IT is a sad reflection of our times that correct grammar and punctuation are often overlooked when creating a brand’s online (and in plenty of cases, offline) identity. But it is true that there is no faster way to render all of your hard work and big bucks spent useless than by incorrectly punctuating your words, or using the wrong words instead of the right words. Here are the five most common language mistakes – and the one way to save yourself and your business brand.

You’re embarking on the online journey, or perhaps you’ve been on this road for a while. You know the importance of a good web designer and you know that really, in web design, you get what you pay for. So you’ve found someone you trust and forked out some valuable, hard-earned cash for a sparkly new website that looks the bomb. Well done. You’re on the road to building online success.

But the web designer assured you that they were great with words and got really good marks in English at high school. Unfortunately, the sparkly new website isn’t bringing in the big bucks you’d hoped for. Why? Traffic is good and unique users are up. So what’s the problem?

Could it be the words? Could it be the punctuation? I see the skepticism in your eyes. Surely a misplaced apostrophe doesn’t lose a sale? No, probably one misplaced apostrophe won’t lose a sale. But several misplaced commas, a few incorrectly used words and a lot of bad grammar will most definitely make you look amateur hour.

A professional copy editor is very important to your website. A professional copy editor is the difference between a Ferrari that gets you places quickly and a Ferrari that breaks down as soon as you pull out of the driveway. Both look great but only one gets the job done.

Want to know more? Here are five common mistakes that an amateur makes with language. Or to put it another way, here are five reasons to put your trust in a professional copy editor to protect your brand.

5. Imprecise language:

There are lots of lovely big words in the dictionary that sound impressive when you trot them out in conversation or on your website. Words like “irregardless” (which is not actually a real word), moot, massive, ironic, and my favourite – literally.

The truth is, unless you are 100% certain you know exactly what these words mean, you should most definitely not be using them on your website or in your writing. Trust me, there are people who know, without equivocation, what those words mean. Most of them are my former subbing colleagues. And when you use them incorrectly, it annoys them. And makes you look silly.

For example: moot. When Rick Springfield sang, “I want to tell her that I love her but the point is probably moot” I think he was trying to say that telling Jessie’s girl that he loved her wouldn’t make much of a difference, that it would be irrelevant to her. Lots of people think that moot means irrelevant. Lots of people are wrong. Moot means a point that is arguable, or debatable. There are two sides to it and both merit discussion.

Another example: literally. I no longer watch Jamie Oliver because of his obsessive, and largely inaccurate use of the word literally. It drives me mad. What Oliver, and many others, are aiming for with their use of the word literally is a kind of verbal underscore, added emphasis. In 2006 former immigration minister Amanda Vanstone said: “I can assure you we are literally bending over backwards to take into account the concerns raised by colleagues.”

If Vanstone had simply not used the word literally she wouldn’t look silly. People would have known she meant figuratively. By using the word literally she brings to mind all kinds of gymnastic imagery of an office of politicians doing backbends.

For a more entertaining piece on using words incorrectly, visit Nine words that don’t mean what you think.

4. Vague wording:

If you throw an impressive-sounding 50c word at a problem, it’ll make you sound smart, right? Wrong. Unless you have a clear idea of what you are trying to say, don’t put a whole bunch of random words together and hope for the best.

When my husband was living in Melbourne (working at The Age) he would go down Nicholson Street regularly. A catering company had emblazoned on the side of its building: “Enhancing your catering needs”. That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. But someone thought it did. As a result, that building with its expensive sign would have, at worst, damaged the brand and at best, made absolutely no impact on potential customers. Most likely people would have been left confused.

There is a new iPhone app on the market call and it is designed to help you connect with other wine drinkers and share your thoughts on wines that you drink and may enjoy. This app is for wine drinkers. Obviously. Typically, wine appreciators are discerning, educated people.

The first line is: “The most simple way to share with your friends what wines you are tasting”

The “most simple” way? This is clunky language. Either use “A simple way…” or “The simplest way…”

3. Overly wordy:

The most simple way to share with your friends what wines you are tastingThis is worse than vague wording or imprecise language. The most effective language is simple and direct.

Back to the Sipp website we go. “Sipp makes sharing a wine you have tasted super easy to share with friends.”


Sharing gets a double mention and it doesn’t make sense. Really. That sentence makes no sense at all. What they were aiming for here was probably something like this: Sipp makes it easy to share wines you have tasted with your friends. Even that, grammatically isn’t well structured. It sounds as if you’re sharing wines on the app that you have enjoyed drinking with your friends. When what you mean is: Use Sipp to share with your friends wines that you have tasted.

The solution is so simple. Don’t get over-complicated with your sentence structure. Don’t try to throw words into a sentence unless you know exactly what you are trying to say. Say it clearly. Say it simply.

Better yet, hire me and I’ll do all the heavy lifting for you! This leads very neatly into my next point…

2. Incorrect grammar:

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because you passed high school English you can write for your website. I can drive a car but that doesn’t mean I can race the Bathurst 1000, or Nascar.

To write compellingly is difficult and requires years of rigorous training and lots of practice. Just because you read voraciously and are a member of three book clubs that all tackle the classics, doesn’t mean you can write to this particular discipline.

In particular, you need an understanding of sentence structure, of the subject, object, verb and modifier as components to make sure your words hang together well and make sense. Grammar is important. Correct grammar is the key to creating dynamic writing that will showcase your brand and your product. It’s the difference between drinking wine with your friends and sharing with your friends information about wines you have tasted.

Pay particular attention to the junk mail that lands in your letterbox each week. I see howlers on a regular basis and after I have a bit of a giggle the junk mail (that someone paid a lot of money to have designed, printed and delivered) goes straight into the bin.

If someone is ignorant about language, or perhaps just sloppy with their language, sloppy with the production of their flyer, why would I have any faith in their product or service?

1. Incorrect punctuation and spelling:

Incorrrect spelling and punctuation damages your brand
“Stationary” should be “stationery”.
Do you think nobody will notice if you use the wrong ‘your/you’re’? Or the wrong its/it’s? Do you think they don’t care if you use the wrong their/there/they’re? Do you think that if you don’t spell something correctly, people *may* notice, but it won’t cause them to think poorly of your brand?

If you think the answer is yes to any of these questions you’re wrong.

On the Sipp website: “Sometimes its nice to see what the experts are tasting and recommending.”

Incorrect “its”. This wouldn’t be so infuriating if it wasn’t such an easy one to get right! Ask yourself: Can I use “it is” where I have written “its”? If you can, then put the apostrophe in: it’s. If you can’t then leave the apostrophe out – simple!

Back to the website: “Share with friends what your tasting and give it a personal rating.”

Incorrect “your”. Another simple test: Can I substitute “you are” instead of “your”? If you can, then put the apostrophe in!

As potential customers move through your website they are building a picture of your brand and forming an opinion about the quality of your product or service. They are deciding if you will give them satisfaction for money spent. The more mistakes you make the lower their opinion is going to be.

When you are trying to sell something to someone, especially online, every tiny little detail matters. Every word is important and every punctuation mark must be correct. I posted this picture (above, right) of the Olympia sign on its van on my Facebook page on August 8. I took the photo that day in the car park of the Officeworks on Lutwyche Road, Windsor. It drew a strong response from people who thought it was laughable that an established brand specialising in stationery products would make such a silly mistake. The brand is damaged by this sign. Don’t let this mistake happen to you with your website! There are a million little things, like stationary vs stationery that are hard to pick up. That’s why you must hire a professional copy editor.

The solution:

The solution to badly written web copy is to hire a professional copy editor. It’s a guaranteed way to protect your brand and make sure the money you have spent on the visual isn’t wasted.

When you hire a copy editor you can be confident that you are getting someone who takes professional pride in the words they write and who will work with you to make sure the words showcase your brand.

Hire a copy editor and you will protect your investment. Hire a copy editor and sleep easy at night knowing your brand isn’t the punchline on someone’s Facebook page.
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Published by Felicity Moore

Felicity has been a professional scribe for almost 20 years, writing for daily newspapers and national magazines here in Australia and overseas. She continues to work as a freelance journalist while also building a small and well-serviced client list for her PR services. She blogs weekly about family life at