The ideal customers I’m trying to attract are young and trend following. I want to speak to them in a way that’s natural to them. Is it okay if I swear on my website?

You recognize that, conventionally, it is not okay.

But you want a special exemption, because you’re trying to attract a young, hipster clientele. You think naughty talk will appeal to them. Well, guess what? It’s still not okay.

Changing Standards of Acceptable Discourse

Let’s start by acknowledging that, sure, what is acceptable language in a business environment has changed over the years, just as what counts as permissible in public conversation has liberalized. This is not a new observation. As long ago as the 1930s, Cole Porter could satirize popular dismay over changing language standards by writing, “Good authors too, who once new better words / Now only use four-letter words. / Writing prose, / Anything goes.”

A few decades earlier than that, it was scandalous to refer to the “legs” of your piano (or any other item of furniture), because that word might inflame lustful passions. Your piano had “limbs,” and they were decently covered with a dust ruffle or cozy to hide them from the gaze of any gentleman who stepped into your parlor.

Since then, the influence of mass media culture has helped desensitize us to language that once may have been called “salty,” profane, or obscene. That trend has even entered the workplace. Swearing has become acceptable in some workplaces in both spoken and written communications between colleagues. Likewise, some employers don’t object to swearing between employees and clients in private conversation.

It’s essential that you notice that workplace swearing is limited to private conversations, however: those between coworkers, and those between worker and committed customer. Work-related communications of a public nature still demand prim word choice. The greater the public exposure, the less likely the business owner or manager will permit unfettered cussing. You won’t find swear words used in advertisements in glossy print magazines, or in customer-service scripts at fast-food order windows—and you usually won’t find them on a business webpage.

The Benefits of Naughty Talk

You protest, “My case is different. I’m trying to attract customers who have no aversion to swearing. It’s their natural speech. If I can sling the lingo too, I’ll have a natural advantage over my competition.”

Balderdash. Of course, it’s always been true that what you have to say—rather than how you say it—is more important in converting readers into customers. The idea that adding profanity will enhance your message simply doesn’t seem reasonable. In fact, there are three key reasons why you’re unlikely to gain any lasting advantage from swear words on your website:

  • You can’t do it convincingly. There’s no way to mimic authenticity. Any attempt to sprinkle expletives into your regular writing will seem stilted and phony. Your preferred clients are more likely to mock you rather than flock to your door.
  • Swearing undermines your message. Each page of your website should be dense with informative content. But swear words carry little or no informational value. In fact, expletives tend to short-circuit learning by deliberately triggering emotional responses. Swearing deliberately tries to shock or offend, and that’s not helpful to your website’s goals.
  • You’re pursuing a “cool factor” that just isn’t there. Nobody chooses a skilled professional based on how often he or she swears in public. Nobody.

And the Downside to Your Plan

If your ideal client is young and cutting-edge, then it’s almost assured that your bread and butter client is the opposite: older and more conservative. These may not be the clients or customers you most want, but they provide a steady income stream. And you can bet that they will definitely be offended when your website becomes laced with profanity—quite possibly outraged enough to stay away for good.

So, on the one hand you have a minimal likely reward from your ideal customers; on the other hand, a harsh penalty from existing customers. By any rational calculation, swearing on your website is too risky for both your current and future business health.

Foster Web Marketing is the premier marketing company for law firms, medical practices, and service and product sales organizations of every sort. We know how to help you attract your perfect customer or client—and to avoid alienating other potential clients along the way. Check out our testimonial pages to see some of the hundreds of satisfied business leaders we have helped.

John Prager
Foster Web Marketing's Beloved Cranky Grammarian

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