According to a report on BBC news, online entrepreneur Charles Duncombe claims poor spelling is costing the UK millions of pounds in lost business. He says an analysis of website statistics shows a single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half. The report adds that similar concerns have been voiced by the Confederation of British Industry, who warned that employers were "having to invest in remedial literacy lessons for their staff".
For designers and developers, this is a stark warning; copy is still too often cut into a website towards the end of development, rather than being considered from the very beginning. Also, while larger projects often have a team of specialists, copy is relatively rarely written by an expert. "I'm all for people writing their own copy," says Supernice Studio copywriter and content strategist Relly Annett-Baker, "but not at the last minute and not without someone else you can trust reading it over to catch any mistakes and, frankly, to tell you if it is a load of sales twaddle with no substance." She advises that writing good copy takes longer than anyone ever estimates and that a good content writer is "worth their weight in gold"; you should therefore "budget as much for them as you would any professional".
The credibility question
In not heeding this warning, you're opening a site up to risk. Annett-Baker says if you "don't have a budget for creating the content and keeping it fresh, you don't have a website - you have a large black hole into which you will pour money and see little return". And while not engaging a professional writer may save money in the short term, sloppy copy can be damaging once a site is launched.
"Spelling mistakes can impact the credibility of your brand, and the experience a user takes away with them," argues copywriter Melissa Bennett of We Love 72. She thinks companies tend to invest heavily in branding but let their online presence slip: "Too many times, companies think website content is something they can scrape together in-house, which can have a detrimental effect on the impression left with a user and whether they'll make a return visit." Bennett adds that if she visited a site "littered with spelling errors," she would "question the reliability and professionalism of the company".
Web copywriter John McGarvey agrees with Bennett, and asks: "If a company can't even be bothered to check the text on their website, will they bother sending my order out quickly, or answering the phone if I have problems?" He notes that many companies selling online don't ever speak to consumers and so in the absence of person-to-person contact, the experience of using the website determines customer satisfaction. "A big part of that is having text that's spelt right and easy to understand," he says.
Copywriter Stephanie Hay adds that it's also important to be succinct along with dealing with errors: "Users online have short attention spans. They want to know, 'What is this, and why should I care?' A business that only describes all the bells and whistles of its product fails to explain why a customer should actually care." She reckons smart businesses are increasingly moving away from "marketing fluff" and are instead "capturing the real value proposition in simple terms". Users, Hay thinks, respond to such transparency by converting to become paying customers.
Finally, Bennett warns that even budgeting for web copywriting, while essential, isn't enough. Along with ensuring clients keep copy current, site creators can enlist copywriters to educate companies about their wider online presence. "Social platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, are bigger than ever, and companies are creating online profiles and pages. Posting up messages with spelling errors and off-brand content can be very damaging to a brand, and audiences can be quick to pick up on it," reckons Bennett. Where possible, she suggests that "external communications should be left to copywriters who are passionate about what they do and understand how to convey the right, error-free messaging and tone of voice." By making the initial investment, Bennett says, companies will reap long-term rewards. And if they still decide otherwise? "It's well known that dodgy phishing emails and spam messages often contain bad grammar and misspellings," observes McGarvey. "Do you really want your website to be lumped in with those?"