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Do people search using basic, simple, old words? But when they arrive at a Web site, are they moved to action by more emotive, sophisticated words...?


The Web is the land of the word. Getting your words exactly right can mean the difference between success and failure.
Frank Luntz is a bit of a hero to US Republicans. Even opponents such as John Kerry recognize his talent, stating that Luntz "understands the power of words to move public opinion and communicate big ideas."
Luntz has 10 rules for great communication, which he details in his recent book, Words That Work. He summarizes his rules with 10 words: "simplicity, brevity, credibility, consistency, novelty, sound, aspiration, visualization, questioning, and context."
Your site is dealing with a highly impatient customer. You need to get your words exactly right, because otherwise lots of those impatient customers will hit that Back button.
The right choice of words is vital to effective communication.
"By almost two-to-one, Americans say we are spending too much on 'welfare' (42 percent) rather than too little (23 percent)," Luntz writes. "Yet an overwhelming 68 percent of Americans think we are spending too little on 'assistance to the poor,' versus a mere 7 percent who think we're spending too much."
Luntz lists a range of words that have gone out of fashion, as well as the words that have replaced them. They are:
WAS: Used car IS NOW: Pre-owned vehicle
WAS: Secretary IS NOW: Administrative assistant
WAS: Housewife IS NOW: Stay-at-home-mom
WAS: Stewardess IS NOW: Flight attendant
WAS: Waiter/Waitress IS NOW: Server
WAS: Caretaker IS NOW: Estate manager
WAS: Garbage removal IS NOW: Sanitation services
WAS: Gay marriage IS NOW: Same-sex marriage
WAS: Impotence IS NOW: E.D./Erectile dysfunction
However, according to Overture, in December 2006, 730,958 people searched for "used car," while only 949 searched for "pre-owned vehicle."
Nearly 73,000 people searched for "housewife" (122,000 searched for "desperate housewife"), while only 43 searched for "stay-at-home-mom."
Over 30,000 searched for "gay marriage" while 19,000 searched for " same-sex marriage."
While about 17,000 people search for "impotence," over 100,000 search for "erectile dysfunction," proving that some words are indeed falling into disuse, even from a search point of view.
I am not trying to question Frank Luntz's findings here. I'm sure he has done his research. What I am wondering is whether when we search, we revert back to older, more basic words. Words that might be cruder, shorter and simpler.
I will search for a cheap hotel but when I arrive at a Web site, I don't really want to see a big heading saying:
WELCOME TO OUR DIRT CHEAP HOTEL
I'd much prefer to see a heading such as:
A BOUTIQUE HOTEL FOR THE BUDGET-MINDED
Because, you know, I'm not cheap; I'm just budget-minded.
The words that people search with may not always be the words they would like to read when they arrive at a Web page. Search needs to be understood as a particular type of mental behavior. Once the customer arrives at a Web page, a whole new set of words may kick in. One set of words to bring customers to your Web site--another set to get them to complete a task.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Gerry McGovern
Gerry McGovern (gerry@gerrymcgovern.com) is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.