Wait, let me guess. You don’t need no stinkin’ grammar, right? You’re a business owner, an SEO, an Internet marketer, or maybe even an SEO content provider. You have other things to do, and more important things to worry about than whether you’re using the objective form of a personal pronoun with a preposition. You’re already busy with the business of running a business. The last thing you need to be concerned with is using good grammar in your blog posts.

Yeah, that’s what a lot of small business owners are saying about SEO, and we all know how shortsighted that is, especially when we’re looking for a menu for that new restaurant that just opened up in town but can’t seem to find it. Without good grammar and spelling, your marketing efforts are only half as effective as they could be. It all comes down to trust.

Internet marketers have been giving conflicting advice for quite a while now. Any savvy Internet marketing professional will tell you that if you’re running a business, you need a blog. It’s an effective way to communicate with your customers and potential clients, and to build authority in your industry.

Then, as soon as you’re convinced you can’t possibly run your business without a blog, another Internet professional comes along and tells you that sure, you need a blog, but you don’t have to bother to write correctly, or worry about spelling. Nah. Blog posts are apparently informal, casual things you dash off while you’re on your lunch break, and if you worry about making them look good by using correct grammar and spelling, you’re a perfectionist and you have a problem.

But we’re not just talking about plain ol’ writing here! We’re talking about SEO copywriting. So let’s put that shoe on another foot, shall we? If you’re going to have a business site, you absolutely must be implementing SEO to be found, to rank, to build your customer base, and to grow your business. Oh, but you don’t really have to do it correctly. Just throw some keywords here and there—the more keywords, the better!—customize your title and description tags, get some backlinks from any site that will give them to you, and voilà! You are now an SEO!

How does that sound? It doesn’t sound very professional or well-optimized, does it? Now you know how an SEO content writer feels whenever someone in Internet marketing says grammar and spelling, elements essential to content creation, don’t matter. And if you preach that while also calling yourself an SEO content writer, please find yourself a new job title—preferably one I don’t have to share with you.

Now, here’s a question: If you make it obvious that you think it’s okay to do one thing half-assed, what’s to stop anyone from thinking that’s how you do everything in your business? If you can’t be bothered to pay attention to the quality of your own blog, why would a potential client assume you’ll pay attention to the quality of the work you do for them, especially if that work is providing SEO content? There is no client relationship without trust.

Good grammar and spelling are important to content overall, but there’s one aspect of SEO copywriting where good spelling is vital—anchor text. Say you land a client who sells accessories for the art of letter-writing. You’ll be doing your client a disservice if every link you build uses stationary in the anchor text, rather than stationery. Aside from the correct word having a higher search volume, your client will look pretty stupid to their customers if it appears they can’t even spell their own product correctly, and that’s not going to be good for sales.

I’m not saying your blog has to be perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. But there’s a difference between making mistakes and being completely indifferent to their existence. Blog posts can be well written without sounding like dissertations. Casual is not a euphemism for incorrect. There’s really no excuse for poor quality content, especially when there are easy ways to avoid it.

Here are some SEO copywriting tips to get you started:

Refresh Your Memory

It’s been quite a while since you had to diagram a sentence in school, so no one expects you to be able to recite all eight parts of speech off the top of your head. (Some sources claim nine or ten parts, but eight is traditional.) But a quick refresher of the basic grammar rules never hurts. You probably don’t have time to take an English class, although that’s not a bad idea, especially if you’re a writer. Instead, gather some good resources. Grammar Girl is one of my go-to sources when I get stuck. If books are more your style, pick up Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. Don’t be put off by the pandas on the cover—they don’t work for Google.

Hire an Editor or Proofreader

Yes, that means you will actually have to spend some money. Have you spent money on a premium blog theme? On a site designer? On conferences? On other tools necessary to do your job well and maintain a high level of quality in your work? Then don’t skimp here. If you don’t have the time or inclination to shore up your grammar and spelling skills, find someone who makes it their business to do that for you. Before you hire anyone, though, take a look at their site and their blog. If they’re a mess, you’ll have an idea of what you’ll get for your money.

Hire an SEO Content Provider

An essential part of running a successful business is deciding what to spend your time on. If you’re at a point where running your business is taking up most of your time, and you’re no longer able (or willing) to write your own content, hire someone to provide it for you, whether it’s an agency that offers content creation services, or an independent contractor. By taking content creation off your plate completely, you can focus on the things you’re really good at, and leave the writing and editing to someone who specializes in SEO content creation.

Get over the idea that being able to spell and use correct grammar are elitist or snobbish, or that having a blog rife with typos is some sort of badge of honor, like bragging about how little sleep you get. The fact is, everyone should strive to produce quality work, whether you do it on your own or with outside help.

You’ll build more trust with your audience when you’re not dumbing things down and making excuses, and when it’s obvious you care enough about them to put in the time and energy to give them quality content. Plenty of people out there appreciate good grammar and spelling. Have some respect for them, and for potential clients. You’ll be showing them that if they hire you, they can expect the same kind of hard work and attention to detail in their deliverables. Besides, anything worth doing is worth doing right. Right?


About the Author

Michelle Lowery

Michelle Lowery is an ardent word nerd, but is also known to say "y'all" from time to time.


39 thoughts on “Good Grammar and SEO Copywriting: It’s a Matter of Trust


  • David Quaid on said:

    Hi Michelle,

    Interesting article. And it poses another point in the English language and SEO question – that of what is proper English? Certainly to me, “proper grammar” isn’t “proper English” but I’ve tasted the bitter taste of rebuttal when questioning the difference between American English (AmE) and English (BrE) before. In the last round, I was informed that only a few people speak “other English” but as an Irish person born in South Africa, I know that British English is spoken widely throughout Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the UK itself and Canada. It is also the English taught to non-native speakers in Europe and the rest of the world (India, China).

    Yes, 2/3rds of Native English speakers live in North America but 300 million people out of a billion English speakers does not a majority make.

    Here’s a prime example – Google, which tries to be a Global company with some quaint Americanisms thrown in, suggests that “Search Engine Optimisation” is in fact incorrectly spelt and suggests “Optimization” yet there are more pages with the “S” version (BrE) than the “Z” version (AmE). This means that the slant to the “z” version is disproportionately disadvantaged, even thought the S spelling is the correct legal version for our countries and our audience. Which is the ultimate aim, of course!

    So, if we’re to display a proper command of the English language when writing for the web – who’s rule book do we play by? Google? Audience?


    • Michelle Lowery on said:

      Hello David! That’s an excellent question. I would defer to the audience. While part of SEO copywriting is aimed at pleasing Google, ultimately, we write for our readers. Throwing in one word that Google likes, but that is odd for the audience, would throw a blog post off, the same way intentionally misspelling a general word like stationery would. Although Google suggests “optimisation” is spelled incorrectly, it still accepts it as a search term, as is the case with many misspelled words.

      I would imagine that Spanish-speakers also run into this, not necessarily with misspelled words, but with colloquialisms. For example, in Spain, coche means car, while in Mexico, it’s a horse-drawn cart. Spanish is spoken all over the world, by millions of people, but it’s not all the same Spanish, either. Someone blogging in Spain must write for their immediate audience rather than trying to cover all the bases with Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Argentinian variations. Stick with pleasing your audience, and I think you’ll do fine. :-)


    • Sully on said:

      David – interesting point, but I say write to your audience. Personally, I like spelling colour with the “extra u”, but Americans don’t spell it that way. If I was trying to reach internationally, I would write accordingly.

      Your point of “optimization” vs. “optimisation” does quite hold water, in my mind. If you’re talking about the spelling on google.COM, I think that’s a valid suggestion – it is a US site. I noticed that if you go to Google.co.UK and start a search with “search engine”, the first suggestion is “search engine optimisation”.

      We all have our personal bias when it comes to language & content, but I return to my original argument: write to your audience.


  • Lauren Perdue on said:

    I completely agree with this, and on the flip side I think a lot of my clients hear me say “casual tone” but think I mean that their blogs need to be slapdashed together, so they resist. You can absolutely be conversational without sacrificing grammar or correct sentence structure, and I think this post makes a very clear argument for it. Will retweet away! :D


    • Michelle Lowery on said:

      Thanks, Lauren! You’re exactly right. Many people mistake “casual” for “writing without rules.” I think that mindset is also a good reason to hire a professional writer who can vary tone and use five dollar words when they’re necessary. But I may be biased. ;-)


      • Lauren Perdue on said:

        I write a lot of client blogs and changing tone from client to client is a challenge, but I’m a professional. I imagine people who aren’t naturally writers or seasoned pros have a hard time wrapping their head around the idea of different “voices”, which makes that a hard sell. I’ve run into many situations where I spend so much time editing client-written work that I might as well have written it myself. I hope a lot of people read this.


        • Michelle Lowery on said:

          Again, I couldn’t agree more, Lauren. Business owners are better served focusing on the things they’re really good at, and hiring professionals for the rest. Hiring a professional writer is just like hiring an accountant. If you’re good with numbers, and can do your own books, great. Go for it. If you’re a talented writer and you like creating your own content, have at it. But if there are things about your business that would be better served by hiring a pro, including the content creation, then don’t let the expense stop you if it means a better ROI.


  • Josh on said:

    Awesome post Michelle. It’s about generating shareable content. If visitors like what they read they’ll be more inclined to send it to their friend who’ll stop by. I can’t think of a single company blog I’ve forwarded on when every fourth word was a keyword. Now if you’ll excuse me I have some forwarding to do :)


    • Michelle Lowery on said:

      Thanks so much, Josh! Yes, it really comes down to quality. I have a hard time wrapping my head around someone spending thousands of dollars for a gorgeous site design, and then balking at spending any money on at least a proofreader. It’s like building a beautiful house and then filling it with cheap, rickety furniture. :-)


  • Lisa Barone on said:

    I love the point about differentiating between “casual” and “lazy”. There’s a certain marketer who used to have a pop up on his site advertising his email newsletter. You’d land on his home page and a big screen would pop up asking you to subscribe to his “news letter”. It’s sloppy and it’s those sort of glaring errors that really deduct trust points. You don’t have to be perfect, just make it look like you’re paying attention. Otherwise, not only do you look lazy but sometimes you confuse the message if you needed that comma to clarify what you were trying to say.


    • Michelle Lowery on said:

      Thanks, Lisa! It’s things like your example that make me click away from sites. That, and auto-play music. :-D I don’t like the idea of assuming your readers will know what you mean whether everything’s spelled correctly or not, or even if the punctuation is bad. Why put the burden on the reader because you were too lazy to look something up? If you’re not going to bother to try to do something right, why do it at all?


  • David Quaid on said:

    I’d argue the point that well written content gets lots of shares and likes, automatically. I think that’s a fit-to-suit argument but it doesn’t hold true to me.

    Definitely that’s the dream, the idea, what we’d like but lets face it – your competition aren’t going to link to you. If its really boring or of little interest – it just isn’t going to get shared/liked or linked to.


    • Michelle Lowery on said:

      I would imagine that in most cases, your competition wouldn’t link to you anyway, regardless of how well written your content is. ;-) But I also think there’s a lot to be said for the personal satisfaction of striving to do something well, whether it gets a reaction or not. One blog post may go by unnoticed, but then one day, another post sets the Internet on fire, and it causes people to look for older content. If it’s all been written with the same care and attention to detail, it will result in more trust and hopefully more regular readers.


  • Christina Gleason @ Phenomenal Content on said:

    I was the editor of a parenting magazine for a short time. Right before I quit, I remember arguing with the publisher about editing blog posts. She seemed to think that editing the print version of the magazine was good, but the blog “didn’t need to be perfect.” She also tried to tell me that my SEO skills weren’t valuable to her because she wasn’t creating anything that needed to last forever.

    I tried to convince her that the blog was a reflection of the magazine, and if it was riddled with errors, it would hurt the magazine’s reputation, but she wouldn’t listen. Consequently, when I left and all of the other writers followed suit, she’s left with a couple of college-age kids writing terrible “blog posts” that aren’t even genuine parenting articles. And she’s okay with that.

    I’m glad my reputation is no longer tied to that mess.


  • Doc Sheldon on said:

    Great piece, Michelle. I’m one of those that is a bit anal about grammar, punctuation and spelling, as I’ve always believed that if it’s worth writing, it’s worth writing correctly.

    For my part, I use the spelling deemed correct for my audience. I have several clients in Canada, Australia and the UK, so they receive one version, while the US clients typically receive another. However, since many of my clients cater to an international client base, I usually advise them to stick with the spelling where they are based.


  • Pam on said:

    I enjoyed this piece too. I have been blogging for over two years, and always edit, edit and edit some more before I post.
    People have commented to me that I am a good writer, and I am, but it also takes effort to ensure that my best is what I am putting forth before I hit “publish”.
    I work in a school, and I often marvel at the grammatical errors I see in emails between staff. I probably am a perfectionist, but I have always felt that anything with my name on should be perfect.
    I continue to enjoy the posts the rest of the OSM team have come up with while Lisa is off galivanting!


    • Michelle Lowery on said:

      Thanks, Pam! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. And, oh my gosh! I have been saying that FOR YEARS–if my name is on it, then it’s going to be the best blog post/report/whatever I can possibly make it. It’s about taking pride in your work, and having respect for the people for whom that work is done, whether it’s a blog audience, a boss, or just yourself. Thanks for your comment! :-)


  • Elmer Boutin on said:

    Well put, Michelle. Excellent points, all. There are some great comments, too.

    Continuous slipshod, poorly written and unprofessional writing will eventually reflect badly on a business. You are correct that things don’t have to be perfect, but written pieces should have proper grammar and correct spelling. Colloquialisms aside, poor writing likely reflects a poorly run business.


    • Michelle Lowery on said:

      Thanks, Elmer! And I knew you would get this post. :-) You’re so right, and I think that’s the point a lot of people are missing. Whether it’s poor writing, poor site design, or whatever it is about a business that is obviously lacking attention, it speaks volumes about the business itself and how it’s run. An old Air Force supervisor of mine used to say, “Perception is reality.” It may seem unfair for someone to assume a business is poorly run based on a superficial observation, but it *will* happen. The answer is, don’t give anyone reason to make those kinds of assumptions.


  • Betonsky on said:

    I can tell u for certain that content is all. people decide whether to stay or not just by feeling your content and the looks of your site


    • Michelle Lowery on said:

      Exactly. Some people spend a lot of money and time on design, and making a site look nice. They just have to remember that the way the content looks is an important factor in its overall appearance! :-)


  • Morgan Barnhart on said:

    Michelle,

    Couldn’t agree with you more. We saw an article written by someone in the SEO industry who couldn’t even properly articulate their grammar and spelling in his bio, so we didn’t really bother to read the article.

    Internet speak might work on Twitter, but when you’re writing to a large audience to show that you’re the authority in a subject, using proper grammar and spelling are still extremely important.

    Great post!


    • Michelle Lowery on said:

      Thanks, Morgan! I agree with you. Seeing poor use of language often leads me to click away from a site as well, especially when it’s in something as important and basic as a bio! I tried to read an SEO blog post this morning, and had to stop because there were so many grammar and spelling errors (not to mention misuse of vocabulary), it was taking a lot of time and effort to try to discern what they actually meant. Mistakes like that are stumbling blocks to the reader. Thanks for commenting!


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