Words are the building blocks of every website. But then, words
are the building blocks of modern civilization.
Presidential candidate, Barack Obama, was recently accused of
being all words and no action, of being lots of rhetoric and
little substance. Here’s how he replied:
“Don’t tell me words don’t matter. ‘I have a dream.’ Just words?
‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are
created equal.’ Just words? ‘We have nothing to fear but fear
itself’ -just words? Just speeches?’ (Obama plagiarized his
friend, Deval Patrick, for these lines, but that’s not the topic
of this piece.)
Words matter. They always have. They always will. On the Web,
words matter even more. The right words.
The problem is that there are lots and lots of words. For your
website, there are a small set of words that really matter, and
then there are an awful lot of words that don’t.
How do you judge if a particular word matters or not? You don’t.
It’s not for you to judge. It’s for your customers to judge.
Customers are highly impatient. They search and scan a page
quickly, looking for their right words.
You might want to communicate about “climate change”, but if
customers are searching for “global warming”, you’re out of
luck. You may have “tight” jeans for sale but if customers
prefer “skinny” jeans, you’re out of luck. You might have great
“low fares” but if customers want “cheap flights”, you’re out of
If you want to design a new website, the first thing you should
decide on is the words. Not the graphical design, not the
software. No. The words must come first. Once you get the words
right, you are half-way there.
But the words don’t come first, do they? Most websites are
driven from a technical or graphical design perspective. The
words are hardly even considered. The people who wrote the words
were brought in late on in the process and asked to fill in an
already agreed-upon structure and design with some words.
Words are simply not respected. Does it really matter if it’s:
“Buy” or “Buy Now”
“More information” or “Request a demo”
“Find a dealer” or “Buy: shop locator”
“Login” or “Logon”
“Fleet” or “Vehicles”
It does. It really does matter. It matters hugely. It matters
enormously. I have seen situations where sales have been doubled
by changing a couple of words. (Nothing else on the website was
In most web teams people who work with words get very little
respect. But if you work with words, you are literally sitting
on a goldmine. The problem is you are selling it like a
Most web writers think that their job is about writing articles.
But it must be much broader and deeper than that. What is the
navigation of the website made up of? Words. What are the links
on the website made up of? Words. What are the applications on
the website made up of? Words.
Nothing can work on the Web without written words. No page. No
link. No classification, navigation or menu. No application or