With all of this talk about content, don't you think it's time to have a frank discussion about grammar? Our Web sites are our online store fronts -- our online images. If our sites are full of grammar errors, what does that say about the professionalism of our businesses?

The Internet tends to be a more relaxed atmosphere, so should we expect to see a more relaxed use of grammar online?

No. Just because the Internet is a different publishing medium, and just because we've gotten a little lax in our editing or forgotten some of our grammar rules, that doesn't make it correct.

It's time to pay attention to our own Web pages and relearn some of the basic grammar rules that we may have forgotten along the way.

Let's look at what I consider to be some of the top grammar errors that haunt Web pages:

1. it's = it is

Example: It's perfectly okay to bring your dog to work at Google. (correct)
Example: It's goal is to increase productivity by 100 percent by the year 2007. (incorrect)

In example #2, replace it's with it is. It is goal is to increase productivity . . .

Doesn't work, so you know it's wrong. This is one of the most common errors I see, so comb through your Web pages for this one.

2. Web site (or page) vs. web site/page vs. Website/website (page)

The Chicago Manual of Style states that Web sites and Web pages are correct. After all, we're referring to the World Wide Web, so Web should always be capitalized. The book uses Web pages (sites) as two words.

Webster's Dictionary agrees with Chicago.

However, the online version of Chicago states, "But generally, I would recommend Web site for formal writing, but website for informal writing or friendly writing. Unless, of course, you prefer Web site even when you're being friendly."

Now let's look at it from a different slant. How do people search?

Capitalization doesn't matter, because the major engines aren't case sensitive. However, if you're in an industry where your keywords contain Web site or Web page, you may want to use both variations (one and two words) on your pages, because people certainly search in both ways, no matter which is correct.

Think about your target audience and how they're searching. After all, you want a professional Web site, but your ultimate goal is to sell your goods and services.
TIP: The titles of books should be italicized.

3. Periods and commas: do they go inside or outside of quotation marks, or does it depend on the sentence?

Example: She said, "Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks, just like this." (correct)
Example: This is "incorrect", because the comma is outside of the quotation marks. (incorrect) It should be: This is "correct," because the comma is . . .

4. E-mail vs. email

E-mail stands for electronic mail. According to Chicago, e-mail should contain the hyphen, and it doesn't have to be capitalized (E-mail).

If e-mail is a keyword for you, you may want to include email on your pages as well. Again, remember your target audience and the words they will be using when searching for your products and services. You will probably find your audience uses email far more often than e-mail.

5. SEOs or SEO's

This is one of those rules where I ran into some contradictory information. In The Wordwatcher's Guide to Good Writing & Grammar by Morgan S. Freeman, he states:

"How to form the plural of letters and numbers is a stylistic decision. There are no rights and wrongs, merely eye appeal. Some writers would write the plural of O.K. with no apostrophe, and follow suit with the plural of letters (the three Rs) and numbers (the 1930s). Others think the apostrophe makes for clarity (the three R's, the 1930's). Consider 'Hooray for the YMCAs.' Take your pick."

Chicago thinks differently. They believe that capital letters used as words that contain no interior periods can be made plural by simply adding an s. However, lowercase letters do require an apostrophe and an s.

Every source agrees that if interior periods are used, an apostrophe is required, like Ph.D.'s.

My recommendation? Do whatever works for you and be consistent. Personally, my choice is SEOs.

6. Spelling spot check

  • receive (remember: i before e except after c)
  • all right (alright is not a word)
  • category
  • dependent
  • a lot (should always be two words)
  • cannot (preferred way to spell)
Visit yourDictionary.com for 100 of the most commonly misspelled words.

7. Hyphens

This is a confusing one -- whether to hyphenate compound words, combine the words as one word, or use them as two words. The best place to go for answers is the dictionary. Hyphens also depend on readability and trends, such as the trend from on line to on-line to online.

compound adjectives + noun -- hyphenate when the adjectives appear before a noun but not if used after

Example: The newsletter contains the most up-to-date material in the SEO industry. (up to date is hyphenated because it is used as an adjective modifying the noun material)

Example: The material in the newsletter is kept up to date. (There's no noun following up to date, so it shouldn't be hyphenated.)

8. Additional spot check

Their vs. there vs. they're -- Their is the possessive version (their house -- not they're house); they're stands for they are; and there is a filler word.

Example: There goal is to give they're members the best online experience. (incorrect)

Example: Their goal is to give their members the best . . . (correct)

You vs. your vs. you're -- Using the search function in your word processing program, search for you and make sure you didn't mean your.

Example: If your looking for the latest industry news, visit his blog. (incorrect)

Example: If you're looking for the latest industry news . . . (correct)

9. Singular vs. plural (getting close to ad nauseam by now)

Data vs. datum

Data is plural; datum is the singular version. So technically, if you're talking about multiple pieces of information, you'll need to use a plural verb:

Example: The research data are being collected as we speak. (correct)

If you're talking about one piece of data, the correct form is datum, the singular version. Example: The datum shows that the Yahoo! search engine visited the site during the last twenty-four hours. (correct)

However, popular usage has come into play. Because data is considered a mass noun, it is now being treated as either singular or plural except in formal writing and in the sciences.

Example: The research data is being collected. (correct)

10. Commas

When you read your content out loud, do you naturally pause at certain places? The best rule of thumb is to insert a comma in those places. Grammar can actually be quite logical.

Let's look at some common uses for commas:

a. To separate words in a list (apples, oranges, bananas, and grapes). Notice that I used a comma before the and. Grammar sources such as Chicago strongly recommend inserting the last comma. Here's an example from Chicago: "I want no ifs, ands, or buts."

b. Introductory phrases and words. Use commas after introductory phrases and words, especially if a slight pause is needed.

Example: At the end of the day, he left the office.
Example: Therefore, the next SES Conference is in December.

c. To separate compound sentences. Use commas to separate compound sentences, which are sentences that could be divided into two separate and complete sentences. Example: Search engine optimization is both art and science, and it requires both creativity and technology to be successful.

NOTE: I used seven different grammar books as reference guides when writing this article. None of the information is listed here without a reference from one or more of those guides. I highly recommend that all content writers purchase a grammar book. I use The Chicago Manual of Style. You can even subscribe to the online version at http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org.

A free 30-day trial is available.

In Conclusion

The Internet represents a lot of things to a lot of people. In our informal areas like forums and newsgroups, we don't need to worry so much about grammar and spelling. We're simply chatting among friends.

But on our Web sites, our online store fronts, we must give a professional image, in my opinion. Let's do our best to make sure our sites are as free from grammar and spelling errors as possible.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.




Robin Nobles is the Co-Director of Training of Search Engine Workshops, where they teach "hands on" search engine marketing workshops in locations across the globe. They also provide a networking community for SEOs called The World Resource Center for Search Engine Marketers and have expanded their workshops to Europe with Search Engine Workshops UK.








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