Tag Archives: grammar

This ugly af writing tool is actually a secret weapon

A brand’s website is its storefront. So what does that make the headline… the window dressing? The display case? The sales tag? The devil is in the details, especially when it comes to the presentation and display of a brand’s message.

It’s a lot of responsibility, which is a trait I’ve never been known for, instead outsourcing the headline writing task to the editors. Well, no more. Now I’m the Head of Content at AirHelp, which means I’m the brand equivalent to the website’s Editor-in-Chief. I’ve got to say that it really is lonely at the top. I have no more editors to turn to. So, naturally I turned to the Internet.

Take one: Editorial headline writing 

The Columbia University headline guide tops the SEO search and therefore naturally became the only page I used for reference, but gawd is it boring af. I mean look at it. It reads like a undergrad curriculum. It uses words like “imperative,” which any good journalist knows is 1.) an adjective and is therefore lazy sentence structure and 2.) not likely to please the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test. It makes three good points, though.

  • Headlines are usually written as an afterthought (true)
  • Readers look at headlines and photos first (true)
  • It must be correct, “easily understood,” interesting and set the tone of the article (non-negotiable requirement)

Take two: Advertorial headline writing

K, well, we’re not amateurs here so let’s move beyond the basics and into the real shit … the Advanced Marketing Institute’s Headline AnalyzerThis site could not be more ugly … or rude. It’s algorithm straight up judges your headline writing skills so hard and without empathy that it is now my most favorite tool to play. Here’s how it works.  

  1. Enter the headline into the text box (20 words or less, obviously)
  2. Select your industry category
  3. Submit your headline for analysis

Recently, the AirHelp tech dudes hosted a hackathon and the video that came out of it is so, so good that I knew the responsibility (ugh, this word) of selling this window display to the public was all mine. I tried 15 options before settling in on “Tears and caffeine are the two ingredients to a successful hackathon.” My score was a 45.45% and I officially ranked as a professional copywriter as I tapped into the blend of Intellectual and Spiritual. Hellz yeah.

Take three: Professional headline writing

This tool tests your resilience. It requires you to be a mix of both editorial and advertorial and I’m determined to beat it at its own game. The score indicates your headline as a percentage of Emotional Marketing Value Words (EMV)

It’s also where it gets super judgy, explaining, “Most professional copywriters’ headlines will have 30% – 40% EMV Words in their headlines, while the most gifted copywriters will have 50%-75% EMV words.Essentially, if your headline is less than 30% your writing is terrible. To put that into perspective, the English language contains approximately 20% EMV words – I’ve ranked at 10% more than once.

The ideal headline comprises three predominant emotions: Intellectual, Spiritual and Empathetic. Intellectual impact words are best aimed at people in the fields of education, law, medicine, research and politics. Spiritual words are for New Age and health-related markets as well as women, children and other ninnies. Empathetic words bring out profound and strong positive emotional reactions.

Just in case you were wondering – this headline scored a solid 60% EMV words. I’m officially gifted.

 

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10 marketing email phrases to avoid

The Grammar Gram is back. Time after time, I find myself making the same edits to emails across the board – old habits die hard. We all know by now that brevity is key, so if you won’t take my word for the below, perhaps you’ll take Inc. Magazine’s tips?

They say marketers can increase the likelihood of getting a response to emails by avoiding the following trite and ineffective phrases. I agree and disagree with some of the below, so here goes:

  1. “I hope you are well…”

The idea behind this phrase is to express positive concern for the customers so that they will think kindly on whatever you’re about to propose. However, unless you’re actually friends with somebody, inquiring about his or her health rings false.

Hannah’s take: I start most every single one of my personal emails with this line. I would never use it in a marketing email, however, because it’s a waste of precious, precious time and space.

  1. “I am writing to you because…”

These are just wasted words. Customers already know that you’re writing to them with some purpose in mind. Rather than pointing out that you’re writing for a reason, jump immediately to the reason.

Hannah’s take: Agreed. This goes along with my most-hated remarketing email the begins like this – “I wanted to check in with you and see if anything has changed since my last outreach…” If I were the recipient, I’d already be moving my mouse to the delete button. How about instead replace it with, “Have you given a second glance to the materials I sent over a couple of days ago?” “We were wondering if what’s holding you back could be reversed with …” or “Given your expertise, we believe your attendance at the event would be invaluable to …”

  1. “In today’s business world…”

Sentences that begin this way always end in a platitude, like “managers must be cost-conscious.” Telling customers something that’s painfully obvious doesn’t make you seem like an expert. It makes you seem like you think the customer is stupid.

Hannah’s take: I can’t summarize better than the above, but the good news is I rarely see this! Side note: Editorializing (where you’re gratuitously offering an opinion on a matter for which you’re not an obvious expert) is different than leading in with a quote or statistic.

  1. “[Our product] reduces costs and increases revenue.”

Every product that’s sold business-to-business makes these exact same promises. Unless you can put numbers on them, talking about cost savings and revenue growth is just so much empty noise.

Hannah’s take: PREACH. Again, I don’t see this very much, if at all, but could you imagine….

  1. “[Our product] enables/empowers users to…”

Either your product does “X” or customers do “X” with your product. The concept of “enabling” or “empowering” customers to do “X” adds extra verbiage and an unnecessary level of abstraction.

Hannah’s take: This kind of verbiage usually happens when the copy of a marketing email is pulled from homepage copy. It should go without saying, but not everyone on the team is a prolific writer and therefore no one’s writing should be taken word-for-word in your emails. More importantly, however, website copy and email marketing copy are in two different media – therefore the messaging needs to target the intended audience.

  1. “[Our product] was designed specifically to…”

The idea behind this phrase is that “if it was designed to do ‘X’ it must be good at doing ‘X.’ ” However, customers don’t care about your design process; they just want to know how things will be better if they buy “X.”

Hannah’s take: Eh, moot point

  1. “I would like to know if you’d be interested…”

As a general rule, customers don’t care about what you want. Stating your wants and needs keeps the focus on you rather than on what you can do for the customer. Your credibility suffers accordingly.

Hannah’s take: While I agree that customers don’t care about “us” or “our company,” I’m not sure if this phrase really means that.

  1. “I am absolutely certain you will enjoy…”

Really? Absolutely? Either you’re exaggerating or you’re insane, because you can’t predict the future and you certainly can’t read the customer’s mind before the customer has even had a chance to think about your offering.

Hannah’s take: CHURCH

  1. “Please don’t hesitate to call me at…”

In addition to being corny, this phrase is presumptuous. It’s like you’re claiming that you’re so busy that normally you’d resent it if the customer called, but in this case you’d be delighted.

Hannah’s take: I don’t agree with the description, but I do agree that we shouldn’t be putting the responsibility of outreach into the hands of the prospect. You must go after them time after time. Do you all agree?

  1. “For more information, visit our website…”

First, your customers know that there’s information on your website, so pointing that fact out is wasting words. Second, most customer are in a constant state of information overload anyway. Just put the URL after your signature.

Hannah’s take: The URL in your signature thing obviously won’t work all the time, but like I’ve said many times people know what to do when you provide them with a link, email address or phone number. It is wasted space and it is kind of treating them like they’re stupid.

Until next time!

11 phrases you’re misusing

We all fall short, including me (however rarely). This morning a friend sent me a link to some of the most misused phrases and I was so excited about it that I couldn’t wait until Friday to send! Please note the first phrase – it’s one of my biggest pet peeves.

I CouB letterldn’t Care Less, (could NOT care less)

“I couldn’t care less” is what you would say to express maximum apathy toward a situation. Basically you’re saying, “It’s impossible for me to care less about this because I have no more care to give. I’ve run out of care.” Using the incorrect “I could care less” indicates that “I still have care left to give—would you like some?”

First-Come, First-Served

The actual phrase is “first-come, first-served,” to indicate that the participants will be served in the order in which they arrive. “First come, first serve” suggests that the first person to arrive has to serve all who follow.

Sneak Peek

A “peek” is a quick look. A “peak” is a mountain top. The correct expression is “sneak peek,” meaning a secret or early look at something.

Shoo-In

“Shoo-in” is a common idiom that means a sure winner. To “shoo” something is to urge it in a direction. As you would shoo a fly out of your house, you could also shoo someone toward victory.

Emigrated From

The verb “emigrate” is always used with the preposition “from,” whereas immigrate is always used with the preposition “to.” To emigrate is to come from somewhere, and to immigrate is to go to somewhere.

Peace of Mind

“Peace” of mind means calmness and tranquility. The expression “piece of mind” actually would suggest doling out sections of brain.

For All Intents and Purposes

The correct phrase, “for all intents and purposes,” originates from English law dating back to the 1500s, which used the phrase “to all intents, constructions, and purposes” to mean “officially” or “effectively.”

By and Large

The phrase “by and large” was first used in 1706 to mean “in general.” It was a nautical phrase derived from the sailing terms “by” and “large.” While it doesn’t have a literal meaning that makes sense, “by and large” is the correct version of this phrase.

Due Diligence

“Due diligence” is a business and legal term that means you will investigate a person or business before signing a contract with them or before formally engaging in a business deal together. You should do your due diligence and investigate business deals fully before committing to them.

Piqued My Interest

To “pique” means to arouse, so the correct phrase here is “piqued my interest,” meaning that my interest was awakened. To say that something “peaked my interest” might suggest that my interest was taken to the highest possible level, but this is not what the idiom is meant to convey.

Case in Point

The correct phrase in this case is “case in point,” which derives its meaning from a dialect of Old French. While it may not make any logical sense today, it is a fixed idiom.

A love letter response to my post …

“It gives me peace of mind to know that our team of producers and marketers will have a resource that is not exclusive or first-come, first-served to conduct ample due diligence on the proper use of idioms that will, for all intents and purposes, improve our overall application of the English vernacular and emigrate from our brutish, rudimentary applications of this form of fixed expression.  By and large I could care less about the grammatical prowess of others but I feel this resource will make us all a shoo-in for impressing our contemporaries and will pique their interest in our events thusly providing a case in point for why the proper use of idioms works like a charm for separating sheep from goats

Idioms are the bees knees, yo!”

Hyphenate descriptive words

You need to hyphenate descriptive words. What does that mean? Let me explain:

I wish I had noise-canceling headphones to drown out all the sales guys at work.

A hyphen is used here (but is not absolutely necessary) because “noise” and “canceling” are acting as a compound modifier, modifying “headphones.” These examples are detailed fully on Grammar Girl.

Hyphens are a “look-it-up” punctuation mark. Though hyphens have several uses, we’re going to focus on how to use hyphens with compound adjectives. Compound adjectives are two or more words that together make an adjective. When they come directly before a noun, they’re known as compound modifiers and usually have a hyphen, like “noise-canceling headphones.” Here are a few more examples:

They had a long-term relationship.

The fire-proof vest proved to be a great life saver.

If the adjectives come after the noun, then they don’t need a hyphen. For example

Their relationship was long term.

Santa’s new vest is fire proof.

These terms need hyphenation in your brochures, web copy and emails because they are always used to describe something:

In-depth

Best-in-class

Buy-in

End-to-End supply chain

Up-to-date

On-site

Top-of-the-line

Hands-on

Step-by-step

Real-time

These terms are one word and not hyphenated:

Firsthand

Unpredictable

Beforehand

Unforeseen

Uninterrupted

Inconsistency

Derail

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda Had Better Grammar Tips

Does anyone even know the definition of an infinitive? It’s one of the most basic forms of a verb “to be, to have, to hold” are some examples. When a verb is accompanied by the “to” they are always supposed to be written together. Oftentimes, we separate the “to” from its verb friend “have” in a way that is incorrect. But, as the degradation of the English continues, this probably won’t be an issue in the future.

Examples:

I have to gently hold the baby. (the infinitive is being split by “gently” and is not correct)

I have to hold the baby gently. (this is correct)

Side note: This isn’t an issue in many foreign languages, such as French, Spanish, etc.,  because they use one word to express the infinitive.

French: Aller (to go)

Spanish: Hablar (to speak)

Here are two more common errors:

Woulda, coulda, shoulda

Most people incorrectly pronounce these as “would of, could of, should of.” Blame Southerners.

Correct: Could have, should have, would have

If I could have seen my mom last night, I would have requested her famous pasta dish for dinner. I should have created a shopping list for her.

Who vs. That

This is simple, but is often written and spoken incorrectly. A way of remembering when to use “who” vs. “that” is to associate who with people and that with nonliving things

Our speakers, who are experts in the industry, will join us at the Summit.

The brochure details the sessions that you can attend at the event.

Cardinal numbers versus Ordinal numbers

Did you know that cardinal numbers under 10 should be spelled out?

Spell out whole numbers up to and including nine (e.g., zero, two). Ex., “At this three-day event, you will have the opportunity to …”

The style guide also suggests spelling out ordinal numbers up to, but not including, 10:

Ordinal numbers: first, second, third … 10th

Prepositions Are Not the Enemy

I know what you’re thinking: There’s nothing Hannah’s not good at.

But, that’s not true – I ended the previous sentence with a preposition, which is a big no-no. Let me tell you a few other grammar mistakes I’m prone to. << also a preposition

I always misspell “sentance.”

  • I don’t know when to use effect versus affect
  • I used the wrong word/spelling last night (I’m in blue)

Now that it’s clear I’m not perfect, let’s dive into prepositions. I could have a series on this, but if you remember one thing, please remember to never end a sentence with a preposition:

Prepositions of Time: at, on, and in

We use at to designate specific times.
The report is due at noon.

We use on to designate days and dates.
My sister is arriving on Monday.
She’s having a party on the Thanksgiving Day.

We use in for nonspecific times during a day, a month, a season, or a year.
She likes to drink black tea  in the morning.
It’s too cold in autumnto bike on the path outside.

Prepositions of Place: at, on, and in

We use at for specific addresses.
John Smith lives at 55 Boretz Road in Durham.

We use on to designate names of streets, avenues, etc.
Her farm is on Allder School Road.

And we use in for the names of towns, counties, states, countries and continents.
She lives in Sanford, North Carolina.

The store is based in Ireland.