Facebook “proves” most business websites are poorly written

Erasing your memoryEvery day tens of thousands of words pass before your very eyes – how many do you remember? The problem with almost everything we see online is that it is largely unremarkable and unmemorable. For businesses this is a real problem. If people cannot recall what you have written they are unlikely to act on it. In other words, triggering the memory of your visitors is essential if your online business is to succeed.

For instance, imagine you have a great long sales page in front of you. You scroll down to the bottom – can you remember what was at the top? If you can there is a greater chance of you pressing that “buy now” button. But if your memory is not triggered then you don’t really know what that “buy now” button is for.

Similarly, imagine you read a short web page offering you some kind of service, but you don’t want to buy it just yet. You close the web page and go back to the rest of your work. Two days later how is your memory doing for that website? The chances are you can remember you saw something related to your interest, but can’t recall which website or anything particular about it. That’s a “fail” for the website trying to get your business.

And what about when you are in conversation with colleagues who need a solution to an issue? You know you saw a website that would be of real help to them, but your recollection is vague.

In any of these instances the failure is not in our memory, but in the websites’ ability to make their recall easy. Most business websites appear to prevent us remembering anything from them.

But why? Well, a new study on the memorability of social media posts has provided a clue. It turns out, according to research conducted at the University of California San Diego, people find it much easier to recall Facebook posts which are poorly written than “proper English” in other settings. It seems that “good writing” is less easily memorable than conversational English.

This is no real surprise. Conversational language was developed in our evolutionary history to enable us to communicate without any memory aid. So conversational language had to be memorable, otherwise it failed. Yet written language is always something we can come back to, hence it developed in such a way that it didn’t need to be so immediately memorable.

The problem is, written language was developed at a time in our developmental history when writing was rare. Nowadays we are surrounded by millions of words every day – and the formality of written language is showing it cannot cope so well under those circumstances.

Business writing is even worse. There is this theory that business writing “has” to be formal and “correct”. But that makes it unmemorable.

What this Facebook study shows – once again – is that businesses which focus on “proper writing” are likely to do less well online than those who write their websites in conversational language.

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