithmetic. Although, come to mention it, if you circled more than one number—the starting number, 12—then you made a mistake somewhere; all the subsequent numbers must be odd, not even. No, the purpose of the test is to push you a little off-balance and then make you complete a task under stressful circumstances.
So, to ratchet up the stress, we told you that the test would be about mathematics—probably not your strongest skill area—and then hinted that the level of math might be challenging (“you are not allowed to use a calculator”). We said you only get half a minute to finish, and then reinforced this with commands to work even faster. And we told you directly that successful completion would have profound implications for your future success (and I don’t think that was too much exaggeration, as we shall see).
Did you feel anxious? A little sweat on your palms? Good. That was the purpose of your test.
This Is What Your Clients Experience When They Visit Your Website
Let’s be honest here: many people hate to read. A widely quoted figure is that about 15 percent of the adult U.S. population is fully literate, roughly equal to a college undergraduate level. Another 20 percent or so are functionally illiterate. That leaves a huge majority, on the order of 65 percent of all adults, who can read at a lower level if they must, but who prefer to avoid reading when possible.
These are your potential clients and customers.
Only desperation could drive such a person to your website for information. Only a driving need to know something in your area of expertise could make a non-reader force himself through the agony of puzzling out the text on your site. These people crucially need answers to potentially life-changing questions, such as:
- Do I have to lose my life savings to pay for my medical care after the accident?
- Will I be going to prison?
- Is it cancer?
- Will I ever walk again?
- Can my husband walk out and leave me and the kids penniless?
- Will my husband be okay in the nursing home?
- Will my deadbeat brother-in-law take over my business after I’m gone?
The analogy between the stress suffered by readers looking for answers to life’s gravest problems and the stress that you felt when suddenly hijacked into a math test isn’t perfect; it’s only suggestive. But if, right now, you do not feel compassion for your website users who are attempting the hardest thing they know—reading—in order to find the help they thirst for, then you’re numb to the purpose of your website and your marketing plan. If you don’t have empathy for these forlorn and despairing people, they will soon scatter off to your competitors.
Step One: Leave No Acronym Unexplained
The first step when dealing with lower-skilled readers is to give them every bit of help they may need. That means you must offer them help with reading, along with offering to help them with their problems. If they can’t understand your website, how will they decide to hire you?
We have written elsewhere about how a great marketing writer will take pains to explain professional jargon in context in order to strengthen communication. Now take that one step further, and look at the common abbreviations and acronyms that are used in your line of work. Every page on your website on which that term appears must explain what it stands for: not only by giving a word-by-word description, but also by telling the reader why this term is so important and so often used that it has a short form.
For example, if you are an attorney who frequently deals with disability cases, you probably explain on your home page or practice area landing page that SSDI stands for the Social Security Disability Insurance program. That’s good, but not good enough. You cannot guarantee that a new reader will land on one of those pages the first time he visits your site; indeed, those pages may not be among the first dozen he encounters. If you leave him bewildered, he will seek out another lawyer, one more helpful. So don’t let that happen: explain every abbreviation and every acronym in context the first time you use it on every webpage.
I would actually go one step farther and suggest you don’t use routine abbreviations at all. Write Avenue instead of Ave., November instead of Nov., and Tuesday instead of Tue. Show your readers that you are willing to take pains and want to meet them more than halfway to make sure your message gets through. That’s never a bad marketing strategy.
If you found this article thought-provoking, please take the time to read more of our collected pieces on writing professional web content. You may wish to begin with our related articles referenced on this page.
Is it okay to start a sentence with a conjunction?
For years and years, English teachers at elementary and middle schools across the United States would have been astonished by that question. Mrs. Beedle, my fourth grade teacher, would have turned from the blackboard to glare at any student who asked such an absurd thing. (Yeah, blackboards were still being used when I went to school.)
“Of course you may not begin a sentence with a conjunction,” she would have snapped. “Why, the very idea!”
We believed her. Back then, we trusted Mrs. Beedle. We loved how she could explain the rules of English so there were always definite answers, in crisp black and white, with no ambiguity whatsoever. Grammar was rational, comforting, and precise, while the real world was messy and complicated. And Mrs. Beedle was our guide to that land of certainty.
I’m sure some of my classmates went on to become English teachers themselves, and they taught their students the lessons Mrs. Beedle gave us, and their students’ students passed on the same message to later generations. Chief among those lessons was the prohibition against starting a sentence with a conjunction.
But Mrs. Beedle was wrong.
English Contains More Myths Than the Land of Oz Does
In plain fact, most of us have been taught from a very early age certain “rules” of English usage—syntax rules, as they are called by grammar experts—that aren’t legitimate rules at all. We’re talking about rules such as these:
- Never end a sentence with a preposition.
- Never split an infinitive.
- Sentences in the passive voice should always be revised to include active verbs.
- A conjunction may never begin a sentence.
- A paragraph must be at least three sentences long.
No widely respected modern guide to syntax endorses these principles. Even though most publishers and media outlets still discourage using the passive voice, nobody bars it completely from their publications. These rules-that-aren’t-really-rules linger on, however, because they are still passed down between generations in schools and in popular (mis)understanding of what constitutes fine writing and speaking.
Let’s take a close look at what are called the seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet. These are the words that join or connect two or more items.
Thanks to the popularity of the Schoolhouse Rock animated educational videos, millions of Americans know that the purpose of conjunctions is “hooking up words and phrases and clauses.” That tune never mentions that the coordinating conjunctions can also link up independent sentences. Of course, we know that you can always take two sentences, change the final period of the first to a comma, add “and,” and attach the second sentence to form a compound sentence. But is it really, truly okay for two separate sentences to exist where the second one begins with a coordinating conjunction?
It sure is. People have been doing it since at least the tenth century. Classical and contemporary authors with impeccable credentials have begun sentences with and, but, and or, and nobody has complained. It’s not clear from the historical record when the notion arose that beginning sentences with a conjunction is not to be tolerated. The majority of top usage authorities for each generation has accepted conjunctions at the start of sentences.
There is another class of conjunctions, called subordinating conjunctions, which are clearly designed to show connections and relationships between clauses. Among the subordinating conjunctions are the words although, because, if, since, unless, until, when, whether, and while. Your own familiarity with English should make it easy for you to recognize that these words can be used at the start of sentences. Nobody objects to them there.
However, there is one special rule that applies whenever a conjunction (of either sort) starts a sentence: the conjunction shouldn’t be followed immediately by a comma. Consider these examples:
- A car accident can cause terrible injuries to your bones, joints, and soft tissues. And, unless you act quickly, you may end up paying for the hospital bill even if someone else was responsible for the wreck.
- Diabetic nerve pain is a difficult problem to manage. But, with the care and attention of our team at the Coeur d’Alene Clinic, you can be assured prompt attention to your changing medical condition.
- Are you content to save for your retirement by adding a dollar or two to your savings account whenever you think about it? Or, do you need a systematic investment plan to ensure a secure retirement income for your golden years?
In each case, that comma after the conjunction disrupts the connective function that and, but, and or so ably provide. This is one of those places where you need to take special care not to let extra commas creep into your writing. The exception, of course, is when the phrase right after the conjunction is not essential to the main meaning of the sentence. Consider the final sentence in our examples above, which would normally be correctly written without commas: “Or do you need a systematic investment plan to ensure a secure retirement income for your golden years?” Add an additional clause that isn’t vital to the main thought, though, and you will need commas to set it off: “Or, like so many other people your age, do you need a systematic investment plan to ensure a secure retirement income for your golden years?”
One last issue before we close. I notice some of you grumbling already that when sentences begin with “However,” the word is invariably followed by a comma. “How are you gonna explain that, Mr. Smarty-Pants?” you ask.
Here’s how: many people assume that however is a conjunction because it seems to be an exact synonym for but. But Mrs. Beedle, my fourth grade teacher, taught that however is an adverb—specifically, a conjunctive adverb—and, like other sentence adverbs, it must be followed by a comma when it starts a sentence.
The byways of English can be awfully tricky, even for experienced writers. To hold the attention of visitors to your professional, legal, or medical website, you need to write informative and interesting text that is expressed clearly, grammatically… and sometimes, artfully.
Like it or not, content is king for Internet marketing, as we have told you time and again. Reach out to Foster Web Marketing if you need help generating excellent content or if you’re interested in our content writing service for business professionals. We can educate your team or provide work written to your specifications. Even Mrs. Beedle would approve.
I’ve hired a proofreader to look over the website content I write. What next?
Good for you! We have done our best to stress that an editor or proofreader is an essential resource for maintaining a professional website. You need someone who is good with the nuances of expository writing, of course, but this also must be a person whose judgment you trust. Week after week, as you add new content to your web pages, your proofreader should review each piece for grammar, spelling, and usage irregularities before it goes live for all the world to see.
You’re at the Controls of the Conveyor Belt
As the owner or manager of a law firm, medical practice, or professional business, getting the proofreader or editor in place is the last essential step in creating a website content machine. Members of your staff—possibly even you, yourself—will evaluate the needs of your potential client base and write engaging, informative articles that address those interests. Your editor will review the work and make any changes needed. Then, using Foster Web Marketing’s revolutionary Dynamic Self-Syndication (DSS) software, you can arrange for new articles to go live at the exact time and day that suits your business schedule.
Regular publication of informative website content is a proven method of maintaining reader interest in your site and brand, as well as a way to attract attention from major search engines. A dynamically growing business website often earns a higher placement on search engine results pages. Of course, a higher search engine score tends to drive more readers your way, which also improves your Google ranking. This positive feedback loop can propel your brand recognition upward as long as you maintain steady publication of excellent, relevant content from your office.
Another Use for Your Proofreader: Implement a Quality Check System
Of course, when your proofreader or editor signed on to the mission, the flight was already underway. You already had content published on your website—maybe a lot of content. Is it helping you or hurting you? Just as great content can establish your dominance over your competitors, weak or inferior writing can drive away potential clients and customers.
Beginning in the early spring of 2014, Foster Web Marketing became a program of taking a second look at material that had already been written and published for our partners. Under our new Quality Check program, an editor is assigned to look at the custom web content that has been published over the past three months for a particular client. The objective: search for patterns of errors in grammar, idiom, topic development, and word use that had been overlooked by the original writers and editors. The reviewing editor will produce an extensive report of any defects found, carefully highlighting any areas where similar mistakes have regularly been made.
Of course, this report is just a first step in the process. A report is useless if it’s not read and not used as a tool for action. Following up on the Quality Check, the management team in charge of that client’s website—in conjunction with the current writers and editor—will assess the report’s conclusions. They are responsible for developing an action plan to make sure patterns of errors do not repeat in the future. The older content that was identified as flawed will be evaluated, and either revised to meet English standards or replaced with new content.
Even small businesses can adapt the Quality Check process to assure that old content does not linger on the website when it’s no longer useful. Turn your new editor loose on your old website content and see what errors he can find. The results may surprise you; but if you follow through on making improvements to or discarding stale content, the strength of the reader response to your freshened web content may startle you even more.
A Quality Check may even be used as an annual event. Just remember that, for best results, you will want a different proofreader or editor to conduct the review process each year. Editors, as much as writers, become used to overlooking the errors they have made in the past, so you need a fresh set of eyes to look at the old material without preconceptions.
There Are Always New Ways to Innovate
Until now, the Foster Web Marketing Quality Check has been a process we’ve refined for our own use in maintaining this site and refining our work for our partners. Now that we know it works, we’re happy to share this idea with others.
You’ve told me that I need a proofreader for my website content. Why can’t I do it myself?
You deserve congratulations if you’re writing the content for your own business or professional website. It can be a daunting task, and—at least at the outset—there is a lot of anxiety in working outside your usual field. But maintaining a regular schedule of publishing informative, useful material for potential customers remains one of the best ways to attract and convert new clients. Kudos to you!
By all means, make the time to re-read what you have written before it’s published online. You may find an inelegant phrase, or a place where adding a few words can add enormous clarity. But our experience suggests that you should not be the sole editor or proofreader for your own writing.
It’s important to bear in mind that proofreading is not a quest for perfection. There are many pathways a writer can take to get to a desired destination, and editing does not select the “best” route. Instead, the revision process is designed to catch errors in grammar, spelling, usage, and diction before the work is published for its intended audience.
And, since we’re on the topic, the quest for writing perfection is an impossible goal anyway. People make mistakes. Those mistakes range from simple typing errors to habitual misuse of certain words. Your proofreader is there to catch these mistakes and patch them up before your work goes live.
There’s One Thing You Always Write Wrong. This Is Mine.
Even people with extraordinary talent for writing prose may have a handful of problem areas. Perhaps you find it difficult to remember when to use a semicolon, or you may forget when to use a dash rather than a hyphen, or you may be stumped whenever you need to choose between “effect” and “affect.”
My big problem has always been dealing with the words lay, lie, laid, and lain. I’m clear on lie when it means to tell a falsehood, but when the discussion turns to setting objects on surfaces or reclining one’s body on a sofa, I throw my hands in the air. I flip between reference book pages for a good ten minutes before I write down the word I think is right, but I’m never really confident in my choice.
So that’s the first reason why I need an editor to review my work (and you do, too): Chances are, you too have a persistent mental block when it comes to using some words or punctuation. Your proofreader is your reassurance that a silly mistake won’t be released to the disdain of the general public. Because of that mental block, you can’t be trusted to proofread your own writing, any more than I can effectively proofread my own work.
Your Errors Are Invisible (But Only to You)
Another reason why an independent proofreader is vital is that you cannot be trusted to spot your own mistakes on the screen or the printed page. You know too well what you intended to write, and your eyes will just skip past that point where you typed it’s instead of its. A proofreader doesn’t bring any preconceptions to the document, so he can spot those errors readily.
Spell Check and Grammar Check? Don’t Make Me Laugh.
Software has become amazingly sophisticated in my lifetime. Nevertheless, computer software doesn’t compare to an intelligent mind in correcting spelling, grammar, and usage mistakes. Spell checking programs don’t really understand language, so they can’t catch many word substitutions—podcast instead of podiatrist, for instance—that might show up in your text. Grammar checking software doesn’t appreciate the meaning of the words it scans, so it ends up reporting trivial errors such as split infinitives rather than conceptual mistakes. At least for the current decade, proofreading demands the concentrated attention of another human being.
Getting the Editorial Help You Need
One of the great benefits of Foster Web Marketing’s content management system, Dynamic Self-Syndication, is that it gives you complete control over your professional website. You can extend your online presence at any time, to whatever breadth you desire. At the same time, you assume the risk that a particularly egregious error in grammar or usage will undercut your influence or perceived authority.
But the more you write, the more you need the services of a proofreader. Where do you find one?
Potential proofreaders are everywhere. If you are sharing writing duties with someone else in your office, for instance, exchanging the work between you for editing is obvious. If no coworker is available, you may want to contact the modern languages or English literature departments of your nearby community college to see if instructors can recommend a talented student who might be interested in part-time proofreading work. Local employment centers and online job-search services can also be helpful in locating freelance editors and writers.
Here at Foster Web Marketing, we’re excited to respond to your questions about website content development and production. For specific guidance for your professional marketing, call us today or fill out the convenient contact form on this page.
I have instructed my office worker who writes our website content to eliminate all jargon and technical terms from our pages. Is that the right approach?
It’s one possible approach, certainly.
Whether you manage a law firm, a medical practice, or some other business, it’s likely that you have a large, specialized technical vocabulary. And that’s absolutely appropriate: when working within your profession, you need a level of precision that’s only available from a special set of words and phrases.
You can’t assume that the general public is familiar with this vocabulary. In fact, you can take it as given that most of your potential clients or customers don’t know these specialized terms. If you cover your website with this technical jargon, you risk scaring off readers who can’t understand your writing and who feel you’re browbeating them with your specialized knowledge.
How to respond to this situation? Many professionals have followed the same course that you suggest here: they have purged all technical vocabulary from their business websites. That’s one way to go, but it may not be the best.
A Word of Explanation
Don’t forget that one of the key elements to convert web visitors into leads (and ultimately into clients and customers) is the informative value of your website. Using your website to explain the technical terms of your profession is an amazingly effective way to add value to your site. Rather than using jargon to distance yourself from your readers, a blog post or FAQ column that explains a fundamental term builds inclusiveness. It reinforces your website’s educational mission, and helps establish you as a local expert in your field who shares knowledge unstintingly.
Above all, this approach can get you better clients—those who most resemble your ideal client. Consider these:
- A personal injury law firm webpage that explains the meaning of “liability.”
- A podiatry website that explains the difference between bacterial, fungal, and viral skin infections and why they require fundamentally different approaches.
- A product sales website that explains the environmental risks that competitors ignore in the manufacturing process—and gives a detailed scientific explanation of how its corporate managers respect and protect nature.
By educating potential customers and clients, you make sure the people who contact you later are actively engaged in trying to understand and satisfy their needs. They will be primed to view you as a trustworthy and intelligent partner whose advice ought to be followed. Providing information predisposes your best customers to seek you out.
Every Page Is a Gateway
There is only one downside to this approach. Remember that every page on your website is a potential entryway for new readers, and a portal to everything you have ever posted.
That’s normally a good thing. Over time, you have dozens (and eventually hundreds) of doorways leading potential clients and customers to engage with your site. However, if you represent a law firm that has devoted one page to explaining the concept of liability, you cannot guarantee that any new reader will find that page early on. For any other page that talks about the concept, you will want to have a brief summary of the idea and a link to the page where the concept is explained in depth. Remembering to put in all those required bits can be tedious.
Optimize Your Website to Inform
A website that packages information and delivers it generously to visitors is the best way to elicit a favorable sales response. It’s also the vision behind everything we do at Foster Web Marketing. Informative websites engage contacts and convert them into passionate customers. Keep that concept in mind when you write material for your site—or, if you can’t spare the time, contact us at 1-888-886-0939 to learn how we can provide fresh material written to your specifications.
What is "pogo sticking" and what does it have to do with my website?
Many people think that bounce rate and pogo sticking are the same thing, but they aren't. I like to think of pogo sticking as bounce rate's devious cousin; they are related, but bounce rate is the one that will get you in the most hot water with the Internet's version of your mom: Google.
Definitions of Bounce Rate and Pogo Sticking
To understand pogo sticking, we need to understand the differences between bounce rate and pogo sticking:
- Bounce rate: Bounce rate is defined as "the percentage of visitors who visit a single page on a website." A high bounce rate isn't always bad, as it can mean that while the visitor didn't travel deeper into a site, he did spend some time on the page and get an answer to his question. He may have bookmarked the page or shared it on Facebook, but since he didn't read more, it constitutes a bounce.
- Pogo sticking: Pogo sticking occurs when a user performs a search, clicks on a result, very quickly clicks back to the search result page, and clicks on a different result. This type of behavior is a direct result of immediate dissatisfaction in the search result, and—unlike bounce rate—pogo sticking is always a bad thing.
The Dangers of Pogo Sticking
Google hates pogo sticking more than high bounce rates, as pogo sticking happens within the first five seconds of viewing the page. This indicates that your website isn't doing a good enough job of answering the questions people are asking or that the page was so bad they didn't even bother reading its content. If you have a lot of people pogo sticking on and off your site, Google will notice, and they will penalize you.
Common Causes of Pogo Sticking
Pogo sticking is caused by immediate dissatisfaction with some aspect of your website. But there are lots of things that could go wrong in those precious five seconds, so determining exactly what's wrong with any given page can be a challenge. To help you get to the bottom of the problem, here's a list of the most common causes of pogo sticking:
Content related causes:
- The content doesn't match the title or meta description. (Title promises: "The Scary Truth About Parking Lot Accidents and Children," but the article is about rollover accidents.)
- The content is spammy. (Title promises: "Five Tips to Winning Your Car Accident Case," but the article is one paragraph and has a keyword-stuffed call to action.)
- The content doesn't match the site's focus. (An article about gluten-free baking on an attorney's website.)
- The content is loaded with grammar and spelling mistakes.
Non-content related causes:
- Slow page loading time.
- Videos that auto-play.
- Too many pop-up windows.
- A confusing or outdated design.
- Lack of usability.
If you're concerned about your website's performance, we can help you determine exactly what's affecting its success.
We want to give you the tools you need to fix your site and exceed your goals so we recommend that you request your free website analysis and read our in-depth article on performing a content audit. These tools will cost you nothing, and could very well be the key to finally realizing your dream of running a highly successful business.
I want to talk to potential clients in a way they understand. I prefer to write for my professional website in a relaxed, informal style. If I take that approach, I don’t have to obey all the fine points of grammar, do I?
You can choose not to pay attention to grammar. You can also choose not to have clients or customers. It turns out that, very often, those choices go hand in hand.
Of course you don’t want to appear stiff, stuffy, or overly formal on your website. But a “casual Friday” approach to writing means taking off your metaphorical necktie, not showing up dressed for a college frat party. You can (and should) adopt a friendly tone when addressing your readers. At the same time, you must always bear in mind that keeping a professional face on things means maintaining a layer of reserve. Close attention to spelling, grammar, punctuation, and usage is an important step in that direction.
Writing to attract your ideal clients
We don’t like to talk about social class in the United States. Nevertheless, it’s important to recognize that members of different socioeconomic classes will react to your website message in distinct ways. Properly shaping your message will allow you to attract the clients and customers you want the most.
For many highly skilled service providers, the ideal client is a member of the upper middle class or above. This population is accustomed to and comfortable with seeking advice from professionals—and they can usually be trusted to act on the advice they receive. They tend to be better educated, wealthier, and more cosmopolitan. They are often active learners who can partner effectively with you as a patient, law firm client, or service customer.
People with lower socioeconomic status may also have critical service needs that you can address; indeed, they tend to have more desperate needs for your services than your optimal customers. At the risk of over-generalizing, these prospects are often less appealing as clients, if only because they demand so much more of your time. They are more likely to be suspicious of experts and authority, and this means they might resist your advice at critical points. They are often insular and less educated, and so may not have the background to evaluate their situations or your instructions.
And yet they are sensitive to being patronized. Your attempts to dumb down your professional website won’t earn you favorable attention. Instead, your potential lower-class customers will feel that you’re mocking them. Your “good ol’ boy” pose will strike them as false—a poorly masked form of snobbery.
In the meantime, your upper-class prospects will be unimpressed by your ungrammatical writing style. Some will think you’re just lazy, or that you farmed out the writing to someone who may not be a native English speaker. Some will think you’re simply incompetent. None will be encouraged to stick around.
Informal writing for professional websites: How far is too far?
So, as a rule, stick to following the formal rules of grammar and allow your warm, familiar tone to engage readers.
But you can also earn the right to throw away the most rigid rules, now and then. Once you have proved—by producing lots of great content—that you have mastered grammar, you can occasionally bypass the rules. Use “who” instead of “whom.” Split an infinitive, if rewording the sentence would sound awkward. Oh, and sentence fragments! Sentence fragments can really add punch to a paragraph, when they’re used as a rare and exotic spice.
Some things should remain out of bounds for any professional website, of course. No swearing. No instant messaging abbreviations. No emoticons. If you’re at all uncertain, then favor the conservative, classic approach. But if you want the option to be less formal at times, then earn the right to do so by first demonstrating to your readers that you understand the rules and that you’re deliberately choosing to flout them.
Need more specific guidance? Our professional content writing and editorial services are always ready to advise you on an informal, relaxed approach that will win over your online audience and make you a local celebrity for your expertise and wit. Call 888.886.0939 for a FREE evaluation of your current website content and a game plan to get you the clients or customers you want to see.
What tools can I use to track breaking news?
Do I have tools for you! Tracking breaking news has become easier and more customizable than ever. Below are my top five breaking news apps, alerts, and services:
- Twitter. Twitter is often the first place big news stories are announced. I suggest that you follow CNN (@cnnbrk), TMZ (@TMZ), and Anderson Cooper (@AC360). Also, be sure to follow your local news outlets and reporters.
- Google Alerts. Sign up for alerts that align with your areas of practice and your target geographic area. For example, if you are a podiatrist in St. Louis, be sure to sign up for the Google alert "foot injury St. Louis".
- Bing News App. As time goes by, more people are coming to distrust Google and are making the switch to Bing. Bing now offers an app which allows you to tailor the news you get, and it’s a good alternative to Google.
- TMZ App. If you download the TMZ app to your phone or tablet, you'll get instant access to all of their breaking news stories. This is a very good thing if you want to keep up with the latest drug cases, divorces, and crashes in Hollywood.
- Flipboard App. This app is as beautiful as it is effective. Flipboard offers "Magazines of the Web" and allows you to create your own magazines based on the news topics you are most interested in.
Why I Think You Need to Start Tracking News Today
Use one of the above services, or use them all. But whatever you do, you must begin tracking news. If you don't, there is every chance that you will miss the big news story, the one that could forever change your business. By taking a big news story and making it your own, you have the unique, sometimes once in a lifetime, opportunity to advance your image as an expert and garner both local and national attention.
Don't miss your 15 minutes of fame. Call 888-886-0939 to find out how our breaking news services can help you go from Average Lawyer to Celebrity Attorney—in 48 hours or less.
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