Is Your Website Copy Too Excited?

Are You Too Bubbly With Your Website Copy?
This is going to be a hard post for some writers to read.

There are the exclamation-point addicts out there, you see. They’re the writers who feel they really can’t put across the excitement, immediacy, or sincerity without that little extra boost (!) to make it feel super-charged. They’re the writers who believe that they should slap an exclamation point at the end of a written sentence anytime they would allow their voice to lift at the end of spoken one.

They’re the writers who are just flat-out addicted, who punctuate nearly everything with a series of multiple exclamation points, getting progressively worse as the writing goes on.

You should get this product! It will change your life!! Seriously!!!

Exclamation points, you see, are evil.

In Business Copy, They’re Unprofessional

Think about every effective advertising campaign you’ve seen. Think about advertising with really punchy headlines that suggest motivation, excitement, and daring. Think of car commercials, of sporting goods stores, of Apple and Nike.

Now think about their taglines. Go look at the copy on their website. What do you see?

More to the point, what don’t you see?

That’s right. No exclamation points. Not even a straggler.

This is not because Chevy, Spalding, Nike, and Apple can’t afford exclamation points. It’s not because they lack for great copywriters. It is because their great copywriters hate exclamation points.

With good reason. Copy is far more effective without them.

Here’s a little exercise to try. Pick three taglines from big brand names. I’ll pick my favorite three:

Like a rock.

Just do it.

Think different.

Those are pretty strong statements. They seep into your brain. They have impact, like a fist. They make you think, “Yeah. I should do that. I should be like a rock. I should just do it. I should think different.”

Now try each of those statements with exclamation points:

Like a rock!

Just do it!!

Think different!!!

All I can say is, “Ew.” I bet you are too.

Why Exclamation Points Devalue Your Writing

Think about being on vacation traveling on a luxury cruise ship for just a moment. There are two activity directors on this cruise. One of them talks using exclamation points, the other one doesn’t.

Director 1: “Hey guys! We’re going to have just a great time on this cruise! We have lots of activities for you to choose from, and it’s going to be so much fun!! Who wants to go try out the tennis courts?! I know I do! You too? GREAT!!”

Alternative Director 2: “Hey, guys. We’re starting up a Nerf gun war in the cruise lounge, and it’s going to be awesome. First twenty people there get the grenade launchers. Who’s with me?”

Who do you want to play with?

To be fair, the cruise director with the Nerf war has a much better offer – you want to be one of those first 20 people. But see, that’s the thing. When you’re good, you know how to make a better offer without riding on exclamation points to create excitement.

This means that when you do hear an exclamation point (or read one), your brain wants to be skeptical about the authenticity of the statement. If Director 1 had suggested a Nerf gun war, and you heard him talk about it in that bubbly voice, you’d probably be thinking, “Lame. What’s up with him?”

You’d think it was lame even if you would LOVE a tennis game. The reason is because that person think the only way you’re going to get revved up about playing is by hearing those exclamation points.

If you have confidence in what you say, in what you write, you sound much more believable without exclamation points. Every time. No exceptions.

And if you don’t have confidence in what you’re saying? The exclamation point won’t save you. Scrap your draft. Start over. Try a different angle. Try explaining your client’s offer or profiling your client’s business in a way that makes it sounds great, even without the over-enthusiasm an exclamation point suggests.

The Final Argument

Need more proof that exclamation points ruin good writing? Pick up a book by any major mystery novelist you like. Dick Francis. John Grisham. Stephen King. These guys specialize in keeping you on the edge of your seat. These guys are all about anticipation and excitement.

Now go find one single instance where a new action is introduced with an exclamation point. Try finding, “There was a gunshot!” instead of “There was a gunshot.” Try finding, “He came at me holding a machete!” instead of “He came at me holding a machete.”
Would adding exclamation points have left you feeling more creeped out or less creeped out? I rest my case.

There are a very few occasions when an exclamation point is appropriate. Mostly, those include writing scripts for bubbly cruise directors.

Until then, leave ‘em out.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. I have to agree 100%. Exclamation marks, if present, need to be few and far between. They definitely fit better in a casual setting, but even still, they’re too often overused. It pains me to see exclamation marks abused, and I think you’ve done a great job of speaking out on the topic. The article was straight to the point, and definitely an enjoyable, witty read. Thanks!

  2. I loved the examples you gave in the post. “Think different.”

    or “Think different!!! The choice is clear.

    I always enjoy the creative style and conversational tone of this blog. I try not to kiss ass in the Blogosphere, so just a little kudos for the inspiring posts.

    Peace

    Jonathan

    iMnoYogi-ImhereiMNow
    .-= Jonathan | EnlightenYourDay.com´s last blog ..A philosophy in 25 words of less: inspired by Pete Carroll’s Win forever =-.

  3. You could be speaking directly to me (!!!).

    I think I’m addicted to the damn things. I’m cutting back right now.

    Thanks. (!!!)
    .-= Dave Doolin´s last blog ..I’ve Just Wasted $53 on Hosting and a Domain, s***, What Now? HELP!? =-.

  4. Or even better, “Think different!!! Speak ungrammatical!!!”

    I guess this is like how it’s a crime to put steak sauce on a really good steak, while a bad steak needs to be drowned in it.

    Ironically, I found three exclamation points on this very page, aside from the title tag.

    – RSSSUBSCRIBE!
    – Subscribe via email!
    – Help spread the word!

    It appears that exclamation points are appropriate in some cases!!! But when???
    .-= Hunter Nuttall´s last blog ..Become A Freelance Superstar =-.

  5. Interestingly enough, Tom Peters, arguably the world’s most prominent management guru has an evil exclamation point as his logo. (or should that be logo!)

    http://www.tompeters.com/
    .-= Matthew´s last blog ..The Power of Strategic Commitment =-.

  6. Well said sir, well said.
    .-= Chris from AB Web Design, LLC´s last blog ..November 2009 Google PageRank (PR) Update & PR Removal From Webmaster Tools =-.

  7. You bring up some great points. There are times and places in which exclamation marks are appropriate and effective, but usually not in professional copy. I’ve never really thought about it that way but you’re right, they do make me question the authenticity of a statement. But I think it also depends on the audience. Some people get excited by exclamation marks and tend to favor them. Like children, for instance. -Mike

  8. Okay, I didn’t know this. But thankfully, I’ve read this post. Thank you so much for the very useful information. We really appreciate this.

  9. Finally, someone has written about this. I only use exclamation points in dialogue.

  10. Don Kelley says:

    All points are made well, and when it comes to the written word I agree wholeheartedly. Copy written for the spoken word, however, is different. Using an exclamation point – or, as my daughter used to say, “excited mark” – is a great way to remind the speaker to do up endings. The are crucial for forward motion and a friendlier delivery.

  11. Hi James,

    I think that many years ago exclamation marks were not frowned upon that much, at least in books. I remember seeing them regularly as a kid. I used to be an avid reader.

    But in sales letters or anything commercial they are a definite turn off because they seem to be yelling at the reader.

    Nobody wants to listen to anybody who yells.

    Seeing more than one exclamation mark behind a sentence is like listening to somebody who is enraged. That has me walk away and fast.

    I stopped (virtually) using the exclamation mark but still use the question mark quite often.

    I wonder what you think of the question mark. To me it seems OK as it is not usually forceful unless used in ironic or hostile questioning. It can even be gentle while prompting to action.

    Vance
    .-= Vance Sova´s last blog ..First Extraordinary Minds Panel, Jay Abraham, Rich Schefren =-.

  12. Ha! I had a little Pointer sisters moment when I read the title (I’m soo excited/And I just can’t hide it). OK, I’m probably dating myself now.

    My personal bête noire is the em dash — I’m addicted to them.

  13. Reminds me of the Cillit Bang (careful how I spell that one!) adverts we had on TV over here. Barry “The human megaphone” Scott epitomised advertising with the question mark.

    They’ve since made him tone it down, apparently people thought the advert was a joke.

  14. Oh damn. Called out. Now I know better. No more of those. I don’t speak that way but I just noticed my blog and even my emails are peppered with them. I feel like the guy who just found out it’s not cool to wear the band’s t-shirt at their concert. That’s not cool…right? So hard to keep up on it all.
    .-= Brian Gerry´s last blog ..Top 9 Free iPhone Apps for New Users =-.

  15. I read this post last week when you first posted it, and it stuck with me so much I came back to say thanks!

    I’ve learned an absolute ton about copywriting from you guys over the last couple of years.

    Thank you.
    .-= Justin King´s last blog ..The Best Class I Ever Took =-.

  16. Well I just removed at least 6-7 exclaimation points from today’s post (one was in a quote too).
    I have some heavy lifting or rather deleting to do on my blog :(

  17. @ Breakfast – Ahh, Carole, you didn’t read my post on Keyword Commenting, did you… please don’t do that because I hate to call you ‘Breakfast’ as a name.
    .-= James Chartrand – Men with Pens´s last blog ..Are You Afraid of Success? We Bet Yes. =-.

  18. I have been using exlamation points sparingly, but now I am certainly reconsidering using them at all.
    .-= Eric | Eden Journal´s last blog ..Mish Mash Free for All – November 2009 Edition =-.

  19. Kathleen K. O'Connor says:

    Thank you for this important reminder. Sometimes, I make the mistake of trying to add emphasis with exclamation marks, but it really does look silly. The words themselves need to convey the emotions. I also notice how in online interactions, people use lots of exclamation marks. I suppose that is more acceptable since people are probably doing it so as not to sound curt.

  20. This is brilliant.

    It’s true, they’re gaudy and invasive. I loved your argument about how they degrade the point, it’s absolutely true. It’s frustrating to work with people who insist on using them, (and of course, over-using them), when the point of offer is actually legit.

    I just referred to this site on my blog,

    slantspinrepeat.blogspot.com

    Anyone’s welcome to check it out.

    Very well done, guys.

    Michelle

  21. Carol Badaracco Padgett says:

    Thank you. That’s all I can say.

  22. Finally, something to substantiate my advice to clients to avoid exclamation points in any professional communication. You have no idea the arguments I hear, not one defensible.

    I tell them it is akin to a girl or woman giggling at the end of an important statement to defuse the impression that she knows what she is talking about and is somehow, less feminine.

    It is also true, women use that pesky punctuation more than men. I believe it is because they think they will not otherwise be believed. To this grammar nazi, it is a clue to lack of self esteem.

    Thank you for this post which I will spread around, keep in the hot links vault and quote.

  23. This is incredibly well written, insightful, and slaps you in the face without the use of a single exclamation mark. Case in point. Thank you for this. I am officially spreading the word (particularly with the copy writers with whom I work).

  24. Ok ok…I love exclamation points. Mainly because I’m a young girl, and nothing gets across that I’m a young nice girl like an exclamation point!

    Sometimes I think it helps when I contact someone who I’ve never met before, I have a rule to use it only once in the first email, and then further communication I won’t use it, unless it seems really appropriate. A lot of my “professional” business is girl to girl though, so I get more responses when my email comes off less stuffy and more bubbly.

    It’s just smart for the kind of business I’m in, and trying to sell a certain personality. Plus, they’re sooooo cute!

    Context, context, context.

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