Have you ever signed up to one of those online dating sites? It took me a couple of hours one wet Sunday afternoon to complete the profile, and in the time it took me to run to the loo, the site searched for my closest matches. Much to my disappointment, it found only one – one match in the entire world – and he lived in a different time zone. What did I learn from that? That I’m really fussy – like I needed an online dating site to tell me that!

When you browse dating sites it’s the photographs that catch your attention first. You use them to help you get rid of people who simply have no physical appeal. Then you work your way through your own personal checklist, eliminating, for example, smokers, meat-eaters, the ones that sound a little too good to be true. After that, it’s all down to what they say about themselves – do they have a sense of humour? Do they sound authentic? Are they literate? Can they spell? “Well, that would be important to you,” I hear you say. “You’re a proofreader. A fussy proofreader.” But it seems I’m not alone.

Whether or not potential dates can string a proper sentence together is hugely important. Research conducted by eDatingTipsAdvice.com across several hundred online dating profiles revealed that top of the list of offensive (their word, not mine) errors in profiles was “not checking spelling and grammar” (51%). The website’s author comments:

I find it a complete turn-off reading profiles that [have] loads of misspelled words. One is a mistake, two or three is sloppy, four or more says I’m a complete slob. Why? Because all you have to do is tick a button and it will check your work for you. If you can’t manage to do that, then your reader will wonder what other simple tasks you find difficult.

Fifty-one per cent of dating-site users reported that making spelling and grammar errors was worse than using a poor profile photograph or giving the wrong gender preference (!!). And so it is when businesses are looking to start a relationship with new clients. Client WLTM business. Must be good at what you do, … and, er, be able to spell optimisation guest Imagine a business dating website – one that matched clients with the right business; one that found the ideal clients for your business. What would your online profile be like?

The chances are you’d want to impress prospective new business partners with your wonderful product list or portfolio, a list of clients you’ve worked with, the benefits to new customers of working with your company. All that is important, of course. But it’ll count for nothing if it contains spelling and grammatical errors. They smack of laziness at best, incompetence at worst.

Back in July this year (2011), Charles Duncombe, an online entrepreneur, made headline news when he pronounced that poor spelling was costing the UK millions in lost online sales. What made Duncombe’s statement so alarming was the fact that typos and poor grammar could be seen to have a measurably negative effect on a business’s bottom line. Just like the online dating-site users, potential clients are likely to decide that if you don’t bother to ensure that the spelling and grammar on your website is correct, then you probably don’t pay attention to detail in other areas too. Getting your spelling and grammar right is the least that’s expected of you – no one passes comment when you get it right; on its own, it won’t win you new business – but when you get it wrong, you radically increase the chances of being written off by new clients, and risk undermining any trust you’ve built up with existing ones.

Recently, a Google webmaster was asked the question: does spelling and grammar matter when evaluating content and site quality in Google search? The fact is, he says, more reputable sites do have better spelling and grammar. So not only does poor writing quality affect customers on your site, it might also be stopping them from finding you in the first place. I’m not going to finish with a list of proofreading tips – the web is already groaning under the weight of them – but what I do want to say is this: if content writing is your business, you need to make proofreading part of your regular workflow (being fussy is not a bad thing!).

If you create sites for clients, build the cost of a professional proofreader into your quotation – at the end of the day, your clients’ sites reflect on you too. If content writing isn’t your core business but you rely on the written word to communicate with clients, hire a professional. We’re worth our weight in gold.

Articles mentioned in this post:
Proofread and spellcheck” (eDatingTipsAdvice.com)
Spelling mistakes ‘cost millions’ in lost online sales” by Sean Coughlan
Does spelling and grammar matter when evaluating content and site quality in Google search?” (YouTube)
Should you hire someone to proofread your blog posts” by Michael Hyatt

Related:You and your client are dating: first impressions mean everything

Also take a peek at this Google Webmasters video from @mattcutts


[edit 15/3/12 - add google video]

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Averill Buchanan

Averill Buchanan is a freelance editor, proofreader and indexer, and lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She is a member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) and the Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders and Indexers (AFEPI), where lots of other professionals can be found (there’s no excuse!). She tweets as @AverillB and for @TheSfEP. - Find Averill on G+