I would dare any writer or marketer to say that they’ve never let a typo slip through the cracks–or made other copy and content mistakes. It’s possible for even the best writers to score poorly on readability, even though there were technically no grammar errors. Mistakes happen to the best of us, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try our hardest to avoid them. The consequences of typos can go far beyond embarrassment; even a simple typo can come at a huge cost.
Here are just a few examples of costly copy and content mistakes:
- In 2006, a New York City comptroller included an extra letter in a document, causing the city’s accounting software to misinterpret a document. The result? The city’s Department of Education doubled its transportation spending to $2.8 million instead of $1.4 million.
- The lack of an Oxford comma in a Maine state law resulted in a $5 million settlement to drivers employed by a dairy company.
- A missing hyphen in code used in the Mariner 1 space mission to Venus resulted on an explosion a few minutes after launch, costing NASA $800 million (with nothing to show for it).
Why Copywriting and Content Mistakes Cause Failure
The examples above show immediate financial losses resulting from typos and misused punctuation, but other risks can equally serious from content and copywriting mistakes .
When your product’s main purpose is to inform and educate your readers on impactful issues, being called out for repeated errors can sink your brand. Just imagine the red-faced expressions of The Wall Street Journal executives when a journalism news website ran this headline: Wall Street Journal makes numerous, uncorrected mistakes on editorial pages.
Copy and Content Mistakes Ruin Credibility:
When consumers see marketing content with poor grammar and writing, they perceive that the company is less-than-professional and doesn’t care about attention to detail. Error-filled writing erodes the trust required to build relationships with prospects, customers, and partners. Consider the election ad below. Would you be likely to vote for this candidate (I won’t mention any names) if you were on the fence?
Bad copy sinks user experience:
Bad writing can be distracting. Misspellings, incorrect punctuation, and obvious factual errors ruin the overall reading experience. Even if the grammar is not technically wrong, bad copy can affect readers negatively. Some examples of poor copywriting include overly long sentences, jargon, too many adverbs, passive voice, all caps, too many exclamation points, and run-on sentences.
SEO crumbles when copy and content are ineffective:
Google doesn’t necessarily rank your content based on typos and grammatical errors. However, your page ranking will suffer if users click off of your web site–and go to a competitor’s–because they are turned off by copy problems. If the language on your website is extremely poor, Google crawlers may be unable to understand and index your content.
Copy mistakes can weaken conversion:
Conversion: An e-commerce site dedicated solely to tights misspelled their signature product as “tihgts.” After fixing the typo, conversions on TightsPlease.co.uk increased by 80 percent. Spelling and grammar matter in emails and on e-commerce sites, says business2community.com.
Too many copy errors can be perceived as spam:
Email campaigns are great for retaining customers, but poor writing can make these plans backfire. Every savvy consumers knows to be wary of poorly written emails, which are often a sign of phishing scams. Emails with errors in spelling, grammar, and misuse of terms are often identified by business users and consumers alike as spam and deleted immediately.
Insensitive copy ruffles feathers.
The email below was meant to be positive but was an epic fail. In 2017, Adidas sent a congratulatory email sent to customers who participated in the Boston Marathon read. It read, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” Unfortunatly, the writer didn’t connect the message with the 2013 terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon, which killed 3 people and injured dozens more. Once copy like that has been sent, you can’t take it back.
Copy and content problems can signal disrespect:
There are so many ways to disrespect your audience that I can’t name them all here—but it’s a good way to get in big trouble and lose your audience (and your reputation). Two of the most common include:
- Gender stereotyping – The Mr. Clean ad below reinforced gender stereotyping by implying that household chores are relegated to harried housewives. Women comprise nearly half of the work force and the equitable distribution of household tasks is rising, albeit slowly. Playing on an outdated, demeaning gender stereotype displays a viewpoint that is behind the times and turns people off.
- Racial Stereotyping: Do I really need to explain this? When in doubt, drop any hint of racial stereotyping like hot coals. If you hear a racial concept from a team member, it might be time for a serious talk, a trip to HR, or sensitivity training.
Inconsistent content hurts branding:
Inconsistent copy and content can hinder your branding efforts. Be consistent within documents, from document to document, and with all of your digital channels. Whether you like the Oxford comma or not, be consistent. Whether the rolling shelves your store sells are “movable” or “moveable,” be consistent. Decide if you have a “donut” shop or a “doughnut” shop. It’s a good idea, whether your team is fully internal or you use outside resources–to create a style guide for your company, team, or project.
Plagiarizing is damaging (and illegal!):
Unfortunately, content marketing is rife with plagiarism. Hopefully you never intentionally plagiarize, but it can happen without even realizing it. For instance, you might be tired and forget a citation. But in today’s digital world, some people think it’s fair to rip off blog and web copy. Wrong–it’s considered theft and is subject to hefty fines (and poor publicity). If you use outside resources, check that they are reputable so that you are not held liable by their illegal actions.
Here are 6 ways to avoid the risk of plagiarizing:
- Research Carefully: Take enough time and care to properly keep citations and attributions intact—throughout the rewriting and editing process.
- Use a Variety of Sources: You’ll be able to synthesize ideas in an original way, rather that just relying on a single source.
- Learn the right way to use Quotations
The Purdue Owl is a great resource to find out more about attribution.
- Use Links: You can always link to your source articles in your content, which also gives your reader additional helpful resources.
- Use Your Words, Your Spin: Put away your notes for a bit. Upon your next rewrite or edit, put down the ideas in your own words–they might be better than the original or work better within the context of your content. If you’re paraphrasing, make sure your “new” version isn’t actually plagiarism in disguise.
- Use on-line Plagiarism Checkers: These tools check for paraphrased parts and misquotations, which is especially useful if you’re working with a new copywriter.
Unclear CTAs limit lead-generation:
Losing readers just before they click the CTA button is an extremely common problem for copywriters and content creators. It can be difficult for customers to pull the trigger when it means spending money or sharing personal information for a downloadable asset. Poorly performing CTAs may result from poor graphics or placement. However, unclear or unengaging wording can also make a difference. The user needs to immediately understand what to do and what they will get in return.
Overreliance on automatic spellcheck or grammar checkers is risky:
Yes, by all means use these convenient resources to catch those little typos that are easy to miss after you’ve seen the copy a hundred times. However, these tools should complement your writing, editing, and proofreading processes–not replace it.
Automated checkers are no substitute for human eyeballs, whether it’s you, one other person, or several members of your team. Problems can include homonyms, technical terms, abbreviations, and more—including awkward wording and phrases. I’m a big fan of Grammarly, but it’s not unusual for the app to miss things that I find on my final read-throughs.
Here are some great ways to proof your work to avoid copywriting and content errors:
- Read Backwards. When you repeatedly read the same copy over and over your mind plays tricks on you. One of the most common is simply missing things you expect to be correct. It’s easy for this to happen, especially if you’re tired or crunched for time. It’s awkward to read backward, but that’s the point. When you read the words out of context, it can be easier to spot misspellings and similar errors.
- Find New Eyes or Refresh Your own. Reading your own copy again and again can give you writing-fatigue. Another person will often spot typos, as well as awkward phrases, obviously incorrect numbers, sentence fragments, and more. Another trick is simply to put your copy aside and come back to it after a few hours or the next day.
- Read Aloud. Even more formal styles of writing should sound natural. Even a top executive who is focused on facts and figures is a human being. Reading your copy out loud tunes you in to phrases that are stilted, misused words, confusing punctuation, or other readability issues. It’s especially useful for informal writing like blogs, where you may choose to use non-standard punctuation–even if your grammar checker tell you it’s incorrect.
- Process for Proofing. Don’t be haphazard with your editing and proofing. Even if you work on your own, if you have a rule–such as putting your work aside for at least an hour before publishing it–stick to it! If you work on a team and your guidelines say that two other people need to proofread your copy, don’t slip by with one.
Don’t Miss the Benefits of High-Quality Copy and Content.
Successful content relies on many factors, especially copywriting. You don’t want sloppy mistakes to risk your reputation, credibility, performance, or even your bottom line. Take care when researching, drafting, revising, and proofing your copy—whether you work on your own, on a marketing or creative team, or with a freelancer or agency. If you don’t have the expertise, staff, or energy to take it on yourself, hire a reputable copywriting to make sure your content reflects well on your business.
Contact Westebbe Marketing, a Boston firm specializing in copywriting, for all your content needs. Call (617) 699-4462 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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