Keep It Simple Or, Don't Obfuscate Purported Outcomes

I have a bone to pick with Reader’s Digest. This is a dangerous thing, of course, as Reader’s Digest has consistently shown itself to be one of the savviest survivors and marketers of all time.If you have a web site and wish to communicate clearly, Nick Usborne has some advice: Keep it simple. Don’t say “amicable” when you mean “friendly.” Don’t say “timorous” when you mean “timid.” Does he make himself perfectly lucid? Hey, why obfuscate your purported outcomes?

But my complaint isn’t about its marketing – it’s about one of their columns titled, “It Pays to Enrich your Word Power.”If you have a web site and wish to communicate clearly, Nick Usborne has some advice: Keep it simple. Don’t say “amicable” when you mean “friendly.” Don’t say “timorous” when you mean “timid.” Does he make himself perfectly lucid? Hey, why obfuscate your purported outcomes?

The thing is, I think they’re dead wrong. If I had my way, I’d rid the dictionary of every word ever featured in that column.

Here are some examples from one of its recent issues.

In the place of saying “friendly,” RD suggests “amicable.” In the place of saying “clear,” it suggests “lucid.” Instead of saying “timid,” it suggests “timorous.”

Do you get the idea? RD takes a perfectly good, short word and suggests you replace it with something that fewer people will understand.

This may be a good plan if your purpose in life is to show your tremendous vocabulary off to people at cocktail parties and bore them half to death in the process. But if you have a web site and wish to communicate clearly, my advice is to keep it simple.

Hey, why obfuscate your purported outcomes?

The problem of “obfuscation” is not confined to words. It’s there with phrases, too.

Why say, “adverse weather conditions” when you can say “bad weather”?

Why say, “they enjoy recreational activities” when you can say “they like games”?

Why say, “perhaps we could explore the mutually beneficial advantages of a closer relationship” when you can say “let’s be friends”?

If this is beginning to sound a little like an English language class, I don’t apologize. Not one bit. Because this language is the tool that most of us depend on to open and close a sale on our web sites. And if we don’t use this tool simply and clearly, we’ll lose thousands of customers.

Recently, I scared a grown man with the following observation.

“Imagine that 10 thousand people arrive at your web site, all at once. This is the first time they have seen your site and they’re all qualified prospects.

“Within the first four seconds, seven thousand people hit the Back button because your site has failed to let them know what’s there for them.

“Within the next two seconds, one thousand more people hit the Back button because they can’t see what they’re supposed to do next.

“In the next 10 seconds, fifteen hundred people have moved through three different pages of your site, got lost, lost interest and left.

“Of the five hundred who remain, four hundred and ninety eight find their way to the order page, can’t understand the ordering process and leave.

“The remaining two — your mother and brother — each buy one item that results in a gross profit to you of $3.95.”

There are many ways to lose this many visitors in such a short period. But I think the major reason is that people don’t write clearly.

Don’t believe me? Well, those of us who have worked in direct marketing offline know better. Changing just one or two words in an ad headline can impact response by 10, 20, 30 percent or more. A record for me came in the P.S. of a letter, when we changed one word and increased response by 40 percent.

Scared yet?

If one word can make that amount of difference, you may want to take a real close look at your home page and every page behind it.

Use the simple words we can all understand instantly. write simple sentences. Look at every line and ask yourself, “Is there a simpler way of saying this?”

When it comes to web sites that sell, it really doesn’t pay to enrich your word power.

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