Copywriting 101: Top 10 Web copy mistakes to avoid

by Nanci Hamilton Email

This is a list of commonsense things NOT to do. I am surprised at how often I see these basic rules violated. Don't:

  1. Underline anything unless it is a link, and even then, don't do it unless it is absolutely necessary. (I can't imagine when that might be.) It makes the text harder to read and adds visual weight that makes it look heavier than it really is—which puts off readers. You want to invite them to read, not turn them away. You only need to know a smattering of HTML to do better.
  2. Use "&" instead of the word "and" anywhere except in headlines. Apparently, some believe "&" is more decorative and looks cooler; it does not, however, and calls attention to itself, which reduces readability.  At a bare minimum, be consistent. It is worse to use "&" here and there while demonstrating you can spell and use the word "and" elsewhere on the page. Don't give the reader a chance to wonder if the "&" has special significance, which diverts attention from your message. The distracted reader will have an opportunity to wonder if you are showing off, too flaky to know better, or undisciplined.
  3. Fail to make elements in a bullet list parallel. Not taking the time and trouble to do this creates the impression that you don't care about the reader. Some might not consciously notice, but those that do will form a negative opinion. Either way, the impact of the message is compromised. Parallel construction of message elements strengthens all members of the set.
  4. Skip having someone else proofread your copy. Some recent cautionary examples include (without links to protect the innocent): "All Our Patent Are Belong To You,"  "with a groups of CTO’s who’s departments...," and a reference to "baited breath." Readers must reread these mangled sets of words to make sense of what is being said, and frequently, decide to take their eyes elsewhere. You can send texts without proofing, send email without proofing (although that is nearly as bad), but do not write copy for the Web and fail to have it proofread. Be humble enough to give a proofreader a chance to catch mistakes you have overlooked. A second set of eyes from a partner, colleague, signficant other, or high school kid is better than no fresh eyes at all.
  5. Think that a graphic or photo will make up for poorly written, punctuated, or formatted text. It does not, no matter how much color or white space is in or around it. It just gives the reader a chance to associate a face or an image with a mistake. 
  6. Assume that animation will divert attention from any copywriting errors. It doesn't matter if the text rolls up, rolls down, fades in, pops up, whatever. Any errors in copy that has been treated this way indicate someone who cares more about the bells and whistles than the message. If the writer doesn't care about the message, why should a reader waste their time reading it?
  7. Start two sentences in a row with "I." Nothing communicates vanity faster.
  8. Copy anything from any other source without attribution. Whether in print or on the Web, when using something written by someone else, always cite your source.
  9. Use acronyms without defining them. You may think that everyone knows what an acronym means, but, given that many acronyms have multiple possible definitions, that's not a sound assumption. Readers appreciate an unobtrusive definition (once, on first usage). It increases their confidence and reduces distraction from the rest of the copy.
  10. Use fonts, font sizes, and font colors sparingly, and do not use special font effects (blinking and so on). Enough said about that.

Daniel Joesph Leech

by Nanci Hamilton Email

Father and son, Joe and Dan Leech working together at Leech Tool and Die (about 1954).

Dan Leech was born 23 Nov 1926 in Buffalo, New York, a son of English emigrant Joseph (Joe) Peter Leech and his American-born wife Blanche Ethel Daniels. His father, a toolmaker and machinist, followed his employment, moving his family from Buffalo, to Chicago, Erie, and finally Meadville, where Joe took a job as a supervisor at Talon, Inc. in 1939. At the time, the company was beginning its arc of success, as the zipper made the transition from being a specialty item to one indispensable for many applications.

Dan was a young man in high school at the beginning of World War II; he enlisted in the service immediately upon graduation. After his military service, he returned to Meadville, where he and his father started Leech Tool and Die. About 1965, he became interested in tungsten carbide and, in 1968, started Leech Carbide. Today, Leech Carbide continues to produce high-grade carbide in highly complex and precise shapes. In 2006, Dan’s extraordinary lifetime contribution to the tool and die industry was recognized when he was named an “industry legend” by the northwestern Pennsylvania chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association and inducted into its Greater Meadville Tooling Center Tool and Die Hall of Fame.

Dan married Joyce Stubbe Hamilton in 1966 and they celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary in 2006. They raised six children together, including his daughter Maureen who is also an active participant in the Petroleum History Institute. He has been a member of the Meadville Rotary Club for many years and is well-known about town for selling roses as a fundraiser on their behalf. Dan earned a pilot’s license as a young man and has logged many hours in the air as a private pilot. He is a bicyclist and supporter of northwestern Pennsylvania bike trail development. He is interested in local history, especially related to oil extraction and railway transportation development in this area.

The Petroleum History Institute is an outcome of Dan's longstanding friendship with Samuel T Pees, petroleum geologist, world traveler, oil historian, writer, and founder of PHI. “[Fifteen] years ago, Sam and I put a meeting together. Now we have people around the world contributing to our petroleum journal. We have people every year from different countries presenting their papers. The institute developed quickly and has grown quickly.” After Sam's death in 2009, Dan took charge of Sam's papers and artifacts to preserve Sam's legacy of scholarship in the petroleum industry.

Dan and Sam, often accompanied by Pete (Ellsworth) Sparks, spent many enjoyable and informative afternoons together locating, exploring, photographing, and recovering relics of the petroleum industry throughout western Pennsylvania. For all three men, the story of the first oil boom in the oil belt of the Appalachians is a personal family history as well: all are from families who lived in the area for generations and were direct and indirect participants in the events. Many years ago, Dan inherited a gas well near Grand Valley in Warren county and still makes a small profit from its annual output.

Testing apostrophe in title: Nanci's test

by Nanci Hamilton Email

Testing whether or not an apostrophe can be used in a blog title

It can.

Vietnamese special characters

by Nanci Hamilton Email

Here are the preliminary results of my investigation into Vietnamese characters for products on the Web site.

There is great variation in the way characters have been entered, resulting in a mixture of problems. It appears that if characters are entered correctly in UTF-8 (or 16 or 32), they display properly on the Web. Most of the characters that were not entered properly “disappear” (that is, they don’t show up in the text on the Web). I have not seen any yet that display bogus characters, but my investigation has not been exhaustive.

Most of the problems stem from incorrect data entry, which was done by a contractor in Vietnam some years ago. Backtracking to how they entered what they entered is not possible, nor would it be productive.

It appears that the characters in the PDFs associated with the products are correct.

Next steps are to determine who should correct the data and when. The problem affects less than 1% of the product pages, but 100% of the pages for Vietnamese language products.

Vietnamese Special Characters.pdf

Happy New Year 2014

by Nanci Hamilton Email

I wish everyone a wonderful year in 2014. I hope your year end was safe, productive, relaxing and enjoyable.

I spent the time between Christmas and New Years Eve working on slowly but surely clearing out clutter and organizing the piles of things that, for whatever reason, I had not made time to attend to before now. The result was three grocery bags full of paper stuff for the recycling bin, three large boxes of items for Goodwill, an organized master bedroom closet, a tremendous reduction in the number of mismatched socks, several empty drawers, and a lot of data being entered into the computer (where it belongs) instead of lingering on squibs of paper.


I also unearthed some long lost treasures—family photos, and the like—so I made an investment in a new scanner, the Epson V600 shown at left. My plan is to scan the photos, documents, and slides, and then organize them electronically. I find myself looking at the photos I have in iPhoto ten times (or more) often than the ones in boxes. It has turned out to be a godsend when I need to find a particular photo quickly. The one that comes to mind most readily is when a beloved niece died well before her time. Photos that I had taken of her just a few years ago were suddenly immediately meaningful to me and her family, and I have digital photo storage to thank for that.


Another technology that entered my life at the end of 2013 (thank you, Santa!) that has proved to be a delight is a Logitech ultrathin keyboard/cover for my iPad Air. Not only does it free up a lot of screen real-estate to have the keyboard elsewhere, it is far easier to type text of any length. The iPad's on-screen keyboard is perfectly useful for Web browsing, entering data into forms, many other applications—but for transcribing text, writing letters, composing email and so on—the keyboard is much better. Also, the Logitech keyboard holds the screen at a very comfortable viewing angle, and so I find it useful even when the keyboard itself is not in use.

All in all, 2014 is starting off well for me, and I hope for you as well!


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