Cost-Per-Click: Will it cost less if you lose the hyphens?

Dear Copy Bitch: We are always having these debates in the office.  I am always on the losing end, but I think I’m right.

1. Is website one word or two?
2. Do you capitalize internet?
3. Do you capitalize jargon phrases like “cost per click”?  Do you put dashes between them?  “cost-per-click”

I know I have others but now of course I can’t think of any of them. I thought maybe other people need/want to know the answers…

—Becca S, New York, New York

Answer: Well, you might not love my answer, which is this: it depends. It depends on the style guide you follow (e.g., AP, MLA, Chicago, etc.). Back in the dark ages (i.e., 2002) when I started my business, I wrote “Web site.” Now I write “website” as one word, but I often see it as two words and don’t think, “Gee, that’s wrong.”

As for “Internet,” I follow the rule that it’s a place and, therefore, believe it needs to be capitalized, just as Paris and George Clooney Paradise do. But I see legit pubs that lowercase it.

As for cost per click, same answer: it depends on the person, the editor, the business owner, the publication. For me, I follow this rule: I use caps only (usually) for the acronyms (CPC). I don’t usually use hyphens if the term is used as a noun: What was the cost per click? or The cost per click was $1.45. However, if a term is used as an adjective, that’s when I’d add hyphens: We need to be mindful of our cost-per-click budget. But again, I see sentences that violate my rule all the time (and I’m sure some smart reader could point out places where I violate my own rule).

The key is consistency. Be consistent with your usage (and when I say be consistent, I mean be consistent for that particular publication or for that particular company. I’m not saying you should simply decide how you want to do it and that’s it). Publications have style guides. Smart companies should have internal style guides that address items like the ones you list above (in addition to other things, such as serial commas). Anyone who creates content for the company (marketers, copywriters, consultants, etc.) should receive copies of the style guide (and adhere to the rules).

So how would you answer your own questions? I’m curious. Let me know in the comments.

Don’t Write Like This (even if you’re a lawyer)

Dear Copy Bitch: Aren’t long, complex sentences with big words more impressive, professional, and “important” sounding than the short sentences you seem to advocate?

—The Curious Cursory Blog Reader

Answer: Here’s a story for you: A few years back, I taught a first semester writing course to law students. The reason why this brave little law school hired me, The Copy Bitch, is because it wanted someone to teach these folks how to write clearly instead of like the stereotypical lawyer.

One of my former students, now an attorney, sent me an email the other day that said, “I just had to read a clause in a legal contract. Guess how many words it had it in it? I’ll give you a hint: slightly more than twenty.” (I used to tell ’em to keep sentences as short as possible to make for easier reading. No, this rule doesn’t apply for everything. But it’s not a bad rule to guide you, at least in professional writing, which is what lawyers do.)

I asked him to remove any identifying info and send me the clause, which he did. It’s below.

Company and Mr. Smith Release.  For good and valuable consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which are hereby acknowledged, the Company and Mr. Smith (the “Company Releasors”) do hereby remise, release and forever discharge and by these presents do for themselves and their successors, assigns, subsidiaries, parent corporation, affiliates, insurers, and past, present and future members, managers, employees, agents, and representatives remise, release and forever discharge Ms. Jones and her successors, legal representatives and assigns (the “Jones Releasees”) from, against and with respect to any and all actions, accounts, agreements, causes of action, complaints, charges, claims, covenants, contracts, costs, damages, demands, debts, defenses, duties, expenses, executions, fees, injuries, interest, judgments, liabilities, losses, obligations, penalties, promises, reimbursements, remedies, suits, sums of money, and torts of any kind and nature whatsoever, whether in law, equity or otherwise, direct or indirect, fixed or contingent, foreseeable or unforeseeable, liquidated or unliquidated, known or unknown, matured or unmatured, absolute or contingent, determined or determinable but excepting and excluding the Promissory Note (collectively, a “Claim”) which the Company Releasors ever had, now have, or which the Company Releasors hereafter can, shall or may have against the Buyer Releasees, related to, for, upon or by reason of any matter, cause or thing whatsoever from the beginning of time to the date hereof related to, for, upon or by reason of any matter, cause or thing whatsoever; provided, however, that this Release shall not affect, waive, extinguish or otherwise release the Jones Releasees from any and all future claims which the Company may have related to the Promissory Note.

This doesn’t sound impressive, professional, or important. Do not write like this, ever. Even if you’re a lawyer.

(Note: I’m not an attorney, but you don’t need to write like this simply because you are one. To wit: my former student, the one who’s now a lawyer, was pulling his hair out over this piece of crap writing.)

Word Confusion: Nevertheless vs Nonetheless

Dear Copy Bitch: Any thoughts on the use of nevertheless vs. nonetheless?

–Jay S., from an email

Answer: Your email made me pause, Jay (which doesn’t happen too often, let me tell you). I’ve always thought of these two words as being interchangeable. But I decided to research my assumptions because, believe it or not, The Copy Bitch has been wrong before (most notably when it comes to the men I choose to date, but I digress).

I started with Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference (fifth edition). She has a great “word choice” section, but those two words don’t show up. So, I cozied up with Google. The selections I read in my Google search showed that most people tend to agree with my thinking. This is an interesting forum post that goes a little deeper into meaning and usage. I’d use these words sparingly, however, since they have (in my mind) a very formal tone (I prefer conversational tones unless there’s a really good reason to go all formal). I welcome others’ thoughts on this one.

Poor Website Strategy: Watch Out for Poop Proliferation

Dear Copy Bitch: What’s the most challenging thing in your industry today?

–Alex, Local High School Senior

Answer: Lately, the most challenging thing has been poop proliferation via websites (I’d use a much more earthy term, but you’re still a babe, Alex <sigh>). In the last month alone, I’ve had three websites dropped on my lap that stunk to high heaven.

On the first PP (poop proliferation), the owner had spent a boatload of cash but hadn’t experienced any returns, basically because SEO (search engine optimization) practices circa 1999 were being used and the copy was oatmeal without the raisins and brown sugar. The second one involved a website that had just been “re-launched.” Sadly, I saw some pics of the old design, and it was better. Also, I think the new navigation hid Jimmy Hoffa’s whereabouts (look it up, Alex), the copy was more twisted than Tiger Woods’s love life, and there were links to sites that had nothing–and I mean NOTHING–to do with the person’s company. The third PP came to me by way of a prospect who emailed me saying her site was just about ready and that she just needed the copy to be “tweaked.” (My Redflaggalator always pings “danger” when such emails land in my inbox.) To me, “tweaked” means “spit and polish.” This site needed a bulldozer.

So what gives? Who’s to blame? Glad you asked. I have plenty o’blame to dole out:

First, web developers: Prospects often start with you (even though they shouldn’t) because they think “web developer” right after they think “I need a website” or “I need to re-launch a website.” You’re doing them a disservice in this day and age if you don’t bring up 1) SEO and 2) copywriting right away. You’re the front line, guys, so you need to battle hard for the likes of me and the SEOs out there. But get this–you do that, and if you have the right resources to refer to–YOU WILL LOOK LIKE A HERO IN THE END (which means having clients who’ll sing your praises and salaam before you).

Second, prospects: I realize your specialty is not web development, copywriting, or SEO. But neither is medicine or cars, and I bet you do a little research before shopping for both of those things, right? Do the same for your website. There’s a ton of information out there (and yes, some of it is poop), but enough of the cream rises to the top in Google searches. You’re going to be investing good money in your site. Do a little homework on what to look for, what the heck SEO means, and why you should care what your copy says.

Third, marketing folks: Make sure your stable is loaded with thoroughbreds (i.e. quality developers, designers, writers, and SEOs).

Fourth, copywriters: Professional, dry copy won’t cut it these days. Your copy needs to tell a story. It needs to engage. And trust me when I say this: you can be creative and professional at the same time.

Fifth, SEOs: Please don’t claim to know SEO unless you really do. That means having built sites  that increased conversions (not traffic per se. Anyone can increase traffic to a site. You need to deliver the right traffic that converts into leads/sales). I should probably make this #2, since there are some scam artists out there but even more well-meaning folks who think it’s not hurting anyone to add “SEO” to the list of their services. Confession: I used to do keyword phrase research for clients until I realized it–and all that goes with “it”–is a specialized skill. I refer people to the pros now so that I can focus on the copy.

Aren’t you glad you asked, Alex? (There’ll be a quiz.)

Do You Write Peek-a-Boo Headlines?

You should.

What’s a peek-a-boo headline? Let’s brush up on what peek-a-boo is, first. You, no doubt, know the game of entertaining a baby by covering your face and (in a really high-pitched, silly voice) saying “Peek…peek…peek-a-boo!” and then revealing your face on the word “boo.”

Think about what happens next: What baby doesn’t stop what he or she is doing (yes, including the one wailing in the seat in front of you on the plane), stare, laugh, giggle, and then–this is important–looks for more.

That’s what a peek-a-boo headline does to a reader. The headline stops the reader in his or her tracks. It startles the reader, in a good way. The reader then looks for “more” by reading what follows next (e.g. the blog post, the ad, the email, etc.).

My post from the other day–Apples, Peaches & George Clooney Naked–is one example. And every time I work on copy, that’s my goal: to create a peek-a-boo headline.

Of course, what follows AFTER the headline is almost as important. I say “almost,” only because you could have the most brilliant body copy on the planet, but if that headline doesn’t get the reader craving what comes next, then it won’t matter.

Apples, Peaches, and George Clooney Naked

Question: Hey, Copy Bitch: What’s the proper use of commas in a series: A, b, and c. Or A, b and c. I see it both ways. I usually do it the first way. That’s the way I remember being taught when I was in school. Thanks!

—Michelle D., Connecticut

Answer: Both are technically correct. If you’re writing for a specific publication, it will likely have a style guide it wants you to use. For example, MLA (Modern Language Association) uses the serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma), so you would write the following: I love apples, peaches, and George Clooney naked.

AP (Associated Press) doesn’t use the serial comma. So you would write the sentence like this: I love apples, peaches and George Clooney naked.

The Copy Bitch always uses the serial comma, unless she’s overruled by the publication she’s writing for. Why use the serial comma? For clarity’s sake. When you write, you want to be clear, and nine-and-a-half times out of 10, the serial comma will assist you in getting your point across.

To wit: consider this sentence: I’d like to thank my parents, William and Mary. How many people are you thanking? You could be thanking your parents and two other people named William and Mary. Or you could be thanking your parents whose names are William and Mary. If the former, I’d write it like this: I’d like to thank my parents, William, and Mary. (Actually, in this example, I’d probably put “parents” last in the series, just for added clarity.) If the latter, I’d write it like this: I’d like to thank my parents: William and Mary.

Here’s another good example from A Writer’s Reference by the late Diana Hacker: The activities include a search for lost treasure, dubious financial dealings, much discussion of ancient heresies and midnight orgies.

Are we discussing the midnight orgies or participating in them? Written as is, the reader is left to believe that the discussion includes midnight orgies. The Copy Bitch suspects this wasn’t the writer’s intent, so she would rewrite it like this: The activities include a search for lost treasure, dubious financial dealings, much discussion of ancient heresies, and midnight orgies.

If the writer did mean only discussions, then the Copy Bitch would rewrite it like this: The activities include a search for lost treasure, dubious financial dealings, and much discussion of ancient heresies and midnight orgies.

Of course, the former sentence sounds much more fun. 😉

Hope this helps!