Is “check out” the “click here” of Writing for Social Media?

I previously blogged about the conversational voice of Twitter and why it’s not the same thing as marketing-ese. Something I didn’t cover was the over-use of “check out” in tweets. While a call to action seems like a good thing, “check out” is a weak verb, presents some of the same limitations as the shunned “click here” in Web writing, and is telling readers what to do when they should be in control.

Why “Click Here” is Poor Web Writing

There are plenty of articles criticizing “click here,” but I’ll summarize two key points.

Let the Reader Know What to Expect

The more confidence readers have in what will happen when they click a link, the more likely they are to click it. Saying, “For more information, click here” might:

  • Take you to a new page
  • Open another website in a new window
  • Download a 20M PDF
  • Open an email window

Instead, tell users what’s going to happen: “For more information, download the report (PDF, 20M).”

Provide Information While Scanning

When arriving at a Web page, users scan headings, bold face text and hyperlinks to decide if they will find the information they need on that page. This process takes just a second, but determines if a user will read the page or hit the back button.

At a glance, what communicates more information:

Lorem ipsum click here amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.

Lorem ipsum press conference amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.

Lorem ipsum watch the press conference (YouTube) amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.

The last one, right?

Setting Expectations and At-A-Glance Scanning on Twitter

Both of these ideas—informing users what to expect once they click a link, and letting them find keyword when scanning text—are even more important on Twitter. You have just an instant to convince readers to click your link before they move on to the next tweet.

So make sure your text is clear, concise and unambiguous.

“Check Out” Is Unclear and Ambiguous

“Check out” may sound casual, but fails to inform a reader what will happen when they click the link. Clicking the link in:

Check out my presentation at the SM in Gov’t 3.0 conference: http://short.url/aBcDef

could open:

  • A PowerPoint presentation (PPT)
  • A PDF of the presentation
  • A summary of my presentation on the conference’s website
  • A video of my presentation on YouTube

Why not use an active, accurate verb that informs the reader what’s going to happen:

Download my presentation from the SM in Gov’t 3.0 conference: http://short.url/aBcDef (PDF, 20M)

Why not? Though this is much clearer than “check out,” you shouldn’t tell users what to do.

The Imperative Voice: Telling People What to Do

Using the imperative voice (i.e., giving a command) violates the rule that users are in control on the Web. This rule is even more important in social media. Rather than telling reader to “check out” something, provide information and trust them make up their own mind.

For example, the following two tweets present exactly the same information:

Download the new trailer for The Connecticut Hacksaw Slaughter in HD QuickTime http://short.url/1a2Bc3

New trailer for The Connecticut Hacksaw Slaughter available in HD QuickTime http://short.url/1a2Bc3

If a reader is interested in the movie trailer, they’ll download it. You don’t need to tell them to do it.

Still, the first tweet is far better than an ambiguous:

Check out the new trailer for The Connecticut Hacksaw Slaughter http://short.url/1a2Bc3

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