Choose Your Words Wisely

10 Feb

If you’ve ever used the review website Yelp, you’ve probably noticed that you can sort a specific company’s reviews by date, rating, etc. But have you ever scrolled all the way down to the bottom of the review list? If you do, you’ll see that Yelp uses some sort of algorithm to push specific reviews behind a digital wall. It just takes a more couple clicks to access them- but why are they hidden in the first place?

How it currently looks on Yelp.com

How it currently looks on Yelp.com

Yelp claims that these hidden reviews are less helpful, created by bots, or otherwise unsuitable for the main page. Currently, the website’s copy describes these shunned reviews are “not recommended.” But that language is on the newer side. Previously, there was a button at the bottom of the page that offered you the chance to read “filtered reviews.”  Why the change from “filtered” to “not recommended?” I obviously don’t know what actually made Yelp change its wording. But as a language major turned brand strategist, these sorts of word choices trigger my curiosity. “Not recommended” certainly sounds less like censorship than “filtered reviews,” and more like a helpful service. “Filtered” implied that Yelp was exerting control. “Not recommended” sounds like they’re doing you a favor.

How it used to look before the wording change (screenshot from NPR)

How it used to look before the wording change (screenshot from NPR)

Strategic wording is important for brands to think about. The words you choose can truly shape the impact that your company makes, as well as the image it portrays. Another interesting word choice that I noticed lately was over on the website Zappos. Zappos sorts users’ product reviews by whether the review is “favorable” or “critical.” This is much more precise wording than “good” and “bad,” or “positive” and “negative.” Because reviews are inherently subjective, it makes sense to describe the user’s disposition toward the product, rather than implying that the product itself is good or bad. Zappos is seen as a friendly, customer-centric brand. Putting the emphasis on its customers’ opinions fits well with this brand culture.

From a Zappos product page

From a Zappos product page

Sometimes, smart verbiage is simply a way to extend a brand’s voice. That’s why Bloomingdales.com calls its online shopping carts “Big Brown Bags” instead of “carts” – they make use of a longstanding brand icon to breathe some personality into their website. It’s why Trader Joe’s lists out “trading hours” and not “store hours.”

Of course, words can just be words, chosen simply because they sound nice, or because they were the best someone could come up with, or because the company’s copywriter really needed to finish an assignment by a certain time. But often, analyzing word choice gives you another level of insight into what a brand is trying to say. Are you ready to listen?

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