Then I got carried away.
It grew into a long list of my writing preferences (such as swearing in articles) I’ve honed over the years. Some are preferences. Some are do’s and don’ts.
Note, over the years I’ve broken many, if not all of the following rules… especially on Fat Stacks.
1. Keyword Misspellings and Incorrect Grammatical Phrases
On many occasions, I’ve stumbled on keywords with decent search volume for misspellings and badly worded phrases or incorrect grammar.
Often Ahrefs reports a very low search difficulty so it appears to be a great opportunity.
Should you target misspelled words and/or use badly worded phrases to capitalize on these apparent opportunities?
No, you should not.
There are two very good reasons not to so.
First, it makes your site look like amateur hour. Sure, we all probably have spelling mistakes and incorrect grammar somewhere on our sites. I know I do. But it’s accidental and I correct it if I find it.
But imagine going to a site with hordes of content that looks great but many titles have misspelled words or clumsy/incorrect grammar in the titles?
You’d probably bail. It totally discredits the site, especially if there are such mistakes in multiple post titles.
Second, Google can now account for misspellings and does so.
If you input a misspelling, Google suggests a correct spelling at the top.
Google’s algo has logged so many searches it knows common misspellings and even grammatical errors so it can adjust for that.
Google doesn’t want to display a series of clumsy or incorrect titles in the SERPs. It looks bad. Sure, it happens but less frequently all the time.
In other words, IMO, there’s no real opportunity targeting misspelled words and incorrect grammar (anymore… years ago it was a tactic that worked).
2. What about publishing phrases missing prepositions, articles and conjunctions?
Here’s a quick primer of examples (not exhaustive):
- Prepositions: in, at, on, of, to
- Articles: the, a
- Conjunctions: and, but, if, so
Example search: tallest volcano USA
I would not title a post “Tallest Volcano USA“.
I would write the title “Tallest Volcano in the USA” or “What is the Tallest Volcano in the USA?“
When I type in searches in Google I often skip prepositions, articles and conjunctions to save time. Google knows.
Many keyword phrases with good search volume don’t have these words because we know Google figures it out (and it does).
Does that mean your titles and target phrases should not include prepositions, articles and conjunctions?
No, absolutely not.
Again, you will not gain an SEO benefit.
Again, you will compromise your site’s credibility.
You are much better off writing properly structured titles. Sure, you can tack on additional keywords in brackets such as (Download) or (My Faves) but generally write good titles.
On the flip side, it’s totally fine writing one or two word titles for effect. I do it with email subject lines that I turn into blog posts.
What I don’t do is publish clumsy sounding titles as a tactic to target a phrase that has search volume.
3. What about breaking up titles with | : – or ()?
Many sites break up titles with | : – or ().
- Tallest Volcano in the USA (Dormant & Active)
- Tallest Volcano in the USA: Dormant and Active
- Tallest Volcano in the USA – Dormant and Active
- Tallest Volcano in the USA | Dormant & Active
All of the above are fine IMO. It’s a matter of preference. My favorite way to break up a title is with () but I use colons and dashes as well. I rarely (probably never) use the vertical bar character |.
4. Should you use slang in your titles and content?
How Did that Dave Chappelle Dude Made Bank and Became a Baller?
I Ghosted Joe Smith Cause He’s Gets so Dang Salty
Yes, use slang, if that’s your style and it works with your audience.
I like slang. People love slang. People get it. It’s totally fine to do especially if your audience appreciates it.
Slang is the zeitgeist of language which means it’s the development of words before they’re officially recognized as words. Not that all slang words do become official words (as in inducted into one of the main dictionaries).
Scrabble officials are more proactive in accepting slang terms as acceptable words in the game. For example, “lolz”, “shizzle” and “blech” are acceptable Scrabble words but aren’t in all dictionaries.
“Lolz” is in the Oxford dictionary but not Merriam Webster. “Blech” is in Merriam-Webster but not Oxford. “Shizzle” is in neither.
If you have the right audience for it, slang can enhance your site.
5. Should you swear in your articles?
I appreciate swearing but I keep all my sites more or less clean, including Fat Stacks.
Here’s my litmus test:
If you may alienate your audience, don’t swear in your writing (or videos). In other words, if there’s a chance your audience won’t like it, I’d avoid it unless you just have to be you (and the real you cusses like a sailor).
Done right, swearing enhances language and writing. Consider stand-up comedians… many of the best swear a ton and do it very well. They have a knack for swearing and it’s funny. Think Dave Chappelle, Eddy Murphy and Dave Burr to name 3 of many comedians who swear extensively in their routines.
You don’t have to swear to be funny. Many comedians are funny without it. None come to mind but they’re out there, I think.
At the end of the day, I’m not surprised studies show that swearing can be good for you.
If swearing doesn’t turn your audience off, go for it.
If your audience likes it, definitely.
How do you know if your audience is okay with swearing?
You’ll never really know but demographics may help.
If it’s middle-aged and older folks, swearing probably isn’t a good fit.
I know that’s stereotyping but you have to make a guess here. It’s not as if not using swear words hurts your content.
Fat Stacks is a type of blog where I could go either way but I’m pretty sure I’d alienate some readers. Here’s the clincher, by not swearing, I don’t think I’m alienating anyone.
Here’s the thing about swearing extensively on a website. There’s more downside than upside. You won’t alienate people by not swearing but you risk alienating a lot of people if you do. This is why I don’t bother.
The odd cuss word in a blog post is totally fine. Nobody would care. But if every posts opens up with an F-Bomb in the intro and the rest is littered with expletives, that will stand a good chance to alienate readers.
What do premium ad networks like AdThrive think?
I emailed my AdThrive rep to find out.
Here’s what he told me:
Brand safety does come into play for advertiser spending. Each advertiser sets their own parameters for what is acceptable content, based on keywords they want to avoid. This could include swearing for some advertisers. Here’s an article with an overview of this topic.
One part of the AdThrive application review process includes getting approvals from our ad partners, who purposefully keep some aspects of their processes unknown. We have found that sites with strong profanity use, especially in article titles, may not get the necessary approvals.
Please note I only sought out AdThrive’s position but I suspect it’s fairly representative of other premium networks’ stance regarding ads.
What does that mean?
While developing your own voice on your site(s) is great and should be encouraged, I can’t justify risking admission to premium ad networks just so I can load up my site with profanity. Your call though.
One exception in my case: I have one exceptional writer for one of my sites who pens a column. She includes expletives throughout every article. It’s her style. It’s her column. It works. I have no problem with that. She’s irreverent, blunt and funny. Swearing enhances her writing.
6. American vs. Canadian Spelling
I’m in Canada so all my spell correct software alerts me when I veer from the Canadian version. French is an official language so many words have a french influence in the spelling. Consider the following Canadian spellings:
What do I do?
Because most of my readers are in the US, I change it to the US version. I don’t think it’s fatal if I miss this but when I spot it, that’s what I do.
7. American vs. UK Spelling
Consider “toward” vs. “towards”.
The US (and Canadian) version is “toward”.
The UK and Australian version is “towards”.
I tend to choose the US version but I don’t think it’s fatal or even bad to use the UK/Australian version since both are correct.
8. Should you capitalize all words in a blog post title?
You definitely need to capitalize the first word. The issue is whether to capitalize the remaining words.
Second, if you choose to capitalize all words in a title, keep in mind to only capitalize nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs.
Do not capitalize prepositions, articles and conjunctions in titles (see primer above).
“What Are The Tallest Volcanoes In The USA?” is wrong. It should be “What Are the Tallest Volcanoes in the USA?”.
I usually do capitalize all words in a title (other than words not capitalized in titles).
I’ve been inconsistent about this though. I see merit in both approaches. Most of my article titles are capitalized, but not all.
Some major publications do and some don’t.
It would be interesting to test this which you can do with SEO Scout. SEO Scout split tests different titles in Google search and tracks click through rates. I’ve used this service for several months to split test many different article title variations. Once I learned what title formats worked best, I stopped the subscription but it was super helpful in figuring out the best way to structure titles.
As an aside, I publish plenty similar types of articles across many topics so the title structure is similar. What I wanted to learn is what precise formats would get the most clicks.
For example, did putting it in the form of a question work best? Or did writing the title in listicle format with a number in it work best?
Interestingly, I had somewhat mixed results. For some topics, questions performed better. For others, listicles worked better.
On the balance, listicle format with a number outperformed the question format. This data was super helpful.
That’s just one example of what I tested over the course of several months.
NOTE: SEO Scout is only worth using if you’re getting decent traffic. If you’re not getting decent traffic, you won’t get any testing data.
9. Should you be sarcastic in your website writing?
According to Oscar Wilde, “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence.“
Effective sarcasm is more difficult in the written word than verbal. With verbal, there’s facial and body language as well as tone of voice the listener can see/hear to help determine sarcasm. Tone of voice is a big part of sarcasm which makes it harder to pull off in writing.
BUT, if you develop an audience and they get to know your writing style and recognize when you’re being sarcastic, it works.
I do it here and there in these Fat Stacks emails.
I sometimes inject irreverence and sarcasm into these email newsletters in an effort to make them a smidgen entertaining. Long time readers get it. Newer readers will recognize it over time.
An easy way to be sarcastic on a website where most are first time readers is to put a (kidding) or (joking) behind the sarcastic sentence or paragraph.
Sometimes sarcasm is obvious. Sometimes not. It’s also the case that some people pick up on it better than other people.
10. Should you publish satire?
I don’t. I doubt I ever will. Satire is hard to pull off. The Onion is probably the best-known satirical publication online. It does it well (although I’m not a fan of reading satire).
What the Onion has going for it is people know it’s satire.
The problem arises when you don’t normally publish satire and then do so out of the blue. It’s confusing.
I’m not a satirist. I have no desire to be. So I don’t bother.
But if you are a satirist and would like to focus on that, go for it… it boils down to whether you can do it in a way that is both effective and that your audience recognizes it as satire.
One exception is April Fool’s Day. On that day, it’s totally cool to publish some made up stuff for fun. I’ve never done so but I would have no problem doing it.
Remember to put “Happy April Fool’s Day” at the bottom so people get it (especially if they read/watch on a later date).
11. More Do’s and Don’ts
Next up, I cover non-words, wrong words and acronyms.
Before I get into that, is “do’s and don’ts” acceptable?
Yes, “do’s and don’ts” is acceptable. So are variations according to Vocabulary.com.
- The Chicago Manual of Style and others recommends dos and don’ts.
- The Associated Press and others recommend do’s and don’ts.
- Eats, Shoots & Leaves recommends do’s and don’t’s.
I prefer do’s and don’ts.
I like symmetry. Both have one apostrophe. It’s most appealing to me on that basis.
12. Avoid these non-words if you don’t want to appear illiterate
Irregardless: this is not a word. Use “regardless”.
Misunderestimate: Not a word. It’s “underestimate”.
Alot: It’s “a lot”, not “alot”. I use “a lot” frequently although it’s a lazy word choice. On the flip side, sometimes it’s good to keep writing simpler. It’s a balancing act.
Literally: The correct term is “virtually”. However, Oxford Dictionary now includes “literally” as an acceptable word for emphasis.
Snuck: It’s “sneaked” not “snuck”. That’s an obscure example… the point is you might want to double-check past tense versions of words commonly used but could be incorrect.
There are other non-words commonly used. It’s worth double-checking. Using non-words as words is one of the biggest amateur mistakes you can make.
The same goes for using wrong words.
13. Avoid using the wrong words
There are words that many people use incorrectly because somewhere along the line their perceived meaning became distorted.
I’m guilty of some of these mistakes.
The best article I found is this list of 25 common words that you’ve got wrong.
Example: Travesty is commonly thought to mean a tragedy. What it really means is a mockery or parody. Big difference.
Another example is “ultimate” which is commonly used to mean “the best” but technically it means “the last item of a list.”
“Penultimate” is the second last item of a list” or “immediately before the last one”… not “better than the ultimate” as it is sometimes used.
If you write or edit anything, that list is worth reading.
Firstly: Inferior to “First” (big time). Same with “secondly”, “thirdly”, etc.
14. What about using “ain’t”, “prolly” “gonna” and other non-words but they have a slang-style to them?
Whether you use these non-words depends on the context. The default rule should be not to use them but IMO, in the right context it can work.
I’ve used “ain’t” in articles. I haven’t used “prolly” but in the right context, I might. I think I’ve used “gonna” and have no regrets doing so.
Ain’t is not a word. But it’s used frequently.
Gonna is a word but definitely far down the informal end of the spectrum.
I like prolly. I haven’t used it but it makes me smile. I’ll prolly use it eventually.
15. Should you use texting acronyms such as Lol, LFMAO, BRB, TWSS, B4N, DM, etc.?
Again, it depends on your audience and/or the article.
In the right context, it’s totally fine. We live in a texting world. If you’re confident your audience will get it, go for it.
But if you have a hunch some readers will be scratching their head, which means they won’t appreciate it, it’s best to avoid.
16. Grammarly can help reduce errors
I use Grammarly. It’s not perfect but it’s quite good identifying spelling, punctuation, wrong word use (not always) and grammatical errors.
My problem is I’m a horrendous editor. I can’t spot mistakes. It’s an extension of my being hopeless at finding or spotting something.
If I’m looking for something in a stocked cupboard, I won’t find it even if it’s eye-level front row.
If someone says to me “hey, look at that eagle in the tree” chances are I won’t see it. Everyone else oooohhhs and awwwws while I just stare blankly.
When I’m driving and there are multiple signs in a row, I’ll miss the one important sign I need. I’ll notice the directions to McDonalds but miss the exit number.
Hence, I’m a terrible editor which is why Grammarly is a big help for me.
17. This is Merely the Tip of the Iceberg!
Have you ever read the Chicago Manual of Style?
I’d be surprised if anyone has read the entire thing (kidding). It’s a tome to end all tomes. I once owned a copy. No, I did not read the entire thing.
There are many, many writing rules and guidelines. I do not know all of them; not even close!
This email, if it does anything, merely directs your attention to some common writing tips to keep in mind.
Google is your friend for writing. If you’re unsure, google it.
18. It all boils down to: write for your readers
It boils down to this simple rule. Write for your readers and audience. If your readers enjoy content littered with F-bombs, slang and jokes, go to it. Many writers and bloggers do. It can be fun to write. With such methods you can carve out a distinct voice and style.
But realize you will alienate people as well. That’s not necessarily bad. in fact, for most sites it’s good (to serve a distinct audience… not swearing necessarily).
You can’t please all the people all the time.
That’s what niche publishing is. We’re NOT aiming to serve everyone. We serve a distinct audience.
We can do the same with writing.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.