How to avoid a £9 million copy mistake


What is the letter s worth? About £9 million according to recent news. That’s how much Companies House has to pay out to settle a law suit. Apparently the government agency mistook Taylor and Sons, a previously financially-sound, 124-year-old Cardiff company, for Taylor and Son, a firm that ceased to trade six years ago. The mistake cost the company its credibility, and suppliers stopped trading with it. This forced Taylor and Sons out of business, and its 250 employees out of work.

That’s a terrifying thought for any business owner. And whoever made the error at Companies House mustn’t be over the moon either.

The story reminded me of the many mistakes I’ve spotted on famous company and brand websites – not just errors of spelling, but of grammar and logic too. Do they matter? I think so. Sure, firms are unlikely to face £9 million lawsuits for a misspelt word here or there. But spelling mistakes, and worse, are there on many websites, for all the world, and potential customers, to see. They make the associated brands and companies look careless and untrustworthy.

I think there’s a simple reason these mistakes occur: lack of quality control. And I believe they happen because companies are rushing to get their web content out there, in front of their audiences. Also, with the nature of online publishing, there’s bound to be a feeling of, oh, don’t worry about the odd mistake, we can fix it easily afterwards.

In contrast, in the offline world, it takes longer to publish those messages in a newspaper or mail pack, or broadcast them on TV. And if there’s a mistake, it’s harder to put right after the ad goes to print or on air. So there’s a strong incentive to get the copy perfect beforehand. That’s led to certain sign-off procedures for offline work. My clients and agencies are much more likely to give me printed materials to proofread than they are web pages that I’ve written.

With my online work, I usually have to ask to check it before it goes live. I like to proofread it – not just for any mistake I might have previously overlooked but also errors that have happened when the designer or someone else has fiddled with my copy.

Here are three steps you can take to control the quality of your copy more rigorously:

  1. Have every stakeholder, including your copywriter, check all of the copy that’s relevant to them before it goes live.
  2. If you can afford a professional proofreader, use one.
  3. Make sure all stakeholders are automatically alerted about any changes.

Checks like those above will help you improve and maintain your brand image – and prevent expensive mistakes.


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