I help people with their website text (called “website content”) as well as the design of their websites. As I’m editing text that my clients have written, I’ve noticed that these mistakes are the ones I most often correct.
Mistakes that disrupt site styles
Do-it-yourself websites like Squarespace or Weebly have design templates that help you jump-start your website design. Included in these templates are predetermined text styles for body text and headings—including sizes, colors, and fonts, such as bold and italic. The mistakes in this category can disrupt the text styling that comes with your site, causing your website text to look inconsistent.
Mistake 1: Pasting directly from a document
If you paste text to your website directly from other sources, such as email, word-processing documents, online articles, and social media, the text will pick up any embedded styles that were part of the original text. Rather than pasting text directly onto a website page, you’ll want to remove the embedded styles by passing the copied text through the Squarespace plain text editor or, for Weebly, by pasting it into a plain text editor such as Notepad before pasting it onto a page. You’ll lose any embedded links with this technique, so you’ll want to make a note of the full URLs and where they were used, so you can reinstate them on your website page. I explain more about using plain text in this blog.
Mistake 2: Bolding headings instead of using styles
When you want to make a heading stand out on your website, it can be tempting to add boldface styling directly to the text. However, this way of styling doesn’t carry over to other headings on your site. If you change the styling for the heading element as a site-wide change, all headings look the same and your website looks more consistent. If you decide to change your website template later, you’ll have the added benefit of not having to undo styles that you’ve added to individual headings.
Mistakes that date you
If you grew up in the era of Dick and Jane readers as I did, then you know that we’ve had to keep up with a lot of changes in what is considered proper business writing. The mistakes in this category come from well-meaning writers who were taught that business writing followed these rules. Keep up with the times by avoiding these mistakes.
Mistake 3: Using two spaces after a period
If you learned to type in the days before computers, you learned that two spaces always followed the end of a sentence. (More about the possible historical reasons for that here.)
These days, we use just one space at the end of a sentence. If you’re still prone to making this error, do a search-and-replace to tighten up your text.
Mistake 4: Indenting the first line of paragraphs
Although indenting still has its place in other written content, on websites we use block format, in which each paragraph is fully aligned on the left edge. Use double line spacing by pressing the Enter key twice to create a separation between paragraphs.
Mistakes that make reading harder
With website visitors under more and more pressure to scan and rush to gather information, you want to make your website text as easy to read as possible.
Mistake 5: Using an ampersand (&) instead of the word "and"
I often see the use of an ampersand (the & symbol) in place of the word “and” on websites. I think writers think it looks more attractive or sophisticated, but the truth is that it makes reading and scanning your website content harder. Unless the company name officially uses an ampersand, such as AT&T, you’ll want to use the word “and.” The professionals agree: both AP Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style urge you to spell it out. The one exception might be an artistic decision to create an image with an ampersand to achieve a certain look, but in general drop the Shift+7 symbol in favor of the three letters a-n-d.
Mistake 6: Writing a full URL in a sentence
To add a link to a website other than your own, you probably know that you use the format http:// or https:// with the domain name, such as https://kerryathompson.com to create the link. Including such a long link in a sentence makes the text difficult to read. The preferred streamlined way to create text links is to write text that stands in for the link and then provide the full URL as a link associated with the text. You can pull out a word in a sentence to stand in for the link (as I did with AP Stylebook in the previous paragraph) or you can abbreviate the website name in a shortened form, such as kerryathompson.com. By the way, I always make these links to external websites open in a new window so that visitors don’t leave my website entirely.
Mistakes that reveal you’ve rushed proofreading
This group of mistakes will make your website content look sloppy. And if you’re too busy to produce carefully proofread content, your customers may think you’ll rush their work too. Take a little time to go beyond spell checking to assure yourself that your content is ready for publishing.
Mistake 7: Using words that aren't misspelled, but are incorrect
It’s always a good idea to spell check your website content, but you may have correctly spelled words that are the wrong word choice for a sentence (think “their, there, and they’re”). Even if you have spell checked, always read through your text to spot inadvertently misused words or typos that a spell check didn’t catch.
Mistake 8: Being inconsistent about your commas in lists
There are two accepted ways professional writers use a comma in written lists. The Chicago Manual of Style tells us to use a comma before the last word in a series (as in “this, that, and the other”), which is also known as using the Oxford or serial comma. This is my preferred style because as a technical writer with IBM I followed The Chicago Manual of Style, so I’m used to it and I like the extra clarity of that last comma. If my clients don’t have a preference, I opt for this style. AP Stylebook says to lose the last comma. This style is followed by journalists and many online writers, so occasionally I have a client who prefers to skip the last comma. The bottom line is that either style is correct, but decide which style you’re going to use and maintain that style throughout your website content and blog posts. If you go gaga over grammar, you might like this Wikipedia article, which has a detailed explanation about who prefers the serial comma and who doesn’t.
Mistake 9: Leaving in extra spaces
A mistyped extra space between words is usually picked up by spell checking, but I see it missed often enough that it’s worth mentioning. Extra spaces can be easy to miss if they fall at the end of a line. Scan through your text, previewing it at different sizes, to be sure you don’t have extra spaces.
Mistake 10: Leaving in extraneous words
This is a mistake caused by forgetting to remove a word in a phrase that you've rewritten by highlighting the text and replacing it with new text. I find myself making this mistake with text that I’ve edited multiple times, especially if I’ve read through it several times and am feeling rushed. Re-reading your text slowly one more time after you think you’re done will generally reveal any leftover words.
Your website is the primary marketing tool you use to attract potential clients. Although you never know how much of your website content will be read, avoiding these mistakes will make your website look professional. You don’t want potential clients to be distracted by any flaws; you want them to find reading what you have to say informative, interesting, and reassuring, prompting them to go from potential client to actual client. And if you need help with the writing or editing of your site, that’s what I’m here for. Check out my Services page for more information on all the ways I can help.
I offer stress-free design and writing help to get your website launched or updated on Squarespace and Weebly. If you’re struggling to get your website going for your new business or passion project, see the Services page for the types of help I offer and then take me up on a free 30-minute no-obligation consultation. I’d love to hear from you. - Kerry