John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

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Living in a Literal World

Online, we live in a literal world. I can’t over-emphasize that enough. Literal, as in “understood exactly as it was stated”. I suspect your readers are taking your communications far more literally than you suspect. True for visual as well as written. They see and “hear” (inside their reading minds) what they want to see and hear, and will use your communications to confirm what they already “know”, whenever possible.

When a policeman says “everything you say and do can and will be used against you in a court of law” she is being very specific. She didn’t say “may be used against you”, although many people hear it that way. She said “can and will”. And she said that because in our legal system, professionals paid by the government are charged with a mission of searching through all available evidence to find the parts that support a case against you. They have no interest in finding anything that helps you. That is presumed to be someone else’s job.

Every observation will be taken literally if it serves the intended purpose — convicting you. Otherwise, it can be disregarded or perhaps used as leverage in an effort to obtain additional, more convicting evidence. Your readers (and viewers) similarly examine your communications to find what they need to “convict” you. That’s all negative language, but the same is true for positive perspectives. It’s not always bad.. sometimes they are fans seeking affirmations of your godliness. How literally do they take your messages?

If people love your brand, they see the love in your messages. Much has been written of “confirmation bias”… a related concept.

So be literal in your communications. Add specific captions to your images, even if they are “obvious”. I assure you not only are they NOT obvious to everyone, but to some, they are “obvious” in ways you never intended.

Also be literal in your press releases. When you say “Our Firm was awarded a prize for great web design” you are telling the world that you do great web design work. But you may find that a much more literal communication will serve you far better towards that goal. Your readers need to hear more explicitly what the facts actually mean. I used the word “need”… because in order to receive your intended message (that you do great web design work) they need to be told that you do great design work.

By the way, the people closest to your customers know the best language for reaching your customers with your message. It’s one thing to win a design award, and quite another to win a design award that proves you are an awesome partner for your clients to be so lucky to have on board.

“Our Firm consistently produces award winning web designs. We received the great Web Design Award from The Official Counsel this year. Careful review of our work demonstrated we consistently produce more excellent Web Design work than other design firms.”

That said it plainly… we do great work and others agree we do great work, and we have Great Work awards to prove it. Now tell them why it is so important, to them.

“Great web designers often produce winning design comps in the first round, saving time and expense compared to less capable designers. Great designers also bring state of the art designs to you for review, instead of waiting for you to first decline common, more easily mass produced designs.”

You need to tell them the facts, but also tell them why those facts are so important. Place it into the context of your marketing message - you want great, we are great, everyone knows we are great, you need us to be great because of A, B, and C. You want US to work for you.

Get literal. It works.

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One Response to “Living in a Literal World”

  1. Andrew@BloggingGuide Says:

    Thanks for the great advice! Sometimes I don’t tend to get literal because what I’m thinking is that the readers will get it, that they know what I mean. Now I know it really is different to be really literal.

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