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10 words I'd ban from all websites

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.

1. 'Welcome'
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.

7. 'Other'...
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.

8. 'Features'
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


to leave comments.

Commenter: Avery Tingle

2010, June 11

I agreed with most of this, but I didn't really understand the reasoning behind the first two. I wouldn't saturate my website with kindness (cause it seems fake after awhile), but in the end, no one HAS to visit your website and no one HAS to read what you have to say, or buy what you have to sell. I don't think there's anything wrong with Welcoming someone to your site and thanking them for their perusal. That's just me.

Commenter: Bob Bentz

2010, June 04

The one that I used to hate the most on a corporate web site is "state of the art." Today, however, the one that I hate the most is "robust."

Commenter: Alan Boyer

2010, June 04


Great points!

It's actually refreshing to see someone that claims to be in marketing that understands the important points that you make.

It's amazing that I run into companies that claim to be "marketing companies" and then actually see them doing the things you mentioned. It just tells me what the quality of their work must be . . . pretty poor.

I can't emphasize enough how dead on you are with these points.

Alan Boyer
The $100K Small Business Coach

A Shortcut to your first $100K within 2 months or less

Commenter: Mandy Queen

2010, June 01

Great article, I've just set up my site so this was really useful to me. I'm off to change my "news" page.

Commenter: Cyndie Ulrich

2010, May 28

Great article, Catherine! May I ask for a link to the update that, I hope, offers more effective, logical, acceptable, useful terminology? Thanks!

Commenter: Jonathan Grubb

2010, May 28

You may be under-informed on items 1-3. These words are all proven to increase conversion.

Commenter: Andy Oakey

2010, April 13

What about "Shopping Cart"? My number one hate. Please..."basket" or "bag". Even "trolley" would be better!

Commenter: Michael Simmons

2010, February 24

Do we actually use these online? I nearly froze in my tracks.

I'm sifting through my blog to find a post related to No. 2. In essence the post said commands get more traction than requests online. Don't be rude, be concise.

Lastly, we had to share this list with our blog readers. I tried to do everything wrong, so it would be painfully obvious how silly it all sounds.

Read the post: http://su.pr/2CSrpU

No. 6--Build microsites in lieu of white papers. Microsites engage audiences and help with retention and recall. (However, stakeholders often force us to make PDFs available in microsites. Redundant, but corporate.)

Commenter: Angelina Hill

2010, February 22

Chris, why not organize your whitepapers by topic and then put them in that section?

For example, whitepapers relating to taxes could go in the "tax" section, permits could go under city services, etc.

Commenter: Chris Davies

2010, February 16

Interesting article. Not entirely sure I agree with no. 2 though. Maybe do away with Thank you's, but not please's surely.

Relating to no.6, What would then be your suggestion as to how would you then provide visitors with white papers, policy papers (I work for a chamber of commerce) and the like?

Commenter: Greg Pipe

2010, February 16

Loved your points here. Made me worry about our site so had to do a very quick check and all clear... except for the odd mention about a solution, but heh.

I agree that often in writing content for websites we all fall back on cliches that don't always resonate with consumers.It would also be great that in budgeting for a web build clients could appreciate the importance of good writing and not just look at it as an expense that can be cut back.

We try with all our clients to point this out and wrote something similar in our blog here http://www.themediacube.co.uk/blog/2009/11/25/choosing-design-over-content/ . Hope you don't mind me posting the link.