Not all words are created equal. Some are more powerful than others. Some are more precise. Some will elicit the right reaction.
Every writer knows just how important it is to choose just the right words.
No. Wait. That’s not true. Every writer knows that it is important to choose just the right words, but most have no idea just how important it is. But sometimes it can be quantified.
I was listening to the radio while on a road trip – I think it was the John Tesh Show (I should have written it down, but I was driving with cramped, white knuckles through a snow storm at the time). He said that houses on streets labeled “boulevard” sell for 17 percent more than houses on streets labeled “street” or “avenue” (one or the other; it’s that not-writing-it-down-while-trying-to-stay-on-the-road thing again).
That is a huge difference. Even one or two percent of a huge price like that is worth a lot to you. The answer is, yes, it is worth your time and effort to lobby your mayor to change the name of your “street” to “boulevard”.
You see, not all words are created equal, even if they all are listed in the same entry in your thesaurus.
Enstine Muki tweaked a page of his website, by changing one word – yes, just a single word – to generate an extra $525. He changed “replacements” to “alternative”…because people search for alternatives, not for replacement (at least in the case of the product he was writing about). All he did was tweak one word so that it was speaking the people’s language, and he made money from search traffic and from providers that wanted a piece of it.
I would be curious to know what the difference is between Harry Potter and the Philosopher‘s Stone and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer ‘s Stone. The first title was the original British version. The second title was created just for the US market. I wonder what the reason was for the change, and whether it ended up selling more books than the original title would have sold. I guess we will never know.
“The short words are best, and the old words are the best of all.” – Winston Churchill.
Henneke Duistermaat offers four rules for choosing the right words:
Pick words your readers use. This always make sense. If people find your page by searching for “sturdy shoes”, use those words on your page rather than “sturdy footware”.
Choose precise words. If you are careful, your words will tell people exactly what you want them to know. If you are less careful, some people will take away a different meaning. You will lose them.
Choose sensory words. As Zig Ziglar famously said, “People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.” Make your readers feel.
Make each word relevant. When every word counts, you communicate so much more than when you just thrown in a lot of extra fluff. Don’t just open up a thesaurus to see what new word you can add in.
To which I would add one more… Test your options! Not all words are created equal. If you are not sure which word will be most effective, try running a split test and see which word draws more people in or converts more people to take action.
“Using a thesaurus will not make you look smarter. It will only make you look like you are trying to look smarter.” – Adrienne Dowhan