Text is more important than anything

Any “decent” website is going to do the following: * look pleasant * work in most browsers * load in a timely fashion * present approachable navigation layout

These are all the base requirements, as far as I’m concerned. What distinguishes any site from any other is the information it provides, aka the copy (“copy” ~ “text” in the publishing world, for you non-logophiles). The words you put on every page determine who’s gonna find it, read it, share it, love it, hate it. If you focus on nothing else on your site, the verbage would have to be number 1. A few key words at the right place and the right time make everything go very well or very badly. I think the most important place to choose your words carefully is in the error messages. A user is never more vulnerable than when something goes wrong. Fault has absolutely nothing to do with it. Something screwed up, and now they feel some amount of stress. Leave that to fester long enough, and every user will go elsewhere. I have nothing to back that up save my own experience, but I guarantee its 100%, across the board, no exceptions. You can easily remove all their stress by presenting them with the right information and steps to move forward. Obviously there’s quite a bit of usability and process logic to consider here, but it all starts with the text. Make the situation clear while simultaneously providing a clear path to a solution, and you’ll be ahead of the majority of sites out there. Looking for more technical help with your error messages, I found this Think Vitamin post to be a great starter. Now a recent personal example of copy going horribly wrong. The following excerpt comes from an email from DirecTV, after I signed up for automatic payments…

We have successfully received your credit card information, and your automatic payments should begin to take effect within one to two billing cycles. You can view the details of your Auto Bill Pay information at any time at directv.com by visiting My Account…
So what am I supposed to do until automatic payments “take effect?” Hope that my bill gets paid and I don’t get smacked with late fees? I have absolutely no doubt that some IT flack who had a hand in the automatic payments system penned this little jewel, trying to express to the end user the act of their data propagating through the cluster or some similar garbage. That or a lawyer got their hands on the confirmation email text before it was approved. Either way, this information does nothing but stress the user out, and create even more questions. Your copy defines the user and their surroundings on your site. The right words put them at ease, the wrong ones can get them lost. Wield your power carefully.