Web Writing Is a Risqué Business

Angie King

Here's the story.

A suburban New York man said the personalized license plate he obtained for his car—XXX PERT—causes many people to ask him about buying pornography.

Henry DeRossi, 78, of East Meadow, N.Y., said the plate on his Mercedes-Benz is a reference to his business, Expert Metal Slitters of Long Island City, N.Y., but the triple-X on the plate causes many to confuse him for a porn seller, the New York Daily News reported Monday.

"You'd be surprised how many people stop me when I am at a light and want to buy porn," DeRossi said.

He told the Daily News the number of people confused by the plate has grown to the point where his auto dealer has him park the vehicle in a back lot when he brings it in for service.

Clearly label content, or risk user interpretation

DeRossi may be an expert at metal slitting. But next time he chooses a vanity license plate, he may want to get a second opinion. Perhaps even from a web writer.

DeRossi’s unintentionally kinky license plate makes me think about poorly written navigational and page links. Since most users skim and scan web content while they're looking for useful information, it’s important to clearly label your navigation and page elements.

Even if your users carefully read every bit of content on your site, they’re not likely to click a link unless they think it will take them where they want to go.

So when writing links, be sure to use words that are meaningful to your users. NOT corporate jargon or internal slang. And especially not the cutesy labels your marketing team cooked up.

Keep your links in context

Ginny Redish gives us a great example of how not to write web links in her book Letting Go of the Words. In chapter 2, she talks about how we all interpret as we read. For instance, your users may not know the same words you know. Or the same word might mean different things to them than to you.

Her example refers to an old version of the official Transport for Londonwebsite. Two users are looking for information about special deals on tickets, which is found under a link labeled “Oyster.”

‍p. 11, Letting Go of the Words, Ginny Redish.

Call your content what it is

Let’s all learn from DeRossi’s dirty little mistake. If you label a section of your website “XXX PERT”—but what you really mean is “read tips from our knowledgeable staff”—be prepared to field lots of questions about porn from some very frustrated users. Or, you could just call it what it is: “Expert Advice.”

Now, that’s one clean label.