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As someone who writes for a living, reading content online (especially message boards and comment sections) can be a cringe-inducing affair. But I always refrain from acting as the Internet Grammar Police, because nobody likes that guy.
Now, however, it has been verified by science-types who own beakers and graduated cylinders and such that fixing bad grammar and spelling in product reviews improves sales. And we’ve known for a while that content that’s considered more reputable by Google features better spelling and grammar. It may even be part of Google’s ranking algorithm now or in the near future.
So now that we know grammar can help your SEO and sales, does that mean you have to write dry, robotic product descriptions and other site copy that reads like a textbook? No! I always recommend that site copy for e-commerce should be conversational. You don’t have to adhere to the most arcane or outdated rules — you can end sentences with prepositions rather than needlessly contort them, and even use split infinitives (“to boldly go” is the most popular example).
Just following some grammar basics will help improve your online store’s credibility with shoppers and search engines alike. Here are a few common mistakes to watch out for, compiled from many years of hard internetting.
There vs. their vs. they’re
I get it — homophones are tough, especially when you’re writing in a hurry. For quick reference:
- There: An adverb that represents a place or indicates existence. Examples: “I want to go to there.”, “There is a new version available now.”
- Their: The possessive of “they.” Example: “That’s their main benefit.”
- They’re: The contraction of “they are.” Example: “They’re the best around!”
Your vs. you’re
More tricky homophones.
- Your: The possessive of “you.” Example: “Your life will never be the same after buying this amazing product.”
- You’re: The contraction of “you are.” Example: “You’re not going to believe how easy it is.”
Its vs. it’s
This is one of the reasons people hate learning English. It establishes a pretty great rule — in this case that an apostrophe indicates a personal possessive (“David’s blog post”, etc.) — then shamelessly breaks it for no good reason. When it comes to “it”, the apostrophe only indicates a contraction.
- Its: The possessive of “it.” Example: This camera is known for its easy-to-use features.”
- It’s: The contraction of “it is.” Example: “It’s going to be your favorite new thing.”
Complement vs. compliment
This happens a lot on e-commerce sites when recommending additional products.
- Complement: To go well with something. Example: “This will complement your existing collection.”
- Compliment: To praise. Example: “Recommending my store is the highest compliment you can pay me.”
Peek vs. peak
Although if everybody got this right, there’d be no need for one of my favorite Twitter accounts, Stealth Mountain.
- Peek: A glimpse or preview. Example: “Reply to this email to get a sneak peek.”
- Peak: A pointed projection or the highest level. Example: “The peak of the mountain is 14,000 feet.”
Lose vs. loose
- Lose: To not be able to find something, to suffer a loss. Example: “Grammarians often lose their minds on the internet.”
- Loose: The opposite of tight. Example: “Make sure the screw isn’t loose.”
“And I” vs. “and me”
Despite what most people semi-remember from elementary school, you shouldn’t always use “and I”.
- And I: Used when you are one of the sentence subjects. Example: “You and I need to talk.”
- And me: Used when you are one of the sentence objects. Example: “Do you want to have a meeting with Walt and me?”
When in doubt, remove the other object in the sentence and see what sounds correct when said aloud. “Do you want to have a meeting with me?” seems correct, right? While “Me need to talk.” sounds pretty goofy.
This is an easy one: “alot” is not a word, so you never have to worry about when to use it. Example: “This mistake is made a lot online.”
Something can’t be “very unique”
This drives English teachers and old school copy editors insane. Unique means, literally, one of a kind. So there aren’t any levels to it: one thing can’t be “more unique” than another, etc.
An apostrophe doesn’t make a word plural
Just a plain old “s” usually does that. Example:
“These are the best sprocket’s you’ll ever own.” These are the best sprockets you’ll ever own.”
That vs. who
Use “who” to refer to people and “that” to refer to things. Examples: “People who use our products are happier and healthier.”, “Products that incorporate this feature are easier to use.”
Skip the …
The ellipsis, or “dot-dot-dot”, has for some reason become a very popular punctuation recently, but it’s almost always used incorrectly. It’s meant to be used to indicate the omission of words from a quote, or sometimes to indicate someone trailing off at the end of a sentence.
Most people, however, use it incorrectly as a pause. If you’re looking to insert a pause into a sentence, you’re much better off going with a comma, colon or semicolon (depending on sentence structure), or — my favorite — an em dash.
Don’t double space after periods
Okay, this isn’t really a grammar rule, but double spacing after a period looks weird and is just wrong. If you ever took a typing class, you probably learned to double space from your military-strict teacher, and now PTSD prevents you from even considering single spaces.
The truth is, double spacing after a period is a holdover from the days of typewriters, when fonts were spaced differently than today. Will using a single space after a period improve SEO and sales? Probably not. But it will let everyone know that you’re totally hip. And will also make me feel better.
Of course, if you discover any spelling or grammar errors in this post, those are typos. Any grammar mistakes you see a lot online, or have a question about how something should be worded? Please leave a comment!
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