5 Common Web Copy Errors to Avoid

Your website is your business’s face to the world.  It should grab people’s attention, provide them useful information, and ideally close a sale or prompt an initial contact. In my experience, many business websites are riddled with writing and copy mistakes. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, word choice, sentence structure – they aren’t sexy, but if they aren’t right, you may inadvertently send your customers packing.

Poor website copy doesn’t just detract from your website, but from your brand promise and your business reputation. Here are 5 common errors I see in my work with clients. Don’t risk losing potential customers over simple, avoidable issues like these:

  1. Homonyms – Homonyms are two or more words that sound the same, but mean different things. A “cue” is not a “queue”; it’s easy to confuse “there”, “their” and “they’re”; a “Segway” is different from a “Segue”. When you’re busy, you may miss these. Read your web copy slowly and double-check that you are using the right one.
  2.  It’s vs. its When to Use the Apostrophe –  This is one of the most common errors I encounter, and one of the easiest to avoid. The ONLY time you need an apostrophe with “its” is when it stands for the contraction “it is”.

    Incorrect: “Its a great day to be alive!”
    Correct: “It’s a great day to be alive!”
  3. Lengthy or Run-on Sentences – When writing for the web, keep it short! The web is a different medium – people “scan” more than read. Short sentences, short paragraphs, short pages. Resist the urge to wax poetic on you business website. Your customers are time-starved and will appreciate you getting to the point. One of my clients had a web page that included a 58-word sentence. I will not repeat the sentence here to protect the innocent. In that case, the client was re-using content from another source – an appropriate and understandable thing to do. But content usually needs to be tweaked for the web. This sentence was too long. Each sentence should PULL your reader along to the next one. Creating two sentences by inserting a period at a natural pausing place is better.
  4. Consistency – the web is the wild, wild West right now in terms of the editorial “rules of the road”. I continue to take classes to keep up with what is standard and what is changing, and there’s a lot of gray area. So in the absence of clear rules, pick something and be consistent. For example, should you hyphenate or not hyphenate the term “nonprofit”? Different nonprofit clients that I have worked with answer that question differently. There is no one right answer. The key is to pick a standard for YOUR site, and stick with it. Consistency adds to the professionalism of your site.
  5. Frequently Confused Words – Unlike homonyms, these words are pronounced differently, but the wrong one is selected given the intended meaning. Examples I have seen recently include:
    What was written: She eagerly recanted (took back) her story.
    What was meant:  She eagerly recounted (told) her story.
    Complimentary/complementary –
    What was written: Please accept this complementary (goes well with) token of our appreciation.
    What was meant: Please accept this complimentary (free) token of our appreciation.

A powerful story or proposal may be totally derailed if the crucial words you use turn out to be the wrong ones!

The goal of producing quality website copy is not slavish adherence to a bunch of arcane rules. The goal is to make your writing so clear that your customers can focus on your message, not your mistakes.  A website with clean, compelling copy suggests that your business will deliver on its promises, and starts to build the trust that converts visitors to customers.

What copy errors do YOU see most often in your web travels?


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