Should You Say No in Business Writing?


When writing business content, many companies instruct their writers to avoid any negative words. Everything must be re-framed as a positive, they believe, as if the word “no” and its cousins, such as “can’t” and “not” and “never,” will taint the rest of the content like used motor oil in a bucket of paint. You’ve read here before about magic words and how they affect your content, but does that magic have a dark side? Can reading the word “won’t” subconsciously associate your content with negative emotions? Is there bad juju connected to “no?”

The Difference Between Negativity and “No”

Sales and marketing executives have an understandable aversion to denying their customers’ requests. No one likes to say no to someone who’s about to give your business money. The word “no” by itself, though, can sometimes be a positive in buyers’ minds. Think of phrases such as “no money down” or “no special equipment needed,” and you’ll see how powerful this short word can be in the right contexts. These statements describe positive benefits even though they contain a negative word. While your content creation team could recast these phrases in positive terms, the results sound wordy or awkward – and awkwardness is a content killer.

Negative statements, on the other hand, are something your content team should avoid, at least on persuasive copy. While some negatives are unavoidable on FAQs or in warranty information, the content your customers see first should have a positive spin. Assume visitors are there because they want to buy with positive phrasing instead of implying they’re there only because they couldn’t find what they wanted elsewhere. Tell people what you can do for them, not what others can’t accomplish.

“No” Is a Stop Word

Search engines are expert at spotting the relevant information in search strings people type into them and discarding non-essential information. You’ll get the same return for “the tallest building in the world” as you will for “tallest building world” because those indefinite articles and prepositions are just clutter to a search engine. That’s a key fact for SEO specialists and content writers. Surprisingly, some stop words that get filtered out of search strings make a big difference in conversation but make almost no difference to a search. “No” is one of those words.

That may seem counterintuitive until you think about how you use search engines. If you were shopping for a no-smoking sign to hang in the break room and wanted to find it online, it shouldn’t matter if you searched for “no smoking signs” or “smoking signs.” “No,” “not” and similar words are stop words because they don’t affect what you want to find and therefore don’t significantly impact SEO.

Keeping It Positive

While using “no” and its variations won’t harm your SEO or give your writing a downbeat tone, it’s a good idea to keep it positive. Active writing leaves more of an impact than passive writing, but writers who aren’t professionals often use passive voice to sound more scientific; it’s typically a turn-off for readers and a sign of inexperience for content creators. Words with positive connotations also make a big difference. For example, a real estate listing that calls a two-bedroom bungalow “cozy” is much more appealing than one that calls it “small.”

Have no fear of an honest “no.” As long as the rest of your content is positive, persuasive and upbeat, you’re in good shape.

© Business Content, Inc. 2014 All Rights Reserved.

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