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Rogue apostrophes, rickety content, out-of-date marketing messages… As a website evolves, it’s amazing how messy it can get. With spring upon us, now is the perfect time to take a fresh look at your web content and spruce it up.

In the office or studio it’s fairly easy to spot the problem: filing cabinets are overflowing, screens are grubby, and there’s a strange smell emanating from the fridge. But with your online copy, it can be harder to see what’s going wrong. After all, the home page looks fine. It’s only when you dig deeper that things get a bit whiffy.

At Ink, we’ve donned our digital marigolds and helped numerous clients clean up their content. But, if you prefer to go the DIY route, here are some of the most important things to consider:

Check your use-by dates

Because web copy is relatively easy to add or edit, it’s remarkable how long out-of-date content can stay in circulation. Check the simple things like phone numbers, email addresses, contact names and client lists. And make sure your site is free of broken links.

Give everything a polish

Often sites evolve more by accident than design. A new section is added here. A page is extended there. A micro-site is bolted on. And, before you know it, you have a hotchpotch of different tones from various divisions of the business. Now is the time to cull pages you no longer need and to rewrite content that’s inconsistent – making sure it follows your brand guidelines.

Double-check the details

Is every i dotted and t crossed? Have you checked for renegade apostrophes? Errors can slip through and remain on a site for months or even years. They may seem small to you, but to a prospective customer these little details can make a huge difference.

And finally, smarten up your SEO

SEO is constantly changing as Google develops new rules and restrictions. So, while you’re reviewing your content, take a moment to check how your site is performing. Are your terms still relevant? Could you add new search phrases or tweak some headlines? If you’re slipping down the search engine rankings, it may be time for a more in-depth, SEO-intensive spring clean.

As with any big clean-up, many hands make light work. So develop a plan, highlight the key issues, and get your team on board. And, if you want your site to sparkle like new, don’t forget that you can always call in the experts.

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Ask most businesses what sets them apart and invariably they’ll say “service”. But what happens when, for whatever reason, you can’t offer that personal touch? Can a few choice words be a substitute for a friendly face?

It’s a challenge faced across all sectors – from retail to telecoms. People expect greater customer service yet, at the same time, want lower costs. But, with a bit of creative thinking, copy can help to fill the void. In recent years, we’ve been helping hospitality brands convey their service ethos through their writing. Just think of all the touch points on the guests’ journey: the website, emails, reception, elevator, shower and pillow… Each one is an opportunity to make a guest feel at home.

The same principle is true for brands in other sectors where a few carefully chosen words can go a very long way.

Inform don’t indulge

It’s great when a brand is creative and original, but no one likes a show-off. Bombarding your audience with self-indulgent messages will leave them cold. So rather than using your communications to showboat (‘look how clever we are’), use them to help or inform the audience (‘have you thought about this?’). Keep them short and, just occasionally, a bit surprising.

Make the most of the opportunities

As well as the big campaigns, there are countless little opportunities for you to add the personal touch to the customer journey – whether online or on the printed page. For example, what does your 404 error message say about your brand? This dreaded ‘Page not found’ screen could be a chance for your tone of voice to shine. And, of course, there are all those T&Cs that accompany any purchase. While we’d advise you not to tinker with the legal speak, you can always find a down-to-earth, human way to introduce or explain jargon.

Picking up the pieces

Of course, if things do go wrong, copy is often left to deal with the consequences, whether it’s through a formal complaint letter or an angry rant on Twitter. We’ve looked at how to deal with complaints and the principles today remain the same: recognise what’s happened, say sorry and mean it, and explain what you’ll be doing to stop it happening again.

Like it or not, face-to-face connections are becoming less frequent – which means copy needs to work that bit harder. Or, to put it another way, as brands become more mechanised and digital, their words need to be more natural, approachable and, ultimately, more human.

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It’s been nine years since Ink first put pen to paper. So we’re getting ‘dressed to the nines’ and ‘going the whole nine yards’ and, if all goes to plan, we’ll be ‘on cloud nine’. Speaking of which, where did all these idioms about the number nine come from?

Dressed to the nines

There are lots of theories about the origins of this phrase. Some say it relates to the optimum nine yards of fabric tailors would use to make a particularly dapper suit, whilst others cite the 99th Regiment of Foot, which was known as ‘The Nines’ for being an especially well turned out battalion.

What’s more, the number nine turns up again and again throughout folklore and mythology – there were nine Muses in ancient Greece and Nine Worthies who personified chivalry in legends of the Middle Ages.

And don’t forget, nine is considered the perfect number in numerology – hinting again at excellence and perfection.

Going the whole nine yards

Many have scratched their heads and hypothesised over this phrase. It has come to mean 'going the whole way' and many claim it came from World War 1, when a fighter plane had a nine yard magazine. If a gunner used all of his ammo, he’d gone 'the whole nine yards'.

But it seems we weren’t always going nine yards. Once upon a time it was six and scholars have found references in newspapers from the 1910s, such as The Mount Vernon Signal in Kentucky, that promised to tell 'the whole six yards' of a story.

We may never know why we started striving for nine, rather than six yards. But if the number nine has come to symbolise perfection (in numerology and in myth) it makes sense that it’s nine we aim for when we’re giving all we’ve got.

Cloud nine

We use the proverbial cloud nine to indicate a state of euphoric bliss. If you’re on cloud nine you’re in heaven… figuratively speaking. But what’s wrong with clouds one to eight?

The International Cloud Atlas classed clouds numerically, so some believe the ninth cloud refers to the mountainous cumulonimbus, which can rise staggeringly high (23,000 metres in fact) – so if you’re feeling elated you’d be up there on the lofty cloud nine, rather than clouds one or two. Bear in mind, however, it’s also the cumulonimbus that creates heavy rain, so it’s not all positive.

A cat has nine lives

Our fortunate feline friends apparently have nine lives. Unless they’re German, Greek or Spanish cats, in which case they have seven lives. And Turkish and Arabic felines have just six.

The myth of the many lives of a cat extends across cultures. Sacred to the ancient Egyptians and associated in literature with magic and witchcraft, the cat has always slinked around with a sense of secrecy and the supernatural. This particular saying seems to derive from their suppleness and stealth – and these creatures’ remarkable natural ability to land on their feet when falling.

A stitch in time saves nine

A stitch in time is all about mending material that has a hole or tear. If dealt with promptly (in time), fewer stitches will be needed, because the hole won’t tear more.

But why does this save precisely nine stitches? Let’s face it, 'a stitch in time saves thirteen' just doesn’t have that pleasing rhyme to it, which makes the proverb all the more memorable.

While we may never know how these idioms came about, what we do know is that we’ll never stop being intrigued by how playful and perplexing our language can be.