Toole was speaking at the iMedia Brand Summit
Well, it's mid February and time to be grumpy and opinionated I'd say. In twelve years of running digital copywriting agency Sticky Content, there are a few words and phrases I've grown to hate with a passion. If I had my way I'd ban them from all websites and for some sound commercial reasons too.
On a homepage, writing a big fat 'Welcome to our website' is both a massive waste of premium screen space and a clear signal to me that you are actually not the customer-facing organisation you purport to be. I've not popped round for a cuppa at your house. I'm actually a time-poor, task orientated, impatient, disloyal web user trying to compare home insurance quotes in my lunch hour. There is a message in big letters I want to see first and it's: 'Get a home cover quote in two minutes'.
2. 'Please' and 'thank you'
These, too, are pointless pleasantries on a website. Crisp clear instructions that tell users where to go on your site, what they'll find when they get there and how long it will take to read/register/buy/get delivery are the real courtesies online.
3. 'Click here'
Wrong from every point of view. It's bad accessibility because it's meaningless to people using screen readers. It's frustrating for scan readers who use signposting copy such as heads and links to get where they want to go fast. And it's a wasted SEO opportunity. Google loves anchor texts but this one contains no keywords. Finally, it's just plain impolite. Instead, try telling me why I might want to do something before ordering me to do it, as in: 'Want a quick refresh on web writing best practice? Find out about our three hour training courses.'
4. 'denotes mandatory field'
No one uses this language in the real world. Use robotic data-capture speak around your forms and you may well raise your drop-off rates. After I mentioned this at an industry event last year, a travel company contacted me to say they simply removed ' denotes mandatory field' and replaced it with 'you must fill in the boxes marked' and saw an immediate uplift in conversions.
5. 'Check' this box
If you're a British brand (or selling to Brits) stick with British English, especially around forms and transactions. I've seen significant evidence that this reassures e-commerce customers in the U.K. We 'tick' boxes or put crosses in them. And we don’t do 'shipping', we do 'delivery'.
6. 'Library' / 'Resources'
This tends to refer to the area of the site that should be really called: 'dumping ground for pdfs and other bumpf we couldn't think where else to put but were told had to go up somewhere'. I'd ban the words and chuck the content. I also believe that most pdfs are actually obese web pages that simply won't stop eating and claim it's genetic.
When used in headings and tabs, as in 'Other news', 'Our other products', etc. Other to what? These labels are unscannable because the information they convey is not self-contained -- they rely on the user looking at something else to make complete sense of them. This doesn't work well online, where you cannot fully control the context in which people see your content or even the way it's presented.
Some websites still arrange their content into editorial buckets like 'Features', 'News', 'Events'. Fine for organising your content internally but don't let these labels make it on to the site, where they'll mean nothing to your readers.
9. 'Our solutions'
An SEO specialist recently told me that if he could ban one word from websites, this would be it. Everything is described as a 'solution' nowadays, from sandwich bars to industrial cranes: Private Eye even has a column where people send in their favourite dire examples. But only businesses call their products and services 'solutions'. Their customers never do, which is bad news from both an SEO and plain language/usability point of view.
10. 'Multiple stakeholders'
Not something people actually write on their websites, more something that stops truly usable on-brand web copy getting sent live. 'We'll be circulating your copy to multiple stakeholders to get feedback' is a sentence that fills me with doom. Once the marketing stakeholder has added the hyperbole back in, the SEO stakeholder has flooded the copy with keywords and doubled its length, the product marketing stakeholder has insisted on a two-page treatise on 'our patented anti-freeze zip locking system' and the compliance stakeholder has added five legal footnotes, the original succinct, scannable messaging is lost forever. Bah humbug...
Catherine Toole is the CEO of Sticky Content