Grammar Mistakes – Which Word Should You Use?

Good grammar tips to help your website stand out.As promised in last week’s post about grammar mistakes to avoid on your website, here are some more common word mix-ups you should keep an eye out for when writing on your business website.

* INTO VS. IN TO

Into is a preposition which indicates movement from the outside to the inside of something or a transition from one thing or state into another. This includes both literal and figurative movements and transitions. Examples:

  • Come into our main store for even more savings.
  • This puts money back into your pocket.
  • We help turn business problems into business opportunities.

When using in to, in is an adverb (modifying the verb) and to is a preposition. In many cases in to means in order to. Examples:

  • Come in to save even more (note, in this case it means come in order to save; in the very similar first bullet example above it meant come inside so you can save).
  • You must write in to enter the contest.
  • Turn your completed forms in to the customer service rep.

* THAT VS. WHICH

That is used in restrictive clauses. What that means is you should use that when what follows could not be omitted without changing the meaning of the sentence. Examples:

  • Companies that invest in their workers profit in the long term.
  • Small problems that are not addressed quickly can become major problems.
  • Grammar tips that are confusing are worse than no tips at all (we’re hoping that’s not the case here).

In all the cases above, if you took out the restrictive that clause (that are not addressed quickly, that invest in their workers, that are confusing) the sentence meaning would change. For example, the last sentence would change to mean that all grammar tips are worse than no tips at all—and we know that can’t be true.

Which is used for nonrestrictive clauses, those that could be removed from the sentence without changing the meaning. These non-restrictive clauses often contain extra information that you could see inside parentheses and usually have commas before or before and after the clause. Examples:

  • Companies investing in their workers, which is becoming a trend, leads to long term profits
  • Small problems, which all companies have, should not take big resources to address.
  • Confusing grammar tips are worse than no tips at all, which we hope isn’t the case here.

All those which clauses above could be cut out without changing the meaning of the rest of the sentence. You could also put the clauses in parentheses without affecting the sentence. In the first example, the clause “which is becoming a trend” is additional, expendable information; the core of the sentence is that companies that invest in their workers will profit.

* WHO VS. THAT or WHICH

As in the examples above, that and which are relative pronouns used for inanimate objects. When referring to people, you’ll always be correct to use the pronoun who. Examples:

  • You are the one who we are working for.
  • Only people who enter the contest before Friday can win.
  • Website visitors who view three or more pages are 37% more likely to purchase.

While all the above uses are correct, some would be OK using that in the last example  (visitors that view) since it’s the least personal reference. You’re talking about people, but as statistics.

Some are also OK with using who when referring to animals (especially close pets) and organizations, such as companies.

Strictly speaking, a company is a thing, but if you want to emphasize the humanity of your company (it is an organization made up of people, after all) you can chose to use who strategically in your copy: “We are a company who cares deeply about our customers.”

* FARTHER VS. FURTHER

Use farther when referring to physical distance (think of the most common use of the word far). Examples:

  • You shouldn’t have to drive farther than five miles to get to one of our stores.
  • Tiger Woods hits the golf ball a lot farther than I do.

Use further when referring to figurative distance, progress, or amount. Examples:

  • Nothing could be further from the truth.
  • After further investigation, we decided to discontinue the product.
  • Our sales team is further along in the transition than the marketing team.

Further is also used as a verb, meaning to help promote or advance something.

  • All employees must buy in to further the new direction of the company.

* E.G. VS. I.E.

E.g. is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase exempli gratia, which means “for example.” When you see that first e in e.g., think example.

  • Winners will receive a variety of prizes, e.g., iPods, digital cameras, T-shirts.
  • The contest will be judged by an expert (e.g., me).
  • Choose from a number of industry-specific templates – e.g., accounting, construction, consulting, real estate, retail, transportation – to build your website.

I.e. is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase id est, which means “that is.” You use i.e. as you would use “in other words” or “namely.” It is used to specify or clarify whatever preceded it in the sentence. For that reason it is often used after a technical term or jargon that may not be widely understood.

  • We’re focused entirely on the end users, i.e., parents and their kids.
  • Unfortunately, a radical redesign (i.e., starting from scratch) was required.

As you may have noticed, both e.g. and i.e. have periods following each letter and are lowercase unless starting a sentence. They are followed by a comma, and will have some punctuation before them to set them apart from the sentence: often parentheses, dashes, or commas.

Grammar Mistakes to Avoid on Your Website

Good grammar tips to help your website stand out.Happy National Grammar Day!

What, March 4 wasn’t circled on your calendar? Grammar isn’t typically on the tip of your tongue (or tip of your fingers while tapping that keyboard)?

Not to worry.

We’ll help you celebrate by passing along some tips to help you avoid making the most common grammar mistakes on your business website.

Good grammar, of course, won’t necessarily transform a website from ineffective to effective, but bad grammar can cause some potential customers to have doubts about your business.

Grammar is one part of the overall impression your website makes that leads to people trusting you enough to do business with you – or not. Sloppy grammar may brand you as unprofessional or unreliable.

Keep in mind, your number one goal when writing your web pages is not to slavishly uphold some style guide or grammar book. It’s to promote your business, engage your audience, and, ultimately, sell stuff.

So, you have permission to Think Different (no –ly required) if you feel it’s best to promote your business that way.

And here are 3 grammar rules we’d even encourage you to break.

Now, on to some grammar tips you should pay attention to. We’ll start with a list of the words people most commonly mix up.

WHICH WORD SHOULD YOU USE?

Spell check sometimes works, but it can’t save you from using wrong word (if you spell the wrong word correctly). The most common problems include:

* Their vs. There vs. They’re

They’re is a contraction for they are. So, if you try saying they are in your sentence and it makes sense, use they’re. Examples: “They’re the best offers we’ve had this year.” “They’re offered for a limited time only.”

Their is a possessive pronoun, meaning belonging to them. Examples: “Their reliability is their number one advantage.”

There is a little harder to define, but if you are referring to any locations or places, there it is. Also, if you are going to use are, there should be your choice. Examples: “There are no strings attached.” “There are two ways to enter the contest.”

* Your vs. You’re

Like they’re, you’re is a contraction. It’s a shortening of you are. So, if you can substitute you are, use you’re. Otherwise use your. Examples: “This is our biggest discount, so you’re in luck.” “You’re our number-one priority.”

Like their, your is a possessive pronoun, meaning belonging to you. Examples: “We appreciate your business.” “Our main goal is to build your trust.”

* Its vs. It’s

Like they’re and you’re, it’s is a contraction. It’s a shortening of it is. So, if you can substitute it is, use it’s. Otherwise use its. Examples: “It’s our biggest sale of the year.” “It’s no problem.”

Like their and your, its is a possessive pronoun, meaning belonging to something. Examples: “Good grammar has its challenges.” “Its power is its main selling point.”

* Then vs. Than

Then is used in a lot more ways than than, so it’s best to check if than makes sense first. As in the previous sentence, than is used to compare things: bigger than, less than, more reliable than, faster than, cheaper than.

Then often relates to time or sequence. Examples: “First do this, then that.” “If you’re still having trouble, then you need to restart your computer.”

* Less vs. Fewer

This one is actually pretty simple but you hear it incorrectly so often you may have problems hearing it yourself.

Because more and less are paired so frequently (as in the expressions “less is more” and “more or less”) people often use less when fewer is the right choice.

Right: “We need more signal, less noise.”
Right: “We have more choices, but fewer good ones.”

Fewer is used when you can count what you are talking about (above, you can’t count noise, but you can count choices). If you could add a number to the sentence, use fewer.

Examples: “Fewer people attended the second webinar.” “Fewer people clicked on the About link.” “We have fewer spots available this year.”

Less is used when you couldn’t use a number, as in the famous Miller Light slogan “Great taste. Less filling.” Filling is not something you can count and you wouldn’t say the beer was “five less filling.”

One confusing situation is money. Yes, you can count money, but it’s correct to say “less money” not “fewer money,” because when money is used as a general term, you can’t use a number with it. While you could say you had “100 dollars,” you wouldn’t say you had “100 money.”

For the same reason, less will be also used for all abstract concepts and feelings, such as less time, less stress, or less risk.

* To vs. Two vs. Too

Most people know the difference between these, but are so used to writing to, they use it when they should be using two (the number) or too (meaning also or excessive). So you just need to double-check when you are proofreading (you do proofread, right?) your website.

Here’s one sentence using all three: “I only need two things; don’t send too much to me.”

* Effect vs. Affect

These two are trickier for people to keep track of. Most often, affect is a verb and effect is a noun.

To affect something is to change it or have some influence on it: “My desire to have a great website affected my decision to hire a professional web designer.”

An effect is something that is caused, as in the phrase cause and effect. Examples: “My new website has had many positive effects on my business.” “I stopped advertising last month, and the effect was worse than I thought.”

Complicating matters, effect is sometimes used as a verb, meaning to bring about or cause something. It’s often used in this way in the expression to effect change: “The CEO’s desire to effect change in the organization led him to merge sales and marketing.”

* Lead vs. Led

The confusion for many is that lead is pronounced two ways: LEED (long e sound, when referring to leadership) and LED (short e sound, when referring to the metal traditionally used in pipes).

The past tense of the verb to lead, is led. Examples: “The CEO led the company for six years.” “I led the project to a successful conclusion.”  “A great leader leads by example, and Tom led his team that way each and every day.”

* Choose vs. Chose, Lose vs. Loose

Choose is the present tense verb meaning to make a choice, to select or decide. Chose is simply the past tense: “It was hard to choose, but I chose the more expensive option.”

While that’s simple enough, people often get confused because loose looks like choose but lose is the verb that actually rhymes with the verb choose. Example: “If you don’t choose, you lose.”

Lose is the present tense verb meaning to be deprived or cease to have something. The past tense is lost.

Loose is unrelated to lose; it means the opposite of tight, not firm or fixed.

So, make sure you do not write: “Act now or you’ll loose this opportunity to save.” If you do, your loose command of grammar may make you lose customers.

We’ll follow up next week with more grammar tips to keep your website in tip top shape.

Once again, have a happy Grammar Day. (But don’t go too crazy.)

 

Common Blogging Mistakes That Can Sink a Small Business Blog – Part 2

Don't sink your blog by making these writing mistakesLast week, we started a three-part series Common Blogging Mistakes That Can Sink a Small Business Blog. Part one focused on mistakes in setting up your blog.

Today, in Part 2, we’re going to cover writing mistakes that often hinder the success of small business blogs.

We hope we can help you avoid making these common writing mistakes and give your blog the best chance for success.

Blog Writing Mistakes

1.     Writing is too promotional

Yes, you are writing your blog, ultimately, to promote yourself or your business.

But your blog won’t succeed in that mission if you don’t build and maintain an audience of readers. And you won’t do that by writing an endless stream of promotional material.

When writing your blog, you need to educate. You need to entertain. You need to help. You need to inspire.

You don’t need to sell, sell, sell.

The magic of your blog is that if you do all those things well, you will also sell. Because people will like you and respect you and want to do business with you.

 2.     Not focusing your writing on your audience

This second mistake often happens because you’re making the #1 writing mistake: being too promotional.

You can, of course, weave your products or service into your posts when relevant. But focusing largely or exclusively on yourself and your products is a turn-off to blog readers.

Focus, instead, on your audience (your readers and your customers) and good things will happen for you.

Write about the topics you know they are most interested in (and if you don’t know what they are interested in, ask them).

Write to help them solve problems. Write to answer their questions. Write to save them money.

Make your customers’ lives easier somehow and they’ll make it easier for you to succeed online.

 3.     Writing blog posts that are hard to scan

The first two writing mistakes were about content, or what you should write about. This one is about the structure, or how you should write.

You may have heard…people are busy. They are rushed and distracted, their attention is divided and hard to focus.

So you have to make it easy on them.

Especially on the Web, big blocks of copy scare people off. Readers online like to scan through copy quickly and your writing needs to facilitate that.

Yes, you will need to write some long posts to tackle tricky subjects or to establish yourself as an authority. And being too brief can lead people to think you aren’t an expert.

But be as concise as possible while achieving your goal of establishing authority.

Also, break up long posts into sections with headers to help readers visually navigate your post.

Keep paragraphs short. No more than a sentence or two.

Take advantage of bulleted lists or numbered steps. They are very easy to scan and are a more visually appealing way to present your copy.

4.     Headlines aren’t clear enough

Headlines are vitally important to your blog.

First, many people will only read the headlines. It is your job to make sure that your headline gets as many as possible to move on and read the blog post itself.

But many won’t start reading and will abandon your blog if you don’t make it clear what you are offering them for their time.

Headlines that are trying to be clever or mysterious are often simply dismissed by readers. Most don’t have the time or patience to give you the benefit of the doubt and start reading a post when they don’t know what it’s about.

Clarity in your headlines is also especially important for social sharing and SEO.

When people share your post, it’s typically the headline that others will see. And when your post appears in search engine results, it’s the headline that will be the link searchers see first.

Your headline also works to tell search engines what your blog post is about and therefore what keywords the post should rank for.

So a focused and clear headline that features relevant keywords will help your SEO efforts.

 5.     Too many mistakes: grammar, punctuation, spelling & facts

Don’t let this one intimidate you if you’re one of the many non-writers who are writing blogs for their businesses.

Mistakes happen…and you will make them. Just work to minimize them.

While online readers are pretty forgiving about certain kinds of grammar mistakes (especially if they seem to be part of the writer’s voice and contribute to the energy of the writing), a post that is riddled with mistakes will turn readers away and damage your brand.

How to you minimize writing mistakes?

First, know your weaknesses. You probably know certain words you spell wrong all the time. Keep a list and double-check those words in your posts.

Use spell-checkers, but don’t trust them 100%. They are good at spotting certain kinds of spelling errors, but if you misspell one word and your misspelling is another word, it may not be flagged. They’re also not as good if you’re writing about a field with many technical terms or jargon.

Read your posts out loud, slowly, to make sure they sound right. Keep a grammar guide handy to check any issues you aren’t sure of.

If possible, get someone else to read and/or proof your posts. It’s typically harder to catch your own mistakes than to spot them in someone else’s writing.

Also, be very careful to fact-check your posts.

You certainly don’t want to damage your credibility, tarnish your brand, and loose readers and customers by posting inaccurate information.

 6.     Not writing substantial enough posts encourage links & shares

You will have many goals for your blog, but many of them will be harder to achieve if you don’t write posts of substance.

You won’t succeed if all you’re posting are brief “me too” responses to other bloggers, one-sentence intros that link to content on other sites, or posts that are too shallow to really add value to the subject you’re writing about.

While you want to be as concise as possible, make sure you take the time to write thoughtfully and show that you know what you’re talking about.

Substantial content will not only help your brand, but it will also help you generate links to your site (which will then help your SEO) and encourage readers to share your blog post via social media or other referral methods.

People want to be confident that if they share your post, the people they share it with will be impressed with your content.

If you hit the right topic or right tone, a short post can definitely generate links and sharing, but you’ll be safer if you mix in longer, more authoritative posts as well.

 7.     Not writing frequently enough

It’s hard to build up your readership if you don’t write enough.

Quality is, of course, very important, but if there’s not enough quantity to keep people coming back, they won’t.

More frequent blogging will generally mean more traffic to your site.

But there is no magic number for how often you should post to your blog.

The right amount will depend on the type of posts you are writing, the length of the posts (mostly short posts should mean more frequent posts), your audience, and your business goals.

Whatever the frequency is, it’s good to try to be consistent. If you are trying to post once per day, having lots of multi-day gaps can be problematic for building up readership.

People want to know what to expect. You should get them into the habit of checking for posts at certain intervals. Habits are your friend, so you need to post frequently enough that you can get people in the habit of reading your blog.

Blogging frequently also helps the many people who will randomly check out your blog, because it means they’ll be seeing fresh and timely content.

It even helps SEO. Search engines like sites with fresh content. And frequent posts mean you’ll generate more content for search engines to index.

So post, post, post. Every day if you can. Every few days, or weekly, if that’s all you can do. Some business blogs do post monthly, but it’s rare.

It may be hard to achieve your blog’s goals if you can’t post at least once a week. But do your best!

We hope you’ll come back for part three, which will cover promotion and optimization mistakes.

Blogging for Small Business: How to Generate Ideas for Your Blog

Last week we published a post with some tips for starting a blog on a small business website.

We’re following up this week with 5 more tips that should help you generate ideas for your blog and ultimately make your small business website more successful.

1. Bring Yourself & Your Business to Life

How to generate good ideas for your small business blog

Especially in the early days of your website’s blog, establishing your personal presence can bring you and your business significant benefits. On your blog, you have the opportunity to personify your brand. Open up about yourself and create a bond between yourself and your readers/customers that can translate into Liking (on Facebook and other social media), blog engagement and return traffic, and increased likelihood to purchase from you.  You are one of your business’s most unique competitive advantages…but only if you take advantage of your uniqueness.

Blog ideas in this category to write about:

  • Your personal background/story
  • How you developed your passion for your business
  • How you started your business
  • How did you choose your business name, location or domain
  • Biggest challenges you’ve had in business
  • Your most important influence and why
  • Other businesses or business leaders you admire and why
  • What a typical business day is like for you
  • Any stories of unique days or time periods (if your business is seasonal, cyclical, or has built-in days of interest, like Mother’s Day for a florist)

2. Pull the Thorn Out of Your Customers’ Paw

Remember the Aesop’s Fable about Androcles and the Lion. Androcles pulls a thorn out of an injured lion’s paw and the lion is eternally grateful to him, eventually saving his life.  It’s the same in business. At a company I previously worked for, it was well documented that customers who had had a problem that was successfully fixed by our support staff had higher satisfaction and loyalty rates than even customers who never had a single problem. Look for those metaphoric thorns that your customers and potential customers are experiencing around your product area. Use your blog to write tutorials that can remove customer pain points and make them eternally grateful to you.

Blog tutorial ideas to write about:

  • Most common customer problems and how to avoid them (before they happen)
  • Most common customer problems and how to solve them (after they happen)
  • How to save money in your product area
  • How to choose between different purchase options
  • How to fix product x, y, or z
  • How to use product better
  • How to make product last longer
  • Do-it-yourself tips to help avoid repair or support charges

3. Turn the Spotlight on Your Customers

 One good turn deserves another, right? So build up some good will (and wait for your good turn back) by using your blog to show some love to your customers (partners too). The social psychology (and marketing) principle of reciprocity means they will be more inclined to do something positive for you, such as purchase your product, Like your business, or make a recommendation to a friend. All good things. Plus, your customers can provide you with a pretty easy source of ongoing blog posts.

Blog ideas in this category to write about:

  • A case study of how a customer uses your product
  • A testimonial post praising how easy a partner/customer is to work with
  • A testimonial post about why you are a customer of one of  your customers
  • A customer-of-the-week (or month) spotlight on a customer (may want to start with the most loyal/high-value customers)
  • A customer-of-the-week (or month) contest where customers are randomly selected to win something or get an extra discount

4. Turn the Spotlight on Your Products

 You need to approach this category with caution or you’ll turn off your readers. You’ve got the rest of your website for sales copy; your blog needs to be different, with goals of education, engagement, branding, etc. Done well, you will also encourage sales, but make that your secondary goal. Work to find ways to focus on your products with a primary customer focus. How can you help them and provide value to them while examining your products or services.

Blog ideas in this category to write about:

  • Chose two products and provide a comprehensive product comparison, educating customers on the features, benefits, and reasons some may choose one or the other
  • Highlight your top selling products and offer insights into why they sell most
  • Discuss a product or product category offering tips to save customer frustration: common complaints or issues with product and how to avoid them
  • How certain products are best for certain specific uses, niches, or customer types
  • How to take care of a certain product to make it last longer or perform better
  • Create a post highlighting customer feedback about a product

5. Write About the Top Ranking Keywords

One of the benefits to having a blog on your website is SEO, or search engine optimization. If you want your site to come up when people type keywords into search engines like Google and Bing, you need to have good content that’s relevant to those keywords. And that’s where your blog comes in. Don’t know what keywords to focus on? The Google Keyword Tool can help. Enter some words or phrases related to your business (as many as you can think of), or enter the URL of your business website (you can also choose a Category if you see one that works for you) and click the Search button to get a list of the top keywords people are searching for. You can then use this keyword list as your guide to writing blog content that people are actually searching for. You can pick and choose keyword topics as they appeal to you, but you’ll get the most return for your effort if you focus on the keywords with the highest search volume, as long as they are relevant to your business. Keep in mind, the Keyword Tool doesn’t know your business as well as you so not all suggestions will be on the mark.

If you’re an EarthLink Web Hosting customer, you may also want to look back at our earlier posts about how to publish a blog on your website and how to publish your first blog post using WordPress. All EarthLink Web Hosting plans — both our build your own website plan and professional web design hosting plans — come with a WordPress installer to make getting started with a WordPress blog simple.