Do you know the most overused word on the internet — the one you should absolutely stop using?
8 min read
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You’ve done all you can to boost your online marketing: You know all the SEO tricks — from the use of long-tail keywords to link building with industry influencers. And, perhaps you’re paying search engines a little extra to slot your site at the top of the page when people search for your service or area of expertise.
So, what else could you possibly do to stand out?
Unless you happen to be in a line of work that no one else on the planet does, you probably cannibalize content from other sites, at least sometimes. Everyone does. We all get tips, facts, authoritative quotes and even ideas from many of the same sources (and hopefully credit them as necesssary).
But there's something else: Along with substance, we also absorb sound as well. Whether it was back in your high school days or today, in your work as a business owner today, you're probably talking and writing like the people around you.
Folks in your circle and industry are using the same buzzwords, reaching for the same phrases and metaphors and displaying the same speech patterns. That's only natural. And it's especially the case with internet marketing, partly because so many firms employ freelancers to generate their content.
These are writers who can churn out decent prose, and quickly too, but don’t necessarily know much about the subject they’re covering … whether that be real estate investments, travel, nutrition, fashion or collectibles.
So, those writers copy the content of other websites and refashion it in their own words. In-house company writers do the same. The problem is, though, that “their own words” tend to be very similar, if not identical, to the verbiage from every other site out there.
So, how do you make your content stand out from the crowd? One excellent way is to identify these too-familiar patterns and avoid them. Here are three of the worst.
1. The most overused word on the internet
Do you know what the single most overused word on the web is? It’s “important.”
You see it everywhere, in phrases such as “It’s important to note,” “It’s important to use,” “It’s become important,” “most important,” “especially important,” “highly important,” “important role,” “important benefit,” “important decision making,” “very important” and “Most importantly.” Sound familiar? At least two principles make this a poor word choice:
1. Repetition of anything lessens its impact. The more times you see a word repeated, the less it stands out.
2. Insistence can make almost anything suspect. Know how you get a skeptical feeling when someone claims to be stronger than anyone in the room, or possess a memory that's one of the greatest of all time? At best, you think: Who cares? At worst, you suspect the speaker’s wrong, and he or she can’t prove it.
The more effective strategy is to prove your claim from the get-go, rather than try to persuade people by giving it the label “important.” You should do what authors and actors call “show, don’t tell.”
Whatever you share with the reader ought to be sufficiently compelling that you don’t have to say it’s important. Your visitors will keep reading because they'll see you’re offering them something of interest and value, not because you’ve assured them, “This is important!”
At the very least, you should reduce the number of times you repeat this overused adjective. I’ve seen it turn up multiple times in a single paragraph. Many adjectives can substitute: essential, vital, crucial, critical, productive, useful, necessary, instructive. Each has a different connotation, of course, but depending on the context, most may be substituted for “important.”
You might also try “smart,” “wise,” “sharp,” or “canny” when you recommend a course of action, instead of saying: “It’s important to track your analytics.” Occasionally, I’ve found “worthwhile” to be a lovely (and definitely rare) alternative.
2. Don’t be redundant.
One way writers boost their word count in articles for the web is to say the same thing more than once. Sometimes, a point bears repeating, but too often, unnecessary redundancies consist of verbal sayings we type without thinking, because we’ve heard and read them so many times.
Perhaps some writers use them consciously to pad the length of their piece and get paid for a full 600, 1,000 or 1,500 words. Here are just a few I’ve personally cut or rewritten many times over the years in articles headed for the internet:
- tips and tricks
- tools and resources
- tasks and duties
- over and over again
- a variety of different
- a number of different
- originally started out
- same exact
- general consensus
- first off,
- first of all,
- first started
All the phrases above use multiple words to say something that could have been covered in one or two words. When your blog or article is filled with this kind of flabby writing, it can lull the reader into a relaxed state I might call “awakened sleep” (or “drowsy attention”). The implicit message is: “You don’t have to pay close attention to what I’m saying, because not every word counts. I’ve included a lot of extra, unnecessary ones.”
But written prose should be different from spoken prose, because reading is a more active exercise than listening — especially if your mission is to guide the reader to ultimate action, such as giving you his or her contact information or ordering your service.
So don’t use repetitive language. Cut back on redundancies. Train your readers to pay attention.
3. Wean your prose of clichés.
Another way to put your reader to sleep is to repeat the phrases and images that appear in everyone else’s articles. There’s nothing inherently wrong with such verbiage, but when it reappears, over and over, the reader’s attention may wander.
You didn’t bother to come up with something new, the phrasing implies, so why should the reader listen closely? I’m not speaking of oral clichés that are apparently common out in the real business world, but the ones that turn up with nauseating regularity in business articles on the web. Here’s a short list of examples I see all the time:
- without breaking the bank
- in the modern business/internet world
- it’s no surprise
- now’s the time to
- when it comes to
- do your due diligence
- with that being said,
- it’s always a good idea to
Among the worst clichés are the ones that don’t stand up to reason the minute a reader starts to think about them.
For example, near the beginning of an article (sometimes with the very first words), you may see “There’s no denying …” which presumes that of course the reader would instantly agree that whatever you’re about to say demands attention.
It’s another way of saying “this is important” instead of going ahead and showing what it is. Unfortunately, it may also tempt the reader to try to think of a situation in which someone could deny whatever you’re asserting.
Similarly, when you arrive at your conclusion, don’t write “Now that you understand” or “Now that you’re convinced,” because that may not be true. How would you know what’s going on in the reader’s mind? Just say what you have to say and let people decide what they’ve learned or believe.
I’ve often seen web writers employ “countless” when they simply mean an awful lot or too many. An article might assert, “There are countless times when …” or “You’ve spent countless hours …” as well as refer to “countless studies.”
Literally, the word means “cannot be counted.” But, honestly, most activities or items you’ll write about can be counted, given enough time and the wherewithal. So, it’s wiser to avoid the word altogether, unless you happen to be talking about grains of sand on a beach or stars in the sky and similar items that probably don't need to appear in a good piece of business writing.