Zap That Error

With all the sloppy writing found online and the weird, compressed language of Twitter and text messages, it's easy to grouse about degraded writing standards in Internet culture. Nevertheless, an academic study has shown that online consumers still recognize well-written English and respond positively to it. To businesses, positive responses mean more customers and higher sales.Panos Ipeirotis, a computer scientist and NYU business school professor, conducted a technical inquiry into user-submitted reviews on the travel websites TripAdvisor and Travelocity. He found that "demand for a hotel increases if the reviews are well-written, without spelling errors; this holds no matter if the review is positive or negative."

At a conference, Ipeirotis learned that the online shoe store Zappos had already caught on to the benefits of supporting its products with reviews that conform to correct English. Since at least April 2009, the company has used a crowdsourcing platform to spruce up millions of user reviews. The content of the reviews have been kept intact, just the mistakes corrected. Paying about a dime for each stage of a "find-fix-verify" correction process, Zappos has likely spent up to $500,000 on the effort since it began. Ipeirotis learned that the benefits to sales were "substantial"; almost certainly they were much more than the half-million dollar cost.

Why would better-written reviews promote more sales? One probable answer is that people associate good writing with thoughtfulness and expertise. It engenders trust. Even well-written negative reviews support criticisms with evidence and reasoning, thereby allowing shoppers to make educated decisions for themselves. It seems that in the anything-goes online world, writing standards are actually more important than ever.