Why to avoid marketese on the web

Jennifer Hamrick
Thursday 7 February 2019

Marketese is a writing style which favours promotional, self-congratulatory and boastful language over technical and objective wording. At the University of St Andrews, we aim to avoid using marketese on the web at all costs.

What is marketese?

Marketese is “the promotional writing style with boastful subjective claims (‘hottest ever’) that currently is prevalent on the Web.” (Jakob Nielsen, web usability expert).

If you’ve seen statements like these, you’ve experienced marketese:

  • “Our unique, internationally renowned course will turn you into a fantastic person all around.”
  • “This revolutionary solution will put all your woes to rest.”
  • “You will have the amazing opportunity to explore this field further.”
  • “Welcome to my website!”

Why to avoid marketese

Web users are highly task driven. They want to find the information they are looking for quickly and easily. In general, users only have time to read about 20% to 28% of words on an average web page, and they will scan over ‘blah-blah’ text to go to actionable content.

Marketese adds a lot of unnecessary words, meaning users will have to work harder to find the information they are looking for.

“Do not publish everything you can online. Publish only what someone needs to know so they can complete their task. Nothing more.”  (GOV.UK)

Marketese can also present problems for those with accessibility needs. For example, users with autism and dyslexia prefer short, clear and simple content and struggle with walls of text. Marketese is rarely concise and adds a lot of text that can be overwhelming for users with accessibility needs.

In addition to making content harder to read, marketese can also make your content seem less credible. If you make a lot of unsubstantiated claims, users will lose trust and see you as a sketchy salesperson rather than a trustworthy source of information.

“Credibility suffers when users clearly see that the site exaggerates.” (How Users Read on the Web, Jakob Nielsen)

Therefore, the University should strive to make it as easy as possible for our users to complete their task by removing marketese language.

How to avoid marketese

You can avoid accidentally introducing marketese in your writing by following this advice:

  • Show don’t tell. “Your company is awesome. Let the awesomeness reveal itself through quality of service, success stories, and the willingness to help customers make the most of what you have to offer.” (Plain Language, Please!)
  • Be prepared to back up your information. If you do make a claim, you need to contextualise it and provide evidence. For example, “My School is the best in the UK” is not acceptable; you need to state which league table shows that and provide a link.
  • Ask yourself if anyone cares besides you. Only include information or claims which are genuinely useful to your users. If it is only interesting to you, your users will find it an annoying piece of promotional garble. 

The University’s tone

One of the features that sets the University of St Andrews’ website apart from other higher education institutions is its lack of marketese. We aim to provide content which is concise, informative, objective and accessible. We strip the fluff to let users quickly scan for information that will let them complete their task online.

Some people are uncomfortable by the idea of a ‘bare page’, one that they perceive has no flavour or personality. However, it is a common misconception that objective language is boring. Objective language is easy to understand, easy to access, and easy to remember.

Our first priority is meeting users’ needs. As such, our web pages should be functional above all else. Don’t be scared of a ‘bare bones’ page – it is one that simply meets users’ needs, providing a better experience for everyone.

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