R-E-V-E-N-U-E: Win the Spelling Bee to Win the Sale

Language is not quite as natural as breathing, but it’s not far behind (unless you’re a proponent of universal grammar, in which case it is as natural as breathing). Words are the foundation of good business communication; in the arena of online retail, words are the beginning, middle, and end of your communication. Without good writing, building a good SEO campaign is hard. Explaining the beautiful images you have is hard. For that matter, explaining why your product is worth consideration, let alone purchase, is hard.

Give your words attention. You will not regret that time and effort. Here’s why.

Good Spelling=Good Ranking

If you look at the page rank, so, how reputable we think a particular page or site is, the ability to spell correlates relatively well with that. So the reputable sites tend to spell better, and the sites that are lower page rank, or very low page rank, tend not to spell as well.

This quote, from a recent Google Webmaster Central video on YouTube, is a telling assertion. (It’s also a refreshing, plain-English departure from typical algorithm-loaded talk about page ranking.) Although spelling and grammar aren’t “used as a direct signal in a ranking,” there appears to be a clear correlation between writing quality and higher page rank. Is this also a causal connection? I think so.

One online entrepreneur in Britian discovered that correcting a spelling mistake on his website doubled online revenue. Doubled. And that’s just a spelling mistake; imagine what sentences full of grammar errors might do to your conversion rate.

Responding the BBC article on that research, Search Engine Watch emphasized that typos, spelling errors, and bad grammar have a crucial effect on your conversion rate. As they speculated: “Bad spelling and bad grammar are cause for suspicion. For example, what’s the first clue a piece of email from a stranger is a scam? Many people would say it’s the bad spelling and grammar.”

Everything We Learned in Grade School Is Wrong

That’s not true. But some things we learned in grammar school are wrong, or just plain inconvenient and unnecessary. Why does this matter to a business? Because some of those rules lead to wordiness, awkward constructions, and text that is harder to read than your typical consumer wants to bother with.

Conversely, some of us didn’t retain any of those grammar school conventions, so you need to be able to address the opposite problem. Sentences should have a subject, verb, and object; commonly confused words continue to plague writers and non-writers everywhere; and by dangit, no one gets those hyphens right. If you’d rather leave your content open to crude but brilliant comics, please stop reading now. Don’t read our follow-up article on how to create a style guide that works for you, either.

Good Grammar Builds Trust

“If you’re not a household name, you can improve your site’s ‘trustworthiness’ by having a clean and professional design (yes, first impressions count).” Over 75 percent of customers expect a site to look credible, according to a recent Oneupweb study reported on by Get Elastic.

And even if you are a household name, you will retain customer trust by keeping your design and content polished. It’s a dog-eat-dog playing field; your sloppy use of homophones and lack of punctuation may mean someone else’s jump in consumer loyalty.

Why is it that seemingly minor things, like “definately” instead of “definitely,” are so important to your online retail success? Because your content is the only interaction you have with your customers (usually). It’s your one and only chance to win them over and keep them coming back.

If you use it well, online customer service is your second-chance point of contact. As Econsultancy says, to do that well, “a company must build a customer service team staffed by individuals capable of writing clearly, concisely and quickly.”

If consumers are fence-sitting after already viewing your pages, perhaps after ordering something and discovering it’s not what they expected to get (more on why that’s important), customer service will either tip the scale in your favor or lose you those customers forever. Hire people who have a good grasp of language, and give them resources to use when they are in the thicket of email complaints so they don’t have to spend time making sure they didn’t dangle their modifiers inappropriately (unless you want your employees to disclose the personal nature of their Chippendale legs).

Your Writing Is Your Voice

Web customers do not get to hear your voice or connect with you in person, so your copy must be, simply put, outstanding. The positive impressions a business owner might have once made through a good smile, a handshake, a genuine willingness to have a conversation with customers, share knowledge, and answer questions–you now make those impressions with your website, if you’re both careful and lucky.

Advertisers, managers, promoters, tech support, writers, designers, social media gurus–these people all need to know how to talk about your business, and trust that they’re all talking about it in a harmonious way, even if they never, ever talk to each other.

As QuBit CEO Graham Cooke said in an interview with Mashable: “The product information on a website plays the role of the store assistant in an offline store, so you want to make sure it’s performing at its best.” (And make sure its not performing at it’s best.)

Think outside your website, too. Social media is fast becoming an essential component of good online business, as are M-commerce platforms. Who knows what web-based retail will look like by 2013. Anna Ritchie at the Content Marketing Institute blog reminds us that different channels warrant different voices, but that your underlying message needs to be consistent.

It’s a new language playground, and it’s changing so fast that the venerable old founders and guardians of our modern language procedures, especially Strunk & White, are turning in their graves. An article about how to implement the finer points discussed here is coming soon to a blog near you.