Why Exclamation Points are Dead and You should Never Use them in Your Content Marketing Again

by Marcus Sheridan

exclamation2

Guess what?

When you use exclamation points in your web copy, it has the opposite effect you’re looking for!

Really, it’s true!

So the next time you’re thinking about using an exclamation point in your content marketing, don’t do it!

The Death of the Exclamation Point

This article is going to be short and sweet, but because this problem keeps coming up again and again in the content marketing space, I decided to address it today. Here goes…

Almost every day I find myself looking at dozens of blog articles, web pages, and landing page offers that my clients have produced in an effort to teach, inform, and ultimately convert their audiences. And almost 100% of the time, when these writers/content producers are trying to show excitement with their messaging, they end up using an exclamation point to emphasize their points.

Here is the funny thing about exclamation points though:

They cheapen your message.

Why?

It’s an interesting evolution really. Somehow, over time, we’ve all made a psychological connection between exclamation points and “that sales guy” on your local TV commercials screaming, “Boy do we have a deal for you!!!”

It’s because of this reality the best web copy—especially the stuff attempting to convince readers to make an action—should not include exclamation points, otherwise you greatly risk having the opposite intended effect.

This is also why great web copywriters understand how the customization of font, style, bold, sub-headers, etc. are essential to getting their message across in a way that, to the reader, “feels right.”

It’s the Little Things that make the Biggest Difference

Effective content marketing (and communication in general) is full of little nuances that can make all the difference. And although something as simple as using exclamation points may sound insignificant to some reading this article, the reality is we are all, as businesses, in a battle of who can engender the most trust with our prospects and customers.

This is our challenge, and those that make “trust” their ultimate compass in the way they do business—online and off—are ultimately the ones that will likely end up on top.

(Note*** For those of you looking to tell me all the proper applications for exclamation points in writing and literature, please save yourself. I get it. This ain’t about that. :-) )





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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Ruth Zive April 18, 2014 at 11:35 am

Marcus, I admit it. I’m quite sure I’m guilty of the odd gratuitous exclamation point. And I take your feedback to heart. However, I’m wondering if this is your opinion, or if there is actually data/evidence that indicates that readers take you less seriously if you have used exclamation points. I’m going out on a limb here to say that I think, sometimes, an exclamation point is warranted. Perhaps not within the context of a sales pitch. And certainly not on an excessive basis. But now and then, it imparts a sense of enthusiasm that makes sense. Because of your blog post, I’ll be more discriminating when I use them, but I doubt I’ll eliminate exclamation points from my repertoire altogether (unless you can point me to some data that indicates it kills engagement).

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Marcus Sheridan April 18, 2014 at 2:54 pm

That’s the thing Ruth, few have talked about this subject when it comes to a content marketing level.

But the goal of digital sales (or digital motivation) are reached when people/readers feel like they are in control of the situation and not being “pushed” or “manipulated” into doing (or believing) something. Furthermore, they don’t want to sense the other side is overzealous in their efforts to make a point.

Here’s why I’m going to do. I’m going to send you some copy sometime that is a perfect example (when it comes across my desk). It won’t be “sales” copy necessarily, but it will be blog content, content that is trying to convince you of something. The “data” we get will be in your feelings of reading it with and without exclamation points.

Does that make sense? (It will be fun ;-)

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Ruth Zive April 21, 2014 at 11:47 am

I’m always up for a little fun. But I’m not sure that you’re anecdotal experiment will necessarily change my mind. I’ll tell you what…you send me your example and if/when I come across what I think is a fairly effective use of the exclamation point, I’ll send it your way :). And then we can compare notes (and reactions).

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Michael Neuendorff April 18, 2014 at 11:51 am

Marcus, I’m going to side with Ruth on this one. What I disdain is the use of more than one exclamation point. Notice that’s what you did in your examples. I’ve always been against that and I’m also against overuse of even the single ‘!’, but I’m not 100% against them. Used liberally just as other forms of enhancement techniques I think they can have their place.

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Marcus Sheridan April 18, 2014 at 2:57 pm

I think we can all agree on the multiple ex. points Michael, but I would challenge you to find copy in the future that contains 2 or more exclamation points in the article. When this occurs, check your feelings. Also, see if there would have been a better way (ie–doing it without them) to express the feeling or information. My guess is you’ll start to see what I’m trying to explain here.

But I could be wrong. :-)

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Andrew Freeman April 18, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Its funny. I am putting together a presentation together about using Constant Contact and I am saying the exact same things. I got my data from Constant Contact, although their system is down right now, so I can’t find it.

Admittedly this is in relation to subject lines, but I don’t pay much attention when it seems as if web copy has too many exclamation points.

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Marcus Sheridan April 18, 2014 at 2:49 pm

GREAT example when it comes to email subject lines Andrew. I’ve gotten to the point where if I see an exclamation point in a subject line of an email, I won’t even open it.

Let me know how your preso goes man!

Marcus

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John Verba April 18, 2014 at 7:12 pm

Ruth and Michael,

Like you, I’d be looking for results to guide me… though I’m not sure that blog content is intended to generate a direct ROI. I, instead, looked at the home pages of two success-system marketers who’ve both built Inc. 500 companies (which I’d take to be good examples to emulate)… then I looked at my own direct mail letters that got a 15% response rate or generated a waiting list for a new bank that was looking for customers… and then I looked at a couple websites for Comic Con-type conventions (because exclamation points are everywhere in comics)… and I also looked at the website for CES, which is a really exciting tradeshow.

I couldn’t find an exclamation point anywhere on the CES site, and I didn’t find any in any blog content, that I noticed. But home pages and call-to-action copy and some known-to-be-successful lead-in copy had them. But only two to four, total in/on a whole letter or web page.)

It appears that, to find where they might most naturally go, you could read your copy out loud. When your voice raises at the end, or it feels like you should be leaning forward, looking into the listener’s eyes, consider which punctuation mark best shows that. :) “Send my free CD, right away.” might seem a bit restrained. “Holy mother of moley. Look who’s coming to Comic Con.” might, too. If I had more time, I’d try to think of when and where intensity and emotion really sell, and/or where imperative statements might show up in blog content. They’d likely help i those settings. But generally, it does seem like a lot of today’s blog content, when read aloud, wouldn’t naturally have a lot of intense drama to it, and shouldn’t.

I think Marcus’ is making a very strong and accurate point if it’s, “Don’t just hit the exclamation mark key in order to add emotion to your content. It takes a lot more than that to get people to lean forward toward you when you’re leaning forward toward them.” But they seem to fit naturally in calls to action where an opportunity is fleeting or suggested to be life-changing.

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rayamart April 19, 2014 at 12:24 am

well, honestly i don’t understand about marketing stuff..
but i think this article is great !.. and you make a point about exclamation

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surveyaro April 19, 2014 at 5:16 am

Personally, I think putting an exclamation point a an article, especially sales post, would make am intended buy thing you are scam or not serious about what you are saling.

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Damien April 19, 2014 at 9:12 am

I agree they are overused. But there is a time and a place. Used sparingly, exclamation points can emphasise a point quite nicely. It’s when they are used every second sentence they become silly and meaningless.

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Jennifer King April 19, 2014 at 3:09 pm

I am totally guilty of over-using exclamation points on my sites and social media…intentionally. But I have a fast-moving niche audience (hard-core couponers who are actively researching hot, time-sensitive deals) and the exclamation points and even the semi-frequent use of caps does catch their attention.

Basically, if I don’t come across in a post as truly thrilled about a deal, they won’t care about it either — and if I’m not sourcing amazing deals for them, why should they bother coming back to my sites?

It’s particularly noticeable in a Facebook call to action. For example, I had a recent status update that reached 35% of my Facebook followers, which is pretty tough to do without promoting these days. And yep, it was exclamation point this and caps lock that — on a deal that definitely deserved them.

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Troy S. April 19, 2014 at 3:50 pm

I try to shy away from them especially if not needed as I tend to find more often it is certain words or maybe phrases that need emphasis and bolding those words gets the job done me thinks.

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Yassin Madwin April 19, 2014 at 7:25 pm

Totally agree, sometimes changing one word increase conversions. in fact, you should avoid using questions mark and reduce commas. it reflects a sens of authority for the reader. doing this makes the reader imagine the author talking in a relaxed deep voice.

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make money online April 19, 2014 at 11:59 pm

This article makes sense. Content writing requires lots of focus and consistency and we need to learn how to stay focus while working on content.

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Dubai Escorts April 20, 2014 at 3:47 am

Nice blog. Good piece of information.

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Tom Repp April 20, 2014 at 8:15 am

Amen, brother! Opps. Amen Brother.

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Marcus Sheridan April 28, 2014 at 9:49 am

That made me chuckle Tom. :)

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Kate April 20, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Oops…guilty of this!!

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Owen Blevins April 21, 2014 at 10:05 am

As the son of a professor of oral interpretation and persuasive speech, I relate strongly to this post Marcus. My mother was adamant about keeping emotion out of persuasive writing. Although I have used exclamation points in my writing at times, I use them very sparingly and rarely if ever, in a formal document. When I see exclamation points being used, I typically discount the writer’s thoughts or statements. My experience has taught me that the best points are made without showing emotion. It gives the writer more credibility and the appearance of being less emotional about the subject he/she is writing about. Emotion in writing seldom helps to get a point across to an audience that you’re intending to convince or convert IMO. Thanks for the brilliant post my friend.

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Kevin V April 23, 2014 at 4:54 pm

I agree that overuse of exclamation points is a bad thing. But I’ve also always been taught that persuasion is the art of appealing to both the rational and the emotional. That the best points are made without showing emotion – and that writers who are devoid of emotion in their writing have more credibility are concepts that are befuddling to me.

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Owen Blevins April 24, 2014 at 8:35 am

Kevin, my apologies for befuddling you… :-) For the record, I did not state, “…writers who are devoid of emotion in their writing have more credibility.” Just for kicks and giggles I googled the “official” transcripts of what I believe to be are 5 of the most prolific speeches written by influential people throughout recent history; Winston Churchill’s address to Parliament, President Kennedy’s inaugural address, The Gettysburg address written by Abraham Lincoln, Susan B Anthony’s speech after being arrested for voting, and The Declaration of Independence. All of these historic extremely passionate and very moving speeches and documents are very polarizing, full of emotion, and are made to move people to action, yet none of them use one exclamation point. I know there are many other infamous speeches that are filled with exclamation points that are just as prolific, but my point here is that exclamation points need not be used to express or show a forceful way of speaking or a strong feeling. My opinions are my own and I respect those that choose to use exclamation points in their writing. I think it’s more difficult to write without them but from my perspective, not using exclamation points has advantages for those trying to reach a broader audience without alienating those that might be of a differing opinion. Thanks for the counter point.

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Marcus Sheridan April 28, 2014 at 9:48 am

Owen, you are the voice of reason sir. And you’ve actually explained my point here better than I did.

Persuasive writing and exclamation points simply don’t mix.http://www.thesaleslion.com/wp-admin/edit-comments.php?paged=3#comments-form

You had a smart momma my friend!

Marcus

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Angela Slupe April 21, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Well said, Marcus. The exclamation point has become so overused that I’m sure most people are numb to it by now. I enjoy reading your posts and often find myself forwarding them on to others within my organization. I appreciate that you get right to the point and offer great advice (along with a little humor). Cheers to you.

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Davina K. Brewer April 24, 2014 at 10:00 am

See also descriptors: viral, epic, awesome, must-read, or anything that says you have to click to find out what’s next. When it’s deployed for business purposes (comms, marketing, blog content, etc.) it’s the often worst kind of linkbait and switch, leading to a total letdown for the reader.

You’re exactly right Marcus, the exclamation lessens the words, having the opposite effect than intended. It’s courtesy, it’s like all caps and shouting at your readers. In PR what you say about yourself means isn’t nearly as important as what others have to say. So tooting your own horn, shouting at them with !! to make a point, rarely will. Now I sometimes pair the exclamation point with a question mark, in blogs or tweets for comedic effect. It’s like you said, designers and writers.. they get the web, how readers see the screen, the relationship they have w/ the words and content; like any ‘rule’ there are always exceptions, if you know how to carefully, sparingly break them. FWIW.

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FlowersKorea May 8, 2014 at 2:23 am

Celebrations seem to be much grander when they are embellished with the touch of beautiful Floral Arrangements and sweet treats such as Cakes and Chocolates. Send Flowers to South Korea along with more mesmerizing items from the online shopping sites. They will be delivered straight to the doorsteps of your dear ones to make their day more fun-filled and ever cherish able.

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Chad May 15, 2014 at 10:10 am

Marcus, I’m so glad you wrote this blog post. I’ve been preaching this to some of the people writing social and Web copy at my organization. Suffice it to say, I’ve had to deal with a bit of drama for my “no exclamation point” mandate, but I figure it was better to go without them completely rather than keep the door open for misuse. You can’t fake authenticity, but that is exactly what the improper use of exclamation points tries to do. Great post. Thank you.

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Marcus Sheridan May 21, 2014 at 7:41 am

Love it Chad! And do you word for Lds.org?? If so, awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Chad May 21, 2014 at 11:15 am

Marcus, I think your response is an appropriate example of how to use exclamation points. :) I do indeed work for LDS.org. You can probably imagine there are a lot of people involved with content creation for the site. I oversee the content creation for the home page, official LDS Church Facebook, Twitter, and G+ accounts and the social accounts for the FP and Q12. I think we could learn a lot from you. Maybe there’d be a chance for some sort of discussion or speaking engagement some time in the future if it met your needs and schedule. I think we’d benefit from it.

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