Words that Work: Search Words Versus Website Words

3 minute read
Gerry McGovern avatar
Do people search using basic, simple, old words? But when they arrive at a website are they moved to action by more emotive, sophisticated words?The Web is the land of the word. Getting your words exactly right can mean the difference between success and failure.Frank Luntz is a bit of a hero to US Republicans. Even opponents such as John Kerry recognize his talent, stating that Luntz "understands the power of words to move public opinion and communicate big ideas."Luntz has ten rules for great communication, which he details in his recent book, Words That Work. He summarizes his rules with ten words: "simplicity, brevity, credibility, consistency, novelty, sound, aspiration, visualization, questioning, and context".Your website is dealing with a highly impatient customer. You need to get your words exactly right, because otherwise lots of those impatient customers will hit that Back button.The right choice of words is vital to effective communication. "By almost two-to-one, Americans say we are spending too much on "welfare" (42 percent) rather than too little (23 percent)," Luntz writes. "Yet an overwhelming 68 percent of Americans think we are spending too little on "assistance to the poor," versus a mere 7 percent who think we're spending too much."Luntz lists a range of words that have gone out of fashion, as well as the words that have replaced them. They are:WAS: Used car -- IS NOW: Pre-owned vehicleWAS: Secretary -- IS NOW: Administrative assistantWAS: Housewife -- IS NOW: Stay-at-home-mumWAS: Stewardess -- IS NOW: Flight attendantWAS: Waiter/Waitress -- IS NOW: ServerWAS: Caretaker -- IS NOW: Estate managerWAS: Garbage removal -- IS NOW: Sanitation servicesWAS: Gay marriage -- IS NOW: Same-sex marriageWAS: Impotence -- IS NOW: E.D./Erectile dysfunctionHowever, according to Overture, in December 2006, 730,958 people searched for "used car," while only 949 searched for "pre-owned vehicle." Nearly 73,000 people searched for "housewife" (122,000 searched for "desperate housewife"), while only 43 searched for stay-at-home-mum. Over 30,000 searched for "gay marriage" while 19,000 searched for " same-sex marriage".While about 17,000 people search for "impotence", over 100,000 search for "erectile dysfunction," proving that some words are indeed falling into disuse, even from a search point of view.I am not trying to question Frank Luntz's findings here. I'm sure he has done his research. What I am wondering is whether when we search, we revert back to older, more basic words. Words that might be cruder, shorter and simpler.I will search for a cheap hotel but when I arrive at a website, I don't really want to see a big heading saying:WELCOME TO OUR DIRT CHEAP HOTELI'd much prefer to see a heading such as:A BOUTIQUE HOTEL FOR THE BUDGET-MINDEDBecause, you know, I'm not cheap; I'm just budget-minded.The words that people search with may not always be the words they would like to read when they arrive at a webpage. Search needs to be understood as a particular type of mental behaviour. Once the customer arrives at a webpage, a whole new set of words may kick in. One set of words to bring customers to your website-another set to get them to complete a task.---Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.