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Assumptions in your website copy can lose you customers

by Chris Sutton | May 3, 2013

I had a conversation yesterday with a customer about a service offered by a another website, and it was a timely reminder of the copywriting rule to never make assumptions about your customers or their knowledge.

In any industry, there tends to be a base level of knowledge, and often a lot industry specific language that can be confusing or make no sense to customers (unless they’re in the same industry of course). When you are face to face with a customer or on the phone, and use that language or make assumptions, the customer will simply ask for clarification.

On a website however, you usually don’t get the chance to explain when a customer doesn’t understand, and what can make that worse is that according to usability expert, Jakob Nielsen, nearly 80% of website visitors don’t read much of the text, but rather they scan the page and pick out certain elements, headings, bold text, certain sentences.

If you add user reading styles to a habit of assuming your customer knows what you are talking about when you use industry jargon, buzz words etc, then the chances of getting your message about your business, products or services across are pretty slim.

So how to avoid making assumptions when you’re writing website copy ?

  • The best way to start is to write your initial draft of any copy for someone who knows absolutely nothing about your industry, products or services, and that first draft is likely to be much longer and more detailed than you want on your website. Once you’ve completed your first draft, then you edit and start reducing the copy to the amount of text you want on that particular page.
  • Avoid buzzwords or industry jargon, they assume customers know what they mean.
  • Avoid “marketing speak”, or in this context that should probably read “avoid the hype”.

The next step is probably the most important though to ensure your website copy makes sense to your visitors.

  • You need to get somebody else to proof read your copy . That fresh viewpoint will often identify copy where assumptions have been made or the copy simply doesn’t get the page’s message across clearly.

These are some simple steps to avoid making assumptions in your copy, the result will be better copy and more importantly better conversions, and I’d encourage you to read the article by Jakob Nielsen, it has some very good copywriting tips.

As web designers, we see a lot of copy as we work on our web design projects, and we are often asked to provide feedback on the copy that customers have written. Our experience producing thousands of websites and working with customers in all sorts of industries means we can provide objective feedback about the copy you have written, and we're always happy to share our knowledge and experience.

SiteSuite Website Design - Online Marketing Blog Author Chris Sutton

Co-founder and Managing Director of SiteSuite Australasia, Australian pioneers in web design and ecommerce since 1997. For more from Chris you can follow him on Google+ or Twitter, and for further professional musings and thoughts on his other passions in life,

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