How much are spelling and grammar mistakes costing you?

Your website is lovely, your blog posts are lyrical, but typos and bad syntax could be driving potential customers away by the thousands. Stanch the bleeding. Here’s how.

Most articles will tell you that poor grammar can kill sales.

Though not as damning in blog posts as in sales copy, grammatical errors can dissolve credibility, resulting in fewer sales.

Is there anything empirical to support this?

Although spelling mistakes haven’t been heavily researched in relation to revenue, optimization or growth, there is some research that suggests spelling mistakes damage credibility. Some business experts directly correlate spelling mistakes to lost revenue.

Why is it important to be detail oriented?

Signing up for Loop11 the other day, I noticed this:

Although it was a minor error, it made me rethink the credibility of the site.

Of course, we all make mistakes. HubSpot listed 11 high-profile spelling mistakes in this blog post, including their own:

I’m well aware there are typos on my own site. Mistakes happen, but how much are those mistakes worth?

Spelling errors and trust: What the research says

The people at Grammarly recently wrote about a study they conducted showing the professional dangers of bad grammar.

In doing their research, they reviewed 100 LinkedIn profiles of native English speakers in the consumer packaged goods industry. Each professional had worked for no more than three employers over the first 10 years of their career. Half were promoted to director level or above within those 10 years, and the other half were not. Here’s what they found:

  • Professionals who failed to progress to a director-level position within the first 10 years of their careers made 2.5 times as many grammar mistakes as their director-level colleagues.
  • Fewer grammar errors correlate with more promotions. The study found that professionals with one to four promotions over their 10-year careers made 45 percent more grammar errors than those with six to nine promotions in the same time frame.
  • Fewer grammar errors correlate with frequent job changes. Those who remained at the same company for more than 10 years made 20 percent more grammar mistakes than those who held six jobs in the same period.

Granted this is correlative data based on a small sample size, by no means representative of the professional world at large. Still, these are interesting findings.

In the dating world, Colour Works found similar insights. The company conducted a study of 1,700 online daters and found that 43 percent of users consider bad grammar decidedly unattractive and 35 percent think good grammar is appealing.

In the social media realm, it seems spelling errors are one of the largest mistakes a brand representative can make. A London-based digital communications agency surveyed 1,003 U.K. Web users last July, and it found that close to half of the overall respondents—42.5 percent—would be most influenced by spelling or grammar blunders.

First impressions matter; typos affect them

Usability.gov wrote an article outlining credibility factors, and one main point was avoiding poor grammar. They mentioned that most credibility factors were judged quickly, based on first impressions. As it put it, “the first credibility cues are perceived very quickly.”

Of course, different audiences respond differently, even in relation to credibility cues. For example, they found that younger respondents (under 27.9 years old) were harsher on sites that had typos or broken links.

We’ve already written about the importance of first impressions. Even though most first impressions are design-based, typos aren’t helping your credibility. ImpactBND put it well:

In other words, there’s no denying that first impressions matter. If your content is plagued by poor grammar, it’s likely that people will think twice about the quality of your products or services.

By presenting readers with sub par content, you are putting your business at risk of losing valuable word-of-mouth marketing. Or even worse, you’ll be subject to negative word-of-mouth attention.

Spelling errors cost companies millions?

There have been loose negative correlations between bad grammar and professional success, dating and social media brand perception. All that is interesting, but if it doesn’t hurt the bottom line, does it matter?

According to the BBC, one entrepreneur has said that poor spelling is costing the UK millions of pounds in lost revenue for online businesses.

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The article doesn’t release any concrete data, so it’s hard to give much weight to the figures they spout. Charles Duncombe, the entrepreneur quoted in the article, says an analysis of website figures shows a single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half.

Why? Because, according to Duncombe, “when you sell or communicate on the internet, 99 percent of the time it is done by the written word.”

As he says, “spelling is important to the credibility of a website. … When there are underlying concerns about fraud and safety, then getting the basics right is essential.”

He acknowledged, however, that some parts of the Internet, such as Facebook or blogs, are less susceptible to this sort of scrutiny—which makes intuitive sense. If you’re about to drop your credit card information, trusting a website is much more important.

The people at TightsPlease.co.uk also found spelling errors decreased their conversions. They noticed that on the tights category page, they had misspelled the word “Tights”—the misspelling was “Tihgts”—and they noticed that was causing the page to leak money. Once fixed, conversions jumped by 80 percent.

Though they didn’t do a controlled experiment, it was an easy enough fix that produced noticeable results. They chalked it up to the same category of errors as out-of-stock items, wrong dates and other detail mess-ups.

5 ways to catch grammar mistakes

Struggling with detail orientation? We all are. Here are some ways you can hit “publish” without incurring the wrath of the grammar police:

1. Read it backward.

Because our brain fills in gaps based on context, it helps to break that context to see things as they are.

As ImpactBND put it, “By reading your writing backwards you disrupt the natural flow of things, and find yourself forced to read word by word. This approach forces you to comprehend each word individually, which makes it easier to identify misspelled words and grammatical errors.”

2. Bring in a fresh pair of eyes.

This is, of course, the value in having a good editor. If you’re the editor or you don’t have one, you can usually get a friend or a co-worker to read your copy. We try to have our blog posts reviewed by another content team member before publishing.

3. Read it aloud.

This is pretty classic advice when it comes to editing. Not only will you catch grammar errors, you’ll also write more like you talk (a good thing, unless you get sloppy about it). The end result is that your writing will be better overall, as well as free of errors.

As ImpactBND said: “Some errors are more easily heard. One of the most effective proofreading techniques you can employ is reading your writing aloud, as it forces you to listen.”

4. Sleep on it.

Though this is tough to do—or even impossible if you’ve got a pressing deadline—revisiting your copy later helps you see it with a fresh pair of eyes.

When I write articles like this, I tend to write the whole thing at one time, spilling out errors and pretty crappy prose. I edit it the next day or at a later time. It helps me see the article in a new way and catch things my fatigued eyes would have missed otherwise.

5. Use software like Grammarly.

Spell-check isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, the last line of defense. If you download something like Grammarly, you can catch grammar errors all over the Internet, whether you’re writing in WordPress or posting a LinkedIn update. I’ve had it downloaded for about a week, and it’s already helped me avoid errors.

A version of this article first appeared on Conversion XL.

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