Language that Loses Leads: How Your Words Kill Conversions

by Jonathan Rudolph Jan 27, 2016

How Overlooked Language Choices Kill Your Conversions

I’ve seen so many companies invest weeks into data analysis and content research only to watch their blogging strategy fall flat once they create their content.

The problem isn’t their content itself. They have great facts and insights, but you have to look past the murky, oblique language to discern the true value of the content.

Most of these companies don’t have staff writers for their content—instead they use their marketing and sales teams to build the content on their sites. While there’s nothing wrong with this strategy, it can lead to confusing content that only appeals to the staff.

The trouble with this kind of language is that it usually makes sense to the writer. It's written in his or her language, so of course it makes sense. Even worse, it will probably make sense to his or her colleagues since they share a similar inter-office language. It’s just everyone else—namely, leads—that finds the language so opaque.

So let’s run through the three most common language woes that inflict so many content creators so you can catch it in your writing before your content suffers.

Jargon: Making Your Message Muddy

Online copy should be clear and concise. That’s why jargon has no place in it.

The biggest problem with jargon is that it alienates too many visitors. Not everyone keeps up on your company’s verbiage, so don’t assume they know all your verbal subtleties.

I’ve even seen companies use their internal office jargon on their websites. These are terms that only people in their office use. You can imagine how that makes readers feel like outsiders.

Not only does jargon alienate your visitors, it can mangle your SEO too. As Sarah Skerik of PR Newswire notes, marketers should be targeting keywords that people actually use, and most visitors don’t use jargon in their queries.

Lastly, there is so much annoying and convoluted business jargon that actually dilutes your message. So many of these terms are just everyday words disguised in ostentatious outfits. “Core competency” sounds important, but it really just means “strengths”. Why “leverage” a tool when you can just use it?

Of course, there are some circumstances in which jargon is appropriate. Perhaps you’re running a campaign for a persona that loves jargon. Or maybe you need to sprinkle a little jargon into your copy to complete your message. Just don’t overdo it—make sure you’re connecting to all your visitors, not just a handful.

Clichés: We're All Sick of the Same Old Phrases

Using clichés can make you look dull, unimaginative or even out-of-touch.

Many marketers lean towards these clichés because familiar phrases sound like something they’re supposed to write. It sounds like “marketing speak”. What they don’t realize, however, is that most people don’t want to read marketing speak. Tell them what they want to know—details about your service or industry—not a bunch of boring fluff.

When people write to sound like marketers, they’re often trying to impress their colleagues, their boss or even their competitors. Yet none of these people are likely their target buyer.

Modern marketers tend to overuse formulaic titles. One of my least favorite, as noted by Elisa Gibbert at Wordstream:

“Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About X But Were Afraid to Ask”

This headline was powerful at some point, but now – thanks to overuse – it resembles a spammy ad loitering at the bottom of a disreputable news site.

Grammar and Spelling: Don't Look Silly or Stupid

We’ve all chuckled at an accidental double entendre or scorned others for their misuse of commas—but how does it actually influence conversions?

Real Business found that poor grammar can scare 59% of your visitors away. Sloppy mistakes in your copy reflect sloppy companies.

How about in your social media? The medium is more casual, so perhaps it’s more lenient, right?

Well, according to a survey by Disruptive Communications, 42.5% respondents listed grammatical mistakes as the most hated characteristic a brand can show on social media. So people aren’t as forgiving as we would hope.

Before we turn into grammar police, though, we should consider the context.

There will be times when it’s appropriate to bend the rules a bit. For example, on Twitter you have a limited number of characters, so it’s reasonable to abbreviate or truncate from time to time.

Problems most frequently arise when companies make the most blaring grammatical mistakes. These are flat out mistakes, not accommodations to the social platform.

Like many other problems with grammar and language online, you just need to be smart. You can bend the rules a bit, but know when you’ve bent them too far.


The primary takeaway is to write clearly and write for a broad audience.

To most visitors, jargon and clichés don’t make your company sound smarter: they just detract from your story. You should always put as much attention into the details of your content as you put into the strategy itself, otherwise your early efforts will go to waste.

5 Conversion Killers Every Marketer Should Avoid