Is Your Website Content Turning Readers Off?

We’re at Day Seven of our marathon series, Writing Website Content. We’ve moved through specializing in website content writing, the right questions to ask buyers, how writers are like website tour guides, why great headlines are important, how to lose 7% of your client’s customers and why you should never be clever and always be clear.

Today, let’s talk about more serious matters: negative thinking and bullying.

One of the most common mistakes seen in website content is the use of negative language.

Never, ever, EVER use negative language. Always keep content positive and watch out for any word that signifies no action, refusing action or not taking a specific action.

Here’s an example:

“We will never use methods that are questionable. We believe in honesty above all.”

The second sentence is a positive one, describing what a company will do.

The first sentence, though, is negative. While it clearly shows where the company stands and what it won’t do to earn money, the feeling and message the sentence conveys is a mental no-no.

The reader’s brain processes negative phrases and words as something to avoid, even if the sentence means something good.

The result is that the brain doesn’t read that the company is a good one with strong values. It thinks, “Avoid this company” because it is hung up on the “do not” part of the phrase.

Here’s another example that lets you compare two phrases:

“Do not hesitate to contact us.”

“Please feel free to contact us.”

Which sentence makes you feel good? Which makes you feel that the company is approachable and ready to help? Which one compels you more?

The Schoolyard Bully

Some website content writers tend to use the competition as comparisons. You may often read the phrase, “Our competitors will try to bargain your prices… but we never will.”

There are two mistakes involved with that tactic.

Using comparison applies the strategy of making someone else look bad to make you look better. Remember that big bully in your schoolyard playground? He’d pick on the little guy to feel stronger. When you start picking on the competition in your website content, you’re being the bully of the schoolyard.

Not cool, that.

Also, when you point out what someone else does, you degrade them to improve your client’s image – and you also have to state what your client won’t do, which lets negative language creep into your content.

Pretend instead that the competition doesn’t exist. In our own work, we never ask a client about their competition. We don’t want to know. And we’ll tell you why.

Nothing but the Best

When you write with the mindset that there is no competition, there is no possibility of making comparison. Also, if you have no competitor’s website to glance over, you’re forced to be more creative and original with your work.

Original, creative work stands out. Face it: aren’t you bored of websites that all say the same thing?

Imagining that there is no competition also increases the confident tone of the work you write – there’s no one else, so there’s no one better than your client. That attitude seeps into your words and helps you write website content that conveys good tone.

Learn to recognize negative language in your writing, and turn it around. Find the positive. Instead of “we never,” try “we always” or “we will.” Forget the competition, and always portray the company you’re writing for in the best, shining light possible.

It’s your job to help them put their best foot forward.

We’ll be taking a break from this series, as we’ve got a few great posts coming up. Stay tuned for an extract of our upcoming creative writing role-playing game, what we’ve been up to lately, what we think of wolves and a few special posts you won’t want to miss.

If you have any questions about writing website content that you’d like answered, feel free to ask in the comment section. We’ll address the subject again soon and give you what you need to know.

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. James, don’t you think it’s important to analyze your competition in business?

    I totally understand your point of if you never study them then what you come up with must be completely creative, but part of starting a new business (or website) is analyzing your competition and finding where they are not satisfying customers needs. Then you can work an angle where you solve these problems.

    John Hoff – eVentureBiz’s last blog post..How To Buy A House Like A Real Estate Investor: Part 5 – Finding a Realtor

  2. @ John – First, as a paid writer, the competition is not my competition, and it’s not my job to analyze them. That is the buyer’s job and his responsibility to provide the information.

    However, it is my responsibility to ask questions to the buyer that help me do a better job.

    Also, finding out where the competition isn’t satisfying a client’s needs isn’t the writer’s job, again. This is the job of the person building the business.

    A really good website content writer should be easily able to distinguish the benefits of a product and service, the marketing message of a company and the image to portray without having to go see what the competition is doing.

    Take eVenture. If I were to write your web copy, would you want me to write copy that is distinctly about you and your business? Or hop on over to the competition and see what they’re doing? Wording might stick in my head, my original angle might be lost… oh, those are the benefits? Well, I don’t have to think any more… I’ll just put the same…

    No, John. Bad, bad, bad.

  3. It actually makes sense and I see where you are coming from. Plus, there is enough negativity in the world already.

    Measuring oneself on the competition is not a good thing to do since we only negate our own actions and capabilities. I watch my competition, I study them, they inspire me, but I never measure.

    Monika Mundell’s last blog post..Client Testimonials – Freelance Writing Guide

  4. James,

    I agree wholeheartedly about using only positive language.

    Now that I’ve read the comments, I will back off the hollering I had planned about competitive analysis, which is ultra-critical, because I see you are saying you, the content specialist, shouldn’t be doing it, not that somebody shouldn’t be doing it.

    It still could be you doing that analysis, but you define the job more narrowly than that, which is fine. “Imagining that there is no competition” is easily done with a fine talent such as yours, even if you have peeked around to understand the field.

    Did I mention it is ultra-critical that the client do that analysis or hire a firm that does such work (ahem!) to do it for them? I really would hate for the takeaway point to be that you should not know what’s going on around you.

    Which IS your best foot to put forward? You know what you do, but what if everybody else does that, too?

    Competitive analysis is the only way to know what you, uniquely, do best, which is what your fabulous writer should be instructed to write about. The needs only you fulfill. Without that strategic research, you can’t know what those are.

    “we never ask a client about their completion” << uh, competition?

    Good stuff. Like in politics, never mention the guy you’re running against. Like in the best politics, keep it clean and upbeat and “I will.”

    Ah, wolves. Looking forward to that.

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Kelly’s last blog post..Tipping Points Go Both Ways

  5. @ Kelly – Most of our clients appreciate the questions we ask about their target audience, marketing message and USP. We often hear comments like, “Thank you for asking those – they were hard to answer, but the questions really got me thinking about my focus and what I want to achieve.”

    In short, while we don’t scope out the competition, we make sure that the client (or someone) has done so.

    Very good comment 🙂

  6. And typo corrected. Good catch.

  7. Brett Legree says:

    James,

    Thanks for this post today. Very good points here, I know I’ve used this before myself:

    “Do not hesitate to contact us.”

    But slightly modified, on a cover letter for a job application. Not very positive sounding, even though the intent is there.

    Maybe that’s why I didn’t get the job… 🙂

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the forever people.

  8. I hadn’t thought of “do not hesitate” in that light before. It’s a phrase that I used to see on memos a lot about a decade ago, but I don’t see it very often anymore.

    After a moment of thought, I think I see your “no competition” point as well.

    Overall, a great series, guys!

    Mark Dykeman’s last blog post..Blogging is communication first monetization second

  9. “Do not hesitate” immediately makes me think… oh wait, you think I might hesitate? Really good to nix this one.

    I admit I got tied in knots (pun intended) when I read, “Never, ever, EVER use negative language.” Um… did you want to rephrase that? 😉

    K.G. Schneider’s last blog post..New job, Community Librarian, Equinox, Woohoo!

  10. MoneyDummy says:

    I really liked this post. it made me re-think my paradigm about my blog in relation to the zillion other blogs on the same subject that are out there. Thanks!

    MoneyDummy’s last blog post..Another 250.00 On the Savings Fund

  11. This was excellent! Very good points. I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve written.

    It’s exciting for me to see language rephrased so effectively. All makes sense. Thanks!

  12. K.G., James doesn’t place a single word unintentionally. 😉

  13. I get this point exactly. The one about competition. Competition analysis is critical in the business brain, but not in the writer/ content brain. The client has come to you because they want you and the magic of what you do when it comes to content. When you are looking around at anyone else, it is done way, way, before that when honing skill sets or upping your game, but that is part of the discipline of writing. ( or painting) Part of one’s development. When you are dealing with a client, that client wants you at your most you. That is not a time for looking at who else is in the race.
    I am positively sure of that. 🙂

    Janice C Cartier’s last blog post..Organising Chaos

  14. Excellent points. You know, I even put the word YES in my blog name to prime the readers minds — and my posts start with beautiful photos of sunrise to further condition them positively . . . I hope it’s working.

    You also make a great point about competition. It’s important to be the best in our own right rather than to worry about competition. The market is big and there are plenty of potential clients when we are good at what we do.

    Akemi – Yes to Me’s last blog post..Accepting And Loving Our Uniqueness

  15. @ Janice – Hmm… you sound so uncertain… 😉

  16. @Akemi: Here’s another article we did a few months back on priming your audience.

  17. Thanks for the clarification, James. It is the “buyer’s” responsibility to figure out their niche and not the “writer’s.” I got where you were going with that now 😉 Thanks.

    I really like this series.

    John Hoff – eVentureBiz’s last blog post..How To Buy A House Like A Real Estate Investor: Part 5 – Finding a Realtor

  18. Seulement vis á vis les questions que tu m’a posé, mon beaux…et le personage. On les fait bien. 🙂

    Janice C Cartier’s last blog post..Organising Chaos

  19. Excellent points! I’ve been playing around in my mind to see how aggressive IM folk could apply them:

    * Please do hesitate to leave my site prior to buying! Let me enable the “disable-back-button’ strategy to help you make your decision!

    * Please complain happily if I excel in meeting one ninety-seventh of your expectations!

    All silliness aside, your point of ‘no competition’ rings clearly for me. Not worrying about what the rest of the blogosphere/marketing land does frees me to be as unique as I like.

    Enjoy, Barbara

    Barbara Ling’s last blog post..Make Money with the eBay Affiliate Program – Part 2 – You can buy NEW too!

  20. The other thing about using negative language like, “We never use poor business practices,” is that it sort of implies that you had thought about it. As though the following train of thought had run through your head:

    “Should we use poor business practices? Naaaaaa . . . no, let’s not. Or maybe a little. Let’s just tell our customers we don’t. We’re not thinking about our poor business practices AT ALL.”

    It’s the protest-too-much syndrome.

    Whereas the positive is more like, “Poor business practices? Do those even exist? I was not aware those were even available? Oh, well. No, now that you asked, you won’t find them here. We are ignorant to badness. We embody all that is goodness and light. Tra-la!”

    And then you prance off into the meadow singing a little tune.

    Tei – Rogue Ink’s last blog post..Lousy Boss, or How I Starved a Kitten

  21. Sorry guys, a bit off subject for a moment – you know the world is ever changing when:

    – Brett is no longer the top commentator on MwP
    – James is one of his own top commentators

    😉

    John Hoff – eVentureBiz’s last blog post..How To Buy A House Like A Real Estate Investor: Part 5 – Finding a Realtor

  22. @John: That’s because for those 15 times that James commented, he was on the laptop, doesn’t bookmark anything on the laptop, wasn’t logged in and it wasn’t reading him as an author. 😉

  23. @ Harry – I was thinking maybe you did a hostile takeover LOL.

    John Hoff – eVentureBiz’s last blog post..How To Buy A House Like A Real Estate Investor: Part 5 – Finding a Realtor

  24. John,

    I have been noticing that, too. Especially since I haven’t been trying hard or anything. Brett is Big Man On his own Campus now, y’know….

    *Canadians who get too big for their britches, harumpf*

    I MISS HARRY.

    Kelly’s last blog post..What Are You Withholding?

  25. @Kelly: Aw, that’s nice to hear. I’ll be posting something on Friday to explain my more than usual/seemingly anti-social behavior. Suffice it to say for now, it’s all I can do to stay on top of this deluge of work.

    It ain’t easy being a genius and champion of defenseless bloggers everywhere.

  26. Brett Legree says:

    @John & Kelly,

    Yeah, I’ll have to do something about that, won’t I… 🙂 hey, gotta share the limelight sooner or later.

    (Actually, a lot of it has to do with the fact that the latest series of posts here are so rich with info that I’ve no background in, I can simply say “great post” once and leave it at that… I’ve just been reading what y’all have to say and soaking it up, for later use on my own writing projects… two of which are in the works.)

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the forever people.

  27. @Brett: I’m kinda in the same boat. I’m the type of guy who never reads instructions and can figure out what works or looks good and what doesn’t. This series is great, but James is the master when it comes to knowing why certain methods work the way they do and why they don’t.

    I’ve never been the type of kid to take my toys apart just to see how they worked.

  28. Harry,

    Bloggers are not defenseless. They have blogs. 🙂

    Kelly’s last blog post..What Are You Withholding?

  29. @Kelly: they are when their blogs turn against them. 😉

  30. @ Harry (and Kelly) – Well now that it’s been brought up, yes I’ve been missing chatting with Harry, too . . . especially since you were the first one I connected with here on MwP. We are Las Vegan brothers!

    I know why you don’t have to fully understand why things work but yet still make good decisions –> it’s knowledge (and some good common sense). When you have different bits of knowledge here and there you can make great connections and good decisions become easier to make without thinking about them.

    ….or at least for me.

    @ Brett – I’m sort of in the middle on this topic. I know a lot about this sort of stuff but not from a writer’s point of view . . . that’s why I was a little confused in my first comment on this topic. Harry’s right though, James knows the “reasons” and it’s good to get that insight.

    John Hoff – eVentureBiz’s last blog post..How To Buy A House Like A Real Estate Investor: Part 5 – Finding a Realtor

  31. *sniff… sniff sniff… * Nobody misses me anymore…

    This series was actually very difficult to write, because as Harry mentioned, I seem to be able to look at something and immediately see what’s not write and know what needs to be done – but actually explaining that to someone else was like telling someone how to breathe. You just… do it.

    But I’ve been enjoying taking a look at what I do and picking it apart (yes, I like to take my toys apart to see how they work) then transmitting that in what I hope has been a manner that is easy to understand.

    The psychology behind all the techniques and strategies is very, very interesting. I get to practice my training and education 🙂

    @ John – You come at it from a completely different angle – the sell. How to write that sell is a different story indeed, though, and I’m glad it’s been useful. Your questions and comments are good ones.

    @ Brett – Your best posts are the ones that tell stories, like the Forever People. I think you should focus on developing that style and learning how to teach others by telling a story instead of telling them how. (Not that you do many how-tos, but hey!)

  32. @James- ” This series was actually very difficult to write, because as Harry mentioned, I seem to be able to look at something and immediately see what’s not write and know what needs to be done – but actually explaining that to someone else was like telling someone how to breathe. You just… do it.”

    I am so glad you said this. Basing content on one’s process is exactly like that….and there are so many layers behind the doing it. One of the best gifts a writer or speaker can have is the ability to take complex information and make it accessible. I love this series. It is helping me pinpoint considerations enormously.Thank you for it. 🙂

    Janice Cartier’s last blog post..Organising Chaos

  33. Great post! But I gotta admit, I had a chuckle (along with KG) when you said “Never, ever, EVER use negative language.”

    Chad’s last blog post..Stop the Madness and Start Hand-Picking Your Clients

  34. Brett Legree says:

    @Harry,

    That was totally me today, actually. I needed to modify an image at work, I was using The GIMP because work is too cheap to buy me a proper graphics package… I could have read the instructions on how to do a gradient fill – nah!

    *poke poke* ta-da!

    @John & Harry,

    That’s just it. James knows this stuff cold, you can see it. I’ve had to go back and re-read the older posts as there is a lot of rich material here. *very* good stuff, James.

    @James,

    Thank you, my friend, that’s a really nice compliment. I find it much easier to tell stories than write how-to’s – the stories just sort of come to me. I was going to write something else (still will be doing it shortly), but that one just jumped out of my mind and onto the page. I had to write it.

    I appreciate that very much – thanks for the encouragement.

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the forever people.

  35. Ruben Alfonsin says:

    Hi
    Great series
    I should read all of them again

    Note the link to “the right questions to ask buyers” is not working

    bye
    Ruben

  36. @ Ruben – Ah, thank you so much for that. I checked them all and half weren’t working, so I appreciate the heads up.

  37. “Please feel free to contact me.” To me, even though this is positive, it’s kind of a weak cliche. Why wouldn’t they be free to contact you? Always ask for that order: “Give me a call or drop me some electrons–now, while you are thinking of it.”

    Something anyhow! I end with “Let’s talk.”

  38. @ Star – It may be cliché, but it’s professional and appeals to a wide audience.

    “Let’s talk” is too casual and doesn’t sound professional – also, what if the client doesn’t want to talk? What about email or IM? “Let’s talk” is also one of my least preferred phrases as a Canadian – it puts me off from the start and comes off as pushy.

    “Give me a call or drop me some electrons” would immediately signal a casual attitude and someone who doesn’t take work seriously. I don’t recommend this either.

    The important thing is to remember that if you’re writing for someone else, you want to always – ALWAYS – convey professionalism. If I hired someone who wrote content like that for me, the person would find the work landing right back on the desk for a revision.

    (Even worse on the list of no-no in communication is “Let’s do it!!” Um, no. I ain’t doin’ you, buddy.)

  39. You know James, this article can be summed up in what I term getting “warm fuzzines,” as opposed to “cold pricklies.”

    Positing language emits the latter, negative language the former. It’s an intangible I think a lot of copywriters don’t give enough credence to (I fully include myself in that crew).

    Interesting approach to a “soft writing skill” most are unaware of.

    Yuwanda

    The Freelance Writer’s Blog’s last blog post..How One New Freelance Writer Netted Enough Clients to Quit His Job in Just 12 Hours

  40. I am sticking with “Let’s talk.” Good–not many will steal it…

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