The pronouns you use on your website matter

I love me phrase handwritten on the school blackboardYou matter; not just you, personally, but the word “you”. It is significant. Yet much of the Internet uses “we”. “We do this”, “we do that” are the kind of phrases you see all over the web. Indeed you might think that the Internet is weed all over.

Focusing on you visitor or customer is a well-worn mantra, of course. We all know that we do better if we focus on their needs. Oh bother, let’s write that again: you know that you do better when you focus on their needs. See, that’s different?

Imagine for a moment that you are a woman at a speed dating event. There you are hoping to find the date of your dreams and a line of hapless men are waiting to chat to you for their three minutes in the limelight. The first six men tell you all about themselves. “I’m an astronaut with a Ferrari,” they say in a bid to impress you. Later, along comes a seemingly ordinary chap whose opening gambit is “Hi, are you enjoying this evening? I hope you are having fun. Tell me more about you.” After three minutes, you know diddly squat about this chap, but he’s the one most likely to get the date. Why? Because he has shown an interest in you and not been self-obsessed.

There’s also another seemingly hidden message in the personal pronouns that are self-focused. It suggests that all is not right psychologically.

New research shows that people who tend to use “I” and talk from a self-focused perspective tend to be depressed and suffer from psychological distress. In other words, the personal pronouns are a signal that they are not in the best of psychological shape.

Of course, on the receiving end we will be subconsciously aware of that because we will no doubt have associated the self-obsessed individuals we come into contact with as people who are “not quite right”.

That may well mean that the perception of personal pronouns generally is more negative than those which are inclusive and focused on the audience.

You know it makes sense to remove as much of the “I” and “We” from your website as possible. Now there’s a subconscious reason why it is important too – you may well be signalling to your readers some suggestion of psychological distress. And that’s not good for business.

To find out how well your website does in terms of self versus customer focus, use the We-We Calculator.

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Graham Jones
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+
Graham Jones

@grahamjones

Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist, professional speaker and author of 32 books who helps businesses understand the online behaviour of their customers
Thought of you tonight @IainDale I went to see Chess. I only have to go another dozen times to catch up with you. Brilliant show..! - 3 hours ago
Graham Jones
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