Is your web site written by a spammer?

As the year winds up, I’ve been travelling the web to sort out a few issues for my business – travel for next year, insurance, networking, IT … that sort of thing.

I’ve seen quite a few web sites across a range of industries and I’m convinced now more than ever before that many corporate web sites are written by spammers.

Well, if they’re not actually written by a spammer, the writers are doing an excellent job of pretending to be one.

There are a number of elements to spam email that are common – that most spammers think constitute the best chance of appealing to absolutely everyone:

  1. Using catchy PR jargon.  I’ve received spam that uses everyone cliche known to man (which I know is a cliche in itself.  It’s called sarcasm).  They overhype products or services to the nth-degree with words like ground-breaking and innovative solution.  I have also visited large corporate web sites that do the same.  They use meaningless words that do not provide any substance to their claims of being the world’s best whatever.
  2. Making massive promises before they’ve established trust.  One thing spam has covered is the ability to oversell a product like a late-night direct marketing TV show host on cocaine.  Yet I’ve visited web sites (some of them government) that tell me – in the first sentence on each page – how they will change my life forever.  Here’s the catch: I don’t know who you are, so therefore I am automatically suspicious of anything you say until I trust you.  How about you generate some of that trust first?
  3. Talking to a general audience so they can appeal to everyone.  As I say in my web writing workshops, your web site is not for everyone.  I can understand why spammers write this way – they’re sending 50 million emails and need responses from perhaps 0.01%, so they need to write in a scattergun approach.  But on your web site, you aren’t strafing the world with your web site’s message – you’re talking to a defined audience (or at least, you should be).
  4. Often having so many mistakes in them that it becomes a comedy show for any proofreader who’s received their email.  Maybe it’s poor English, poor grammar or just a lack of interest in the details, I receive spam emails that I can tell eminate from the spam uber-states of Africa or the former Soviet Union.  But I’ve also read corporate web sites that have the same mistakes – poor grammar, clumsy English or, in one particular case, a company that couldn’t spell its own name right.

So how does your web site read?  Could people pick it out from a spammer’s web site in a police lineup?

Paying attention to some of these minor details – and sticking to the best practice of web writing – is one way to make sure your web site is read correctly and working for you.

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