When I was driving home from my mom’s birthday party during a snowstorm Saturday afternoon, it was probably the most nervous I’d ever been behind the wheel.
Aside from the tractor trailer spinning wheels near the top of a hill and the jerks weaving in and out of traffic because they think four-wheel drive makes them invincible, ice was developing on my windshield.
The ice eventually made its way to the wipers, making it more and more difficult to see non-existent lanes and skidding cars.
When the clear part of my windshield continued to shrink, I was forced to exit the highway to clean off my windshield and the wipers. Twice.
Normally, this trip would take about 40 minutes. On this day, it took more than 2 1/2 hours to get home.
I’ve had quite a few experiences that weren’t nearly as nerve-wracking – but just as frustrating – when visiting websites of companies that I was considering hiring.
I was trying to figure out if these companies offered a solution to my particular problem or might be able to help me fill a need for one of my clients.
If the solution was there, I couldn’t see it. Any clarity or specificity in the message was being destroyed by useless descriptors.
Flowery adjectives and adverbs are the enemies of content clarity and credibility.
People have the urge to saturate their content with adjectives and adverbs because they want to paint a picture.
The problem with most adjectives and adverbs is that they’re vague and hollow. You end up telling instead of showing, which is what successful content does.
You think you’re providing clarity, but all you’re really doing is creating a distraction. This can kill the user experience, especially for users who are on the go and need information now.
People gloss over your content because you’ve created the perception that it’s loaded with fluff. They end up missing the most compelling part of your message because it’s too hard to find.
I guess you could say deciphering content can be like driving in a blizzard with ice on your windshield wipers. Except that readers depend on you to provide a clear view.
Most adjectives and adverbs serve no purpose but to add words to your content. For example, I’m guilty of using the word really in my content. In most cases, it’s really not necessary.
But the problem goes far beyond a lack of clarity. If you use the wrong descriptor or go overboard in your description, your content can be perceived as insincere.
An adjective or adverb can cause eyes to roll if it seems unrealistic, cliché, or too good to be true. The reader’s BS meter will start to dance and people will question your credibility.
Every piece of marketing content should undergo an adjective and adverb audit.
Start by identifying all of the adjectives and adverbs. Look for words that end with ly. Determine if they’re really needed and
simply delete those that aren’t.
Remove vague words like amazing, many, best, funny, highly and hopefully – words that leave too much room for interpretation. Or replace them with descriptors that are precise and convey a certain feeling or value.
In some cases, you may want to replace an adjective or adverb with a full sentence that validates an otherwise ambiguous claim.
For example, instead of saying your online security professionals are highly qualified, prove it. Say that they’re required to attend training on a quarterly basis to learn how to stop the latest cyber threats.
This will make your content longer, but it will give it value and substance. If you can’t validate the claim beyond an empty descriptor, don’t make the claim.
Better yet, instead of using adjectives and adverbs to describe your nouns and verbs, use better nouns and verbs.
For example, instead of saying somebody ran quickly, say they sprinted, bolted, dashed or raced.
Another technique is to use metaphors to provide clarity, paint pictures, stir emotions, or explain a confusing topic. Unlike a generic, overused adjective or adverb, the right metaphor will help people understand and relate to what you’re trying to say.
Mark Twain once said, “As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.”
Stephen King once said, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
At the very least, use adjectives and adverbs in moderation. Your content will be easier to read, absorb, and trust.