No one usually tries to procrastinate, but deadlines have a nasty habit of creeping up on you while you’re doing a million other just-as-important things. Next thing you know, you’re rushing to get a marketing piece finished and to the printer as fast as possible. You give the design a good hard look, maybe you ask a co-worker to give it a look too, and then pass it along to the printer, happy to have it off your desk.
Unfortunately, this is how typos are born. Some typos are funny, and some are subtle enough that many folks don’t even notice them at first glance:
Others can be expensive. Most aren’t going to be millions of dollars expensive, like “the most expensive hyphen in history” … but it’s not unheard of for a small typo to cost a company thousands of dollars.
However, regardless of the money that’s paid out of pocket, there’s another cost. There’s lost trust with the audience. You don’t want your company or product to be the butt of a joke. And you don’t want to lose even an ounce of your audience’s trust – they have so many options to choose from, that ounce could be the tipping point that sends them elsewhere.
This applies to printed advertising, such as posters, newspaper ads, and brochures, as well as digital advertising, such as banner ads, newsletters, and email campaigns. When the typo is made in an email, the typo can cause it to be flagged as spam, generate fewer click-throughs, or worse – increase unsubscribes.
So how does one avoid typos? The person who has written the copy is usually too close to it to proof objectively. So here are some copy proofing tricks that can help:
- Do not wait until the last minute to proofread. If possible, let the project sit untouched overnight and then review it with fresh eyes the following day.
- Don’t just hand it over to the guy sitting in the cube next to you to look over. Have it reviewed by many eyes – from as many different places as possible. Everyone brings a different perspective to the table – the guy from accounting might catch that the copy includes an urban slang phrase that no one wants associated with the product. Bonus points if you happen to know someone who fits the target audience that can review it from the perspective you really want.
- Read it backwards. It’s awkward and takes longer, but my mother, who edited copy every day for at least 4 decades, swore by this technique for catching spelling errors.
- Read it out loud. Your brain will scan some words when reading, but when you read it aloud, you are forcing your brain to really see the words. Even better if you aren’t talking to an empty room, but grab someone to listen – while you’re focusing on how the individual words sound, they’ll catch how the whole thing sounds when put together.
- Have a child read it (assuming the copy is G rated). Even if some of the words are a little above their reading level, you’ll find errors while they sound out unfamiliar ones (and you might discover you’ve assumed too high of a reading level and need to use words that everyone will quickly understand).
- Dial all phone numbers in the copy. You’ve seen your phone number so many times, you might not catch if two digits have been transposed. This works best if you can hand the copy to someone else to dial the numbers they see, but if you do it yourself, be sure to force yourself to dial the numbers exactly as they are shown.
- If it’s printed copy, type out every URL from it into your browser (don’t allow your browser to auto-fill while you’re typing – be sure you type each web address exactly as it appears in the copy). If it’s an email, click every single link – including the ones that don’t look like links (for example, your logo should always be clickable, even if it’s not obvious). Extra credit if you do this exercise with multiple browsers and devices (PCs, Apple computers, and smartphones) – you’re not just checking that the URL is correct in the copy, you’re also making sure the landing page displays properly.
- Is there a word or phrase that’s bugging you? Perhaps the words are all spelled correctly, so there are no red squigglies, but the more you say the phrase the more odd it sounds. Or you aren’t sure if a word is supposed to be hyphenated. Don’t assume it’s right because that’s how you’ve always spelled it or said it. Google is your friend. Take two seconds and do a quick search – if you can’t find the phrase, chances are you’re the only person who thinks it’s witty or you’ve misunderstood it when others have said it – either way, probably best to replace that part of the copy.
While some mistakes might slip through the cracks no matter what you do, using these techniques should help you avoid doing anything too embarrassing … like inviting satan to a Christmas sale.