With the planet seemingly becoming smaller every day, thanks to digital globalization, we're starting to experience something interesting: the proliferation of standardized grammatical errors across social media and website templates.
I'll walk you through some examples, throughout this article.
Language is beautifully fluid. This article is not meant to shame anyone. Its purpose is for clarification, to bring us all closer together!
Here is a common example, featuring one correct usage option (and one not-so-correct) for "How to" within English grammar. This example comes from two standard marketing templates from one of the world's largest quick graphic design websites:
While some examples like the above may be confusing to English readers, many examples of English translations can bring some levity to our day. Like this:
And, of course, when translating English to other languages, the same thing happens!
Like when singer Ariana Grande got a tattoo in 2019 to celebrate her album, Seven Rings... The translation method she used for English to Japanese resulted in a tattoo that said small charcoal grill, instead of Seven Rings.
While this trend is common across all language translations, this article will focus on how incorrect English grammar within marketing, is increasingly influenced by common English usage in countries where English is not the primary language.
Let's explore why and how these practices are spreading grammatical inaccuracies, and harming practical sales and conversion implications for content creators, brands, and businesses worldwide.
A Word About Proper English-Grammar Usage: When to Not Take it So Seriously, and When It Can Be a Good Idea
Language contributes to enriching how we experience our lives, understand others, and communicate.
Language is a communication tool that changes over time, serving its users, through a wide variety of mechanisms like portmanteaus, slang, loanwords, code words, euphemisms, patois dialects, and more.
Its common use can change by geographic area, like a country, community, and friend groups, or its applications within science, art, law, and so on.
Language's power for effective communication, understanding, healthy debate, and endless choice in expression can unfortunately also be used to demean, control, exclude, and coerce certain groups of people. That is certainly not the goal of this article.
As such, I felt it important to highlight where taking grammar seriously may not matter so much (and bring people closer together), and where ensuring proper grammar is used can impact sales and conversion within marketing (where it affects sales and livelihoods).
When to Not Take it So Seriously
Many grammatical errors in translation, or slang, are beloved by the entire world. They've often shaped a shared nostalgia and joy for entire generations.
For example, I wouldn't trade "All your base are belong to us", for all the money in the world!
For those of you not familiar, this pop-culture phenomenon is from the Japanese video game Zero Wing, released in Japan in 1989 and then in Europe in 1991. The English translation of the game wasn't exactly correct, but that's why we love it!
Here's a delightful GIF, highlighting that nostalgia:
And within artistic applications, playing with words can evoke feelings, influence narratives, and express creativity:
When Proper Grammar Usage Can Negatively Affect Sales, for Some Audiences
The point of this article is that effective communication within the sales, marketing, and advocacy realms typically has a higher threshold when it comes to adhering to standards of how the language is commonly used for your specific audience(s).
And to be clear: I am no grammar expert, in any language, by any stretch of the imagination.
I simply feel that common or basic language standards should be adhered to within certain applications like marketing, and business, for the effectiveness of communication, and sales conversion.
This article was inspired by my experiences as a consumer, as well as a business owner.
Let's walk through how this recent trend I've seen over the last few years has affected common English usage, confusing many English speakers like myself, within digital marketing applications.
The Influence of Non-Native English Usage in a Global Digital Landscape
The digitized version of our world is an exciting and beautiful melting pot of cultures, and with it, comes linguistic nuances.
Non-native English-speaking countries often have distinct ways of using English. This can inadvertently lead to unconventional and grammatically incorrect expressions becoming normalized, especially in widely circulated online content, graphic design and website templates, or deliverables from Fiverr gigs and other online marketplaces.
This creates confusion when reading copywriting. With clarity being paramount to affecting audience conversion rates, and how copy can affect the psychographics of different audience segments, proper grammar usage is important to effective marketing. Businesses, freelancers, and influencers that are marketing to, or creating content for native English speakers may want to take care to ensure that their copy is tuned for the common English usage of that audience.
For example, if someone were to inquire how I was doing, they could say:
"How are you today?"
And I would understand them perfectly. But if instead they said,
"Today, how are you?"
"Today, you are how?"
I would technically be able to understand or be able to figure out what they were saying, but I would also be momentarily confused.
This is important, because marketing and design experts have to think in terms of how effective copy and content can be within milliseconds of a person viewing them. As such, content must be written to capture and convert an audience, while avoiding confusing their target audience. This necessarily includes using established language standards, for that audience.
In everyday interactions, slang, and casual, or improper grammar does not bother me in the least. I am interested in, and care about the person I'm talking to; and not in judging them on how perfect their English is.
In person-to-person interactions, our focus is only on how to understand the other person, and how to have the other person understand us. We typically have time, and motivation to work to overcome communication issues in these situations.
However, in digital marketing and web design, our purpose is to communicate effectively to our audience within seconds. As such, we do not have the luxury of having our audience tell us what they want, or that they need clarification, like we do in person-to-person interactions. They will simply ignore our message, and move on. We don't want that!
An Informal Case Study: The Curious Case of The Trend, "How to [...]?"
A prime example I've seen of how copy can confuse me as a consumer, is the phrase "How to [...]?" now commonly found in FAQ sections on websites, help articles, and social media posts:
While it may sound direct and engaging, it lacks the necessary auxiliary verb, making it grammatically incorrect, and confusing readers that are native English speakers.
Such errors, though seemingly minor, can become widespread through repeated use in popular templates and posts.
Again, this can negatively affect conversion rates, and the building blocks of marketing psychology principles like audience authority, and trust.
Impact on Global Digital Content:
Perpetuating Errors: When grammatical inaccuracies are replicated across platforms, they can become erroneously accepted as correct by others who may not speak that language natively, leading to a cycle of confusion for audiences, across many channels and brands.
Professional Credibility: For businesses and professionals, such errors can undermine the credibility of their digital presence, especially among audiences sensitive to language accuracy.
Communication Barriers: While the intent of the message might still be clear, persistent grammatical errors can create unnecessary barriers to effective communication.
Mitigating the Confusion, and Boosting Conversion:
Education and Awareness: Raising awareness about common grammatical errors and their correct forms can help content creators avoid these pitfalls. I urge that this be done respectfully, lovingly, and inclusively. Every language has its nuances, and even different dialects can have different grammatical rules, or . Let's help each other!
Quality Checks: Implementing thorough proofreading processes and utilizing language-checking tools can significantly reduce these errors in published content.
Cultural Sensitivity: Understanding and respecting the linguistic diversity of non-native English speakers, while striving for grammatical accuracy, can create a balanced approach to content creation.
As digital content continues to blur geographical boundaries, content creators must be cognizant of the grammatical standards of the language they are creating content for.
While embracing linguistic diversity is important (and enjoyable), maintaining grammatical integrity ensures clarity and professionalism in our global digital dialogue.
By addressing these growing concerns, we can preserve the accuracy and effectiveness of communication as our communities become ever increasingly global, thanks to digital means!