Does your blog have a potty mouth?

Potty mouth bloggerRecently, a woman emailed me saying that she was “disappointed in the language” I used in my post, “Your B2B site doesn’t need more freakin’ words.”

I have to admit that my first thought was, “Really?  I wrote a great post – and THIS is what you focus on?”

(And, ironically, it’s one of my post popular posts ever…which is interesting.)

Even if my first reaction was, “really?” I thought long and hard about her feedback.

Prior to that post, cussing in print was not my natural style.  Then, I received some interesting feedback. Someone who knew me personally mentioned that there was a disconnect between my “real life” personality and how I blog.

If you talk to me in person (and I’ve gotten to know you,) I tend to pepper my conversation with swear words. I don’t do it gratuitously, I don’t swear on stage, and I don’t swear in front of children. Otherwise, yes, I swear.

So that got me thinking.  What would happen if my blog voice was more like in real voice? Would people unsubscribe? Would my business tank? Or, would I feel like I was writing more authentically?

I checked out other blogs I admired to see how and if they contained swear words. Two great examples come to mind:

Redhead Writing by Erika Napoletano is full of curse words. Hell, she even talks about her “latest bitch slap.” She’s used darn near every word that you’re not “supposed” to use in “proper company.” And I love her writing even more for it. Is her blog or business suffering because she has an opinion and isn’t afraid to show it? Nope. She’s the author of the new book The Power of Unpopular, a columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine and a TEDx Boulder speaker. She’s obviously doing well.

Johnny B. Truant has a fantastic manifesto called “How To Be Legendary” that is full of curse words. His email privacy policy states, “I’m not an asshole. I will never share, sell or otherwise disclose your private information. Sure, he could spell out his privacy policy in the “normal” way. Yet, the curse words have impact.  When I read his manifesto, I didn’t think, “Oh goodness. Johnny dropped the F-bomb. Now that he’s cursed, his opinion means nothing to me.” In fact, I applauded every time he did it.  His writing (and cursing) shocks people out of their comfort zone and gets them to think. 

Personally, I think that’s pretty cool.

I can point to many other people in the SEO industry who are much more in-your-face than I am. And you know what? They are all making really good money. They’re happy. They’re not stressing about saying a bad word here or there. They’re telling it like it is.

If I am true to myself – and the way that I speak in real life  – that means my blog may have a swear word (or two.) Because, like Erika and Johnny, I’m also trying to get folks to wake the hell up and change what they’re doing. I’m tired of seeing piss-poor SEO content out there. I’m tired of companies believing that content is an “unnecessary” expense, and they should only pay $50 per 500 word page. And I’m tired of writers believe that they aren’t good enough, smart enough or talented enough to succeed.

Folks could say, “Well, to swear or not to swear totally depends on your target audience.” And that’s true. Yet, I know that my target audience appreciates directness over drivel. Focus over fluff. Sure, I can sanitize my blog and set up the editorial directive or “Thou shalt not swear.” But do I really have to?

What do you think? Would you rather read a sanitized version of Heather? Or do you want the full-on, you asked for it and you got it Heather? Because I can almost guarantee that the “real” Heather is much more interesting than the sanitized version.

As a side note, this topic sparked some great Twitter discussions. Thanks to @graywolf, @airdisa, @ljcrest, @MirandaM_EComm, @willemrt, @PdJen, @pcproffitt , @TiaDobi and @cshel. And thanks to @matthewnewnham for the “write like I talk” inspiration.

Afraid that your SEO content is crap? I can tell you how to fix it – and even help turn your crap into high-converting copy. Learn more about the SEO Content Review and SEO copywriting services, today.


24 replies
  1. Lori Smart
    Lori Smart says:

    “Obscenity is the currency of a bankrupt vocabulary.” Some people may be able to make money even though they use profanity in their blog, but that doesn’t mean they are having a positive impact on the world. As a copywriting blogger, you’d think the best image to portray to your audience is a professional one. I admire several SEO bloggers for their skills, but I refuse to follow their social media because of their inability to use the English language without resorting to profanity.

  2. Matt McGee
    Matt McGee says:

    It’s like writing about politics. If that’s what you want to do, go for it. But you have to understand that you’re likely to piss off some percentage of people.

    Same way with foul language. There are people who are just inherently turned off by it (like me). It’s not right or wrong, it just is. I don’t begrudge people their right to use foul language, and they shouldn’t begrudge me my right to dislike (and avoid) it.

  3. Craig Wright
    Craig Wright says:

    I don’t care if there’s *bad* language if it feels genuine. For example, when I used to watch Deadwood, the swearing never bothered me once because it felt like authentic speech. I barely noticed it. But if I see/hear swearing that seems forced or added for effect, it bugs me.

    I guess, like everything else, there is a time and a place. When I read the original article, I remember noticing the language and thinking this must be a subject that you really feel passionate about. It was appropriate for the tone. If you wrote every article like that, I’d start to feel it was maybe a shock tactic or a lack of care.

    By the way, I swear ALL the time when speaking, often in incredibly inappropriate places, because it is just part of my normal speech pattern. I’d have to concentrate really hard to not swear. Yet, I rarely swear when I’m writing, even when I’m just typing whatever comes into my head. Is that odd?

  4. Jill Whalen
    Jill Whalen says:

    For the most part, it’s not professional to swear. So if the blog is for business, I’d generally say don’t do it. Would you swear in a business meeting?

    That said, I once got called out for using the phrase “circle jerk” in one of my posts. Hehe… I thought that was pretty funny. (I didn’t remove it and I’d say it again the same way today!)

  5. Laura McDonald
    Laura McDonald says:

    If you want to portray some personality on your blog (who wouldn’t?!) then I think swearing is fine. It’s different to swearing in front of a client, which I don’t think anyone should do but in writing I don’t think it causes any harm.

    I respect papers that don’t star out swear words a lot more then those that do! It gives that extra emphasis in written content.

  6. Tenisha Mercer
    Tenisha Mercer says:

    My first thought: “Freakin” isn’t a swear word. I know some F-words that are a lot worse! I think that folks don’t need to get their panties in a knot over what YOU write on YOUR blog. If it offends … don’t read it.

    Now, to curse or not to curse, I think, depends on your audience, and how you talk. I’ve got B.S. on my blog. Not bullshit, but B.S.

    But, I have been thinking about adding more, shall we say, colorful language. Not to cuss just to cuss, but when I’m pissed off or I am passionate about a subject.

    My holdback is that I’m marketing to niche industries where it isn’t exactly considered “professional.” Still wringing my hands over that one.

    I swear. Like a sailor. It didn’t help that I was a reporter for 15 years and newsrooms are known for dirty language and baudy behavior.

    They say you should write how you talk. And how I talk in person is usually peppered with four-letter words, my only rule being not around the elderly, at church, my mom or young children.

    Non-swearers say that to swear means you don’t have a grasp of the English language. Bullshit. I speak the King’s English when necessary; I swear because I want to — and because nothing is more emphatic than an F-bomb, shit or a few other choice words to get your point across.

    You’ve definitely given me a lot to think about, Heather.

  7. Nick Stamoulis
    Nick Stamoulis says:

    It’s one of your most popular posts because you added that word “freakin'” in there. It captures attention in a way that wouldn’t have if it wasn’t there. In a way it’s a bold statement that implies that you mean business and people are curious to know why you feel so strongly so they click on the post to read more. I think it’s a great tactic.

  8. Margriet
    Margriet says:

    Hi Heather,
    I think a blog should reflect the personality and passion of the writer. That’s what a blog is all about and that’s why it is a blog and not an article. Besides that, I agree with Tenisha: I do not think that the word freakin’ is a swearword.
    In this case it really underlines that you’re passionate about what you’re trying to make clear in your blog.
    I do think that using ‘real’ swear words are not done. You don’t want to offend any readers unnecessarily. Here in The Netherlands a lot of swearwords also contain names of terrible diseases which I think are also an absolute NO GO in blog posts or any sort of communication really. To put a long story short: I liked your freakin’ blogpost!

  9. Kevin Carlton
    Kevin Carlton says:

    I’ve got to say that I’m not a great fan of swearing in blogs. Don’t forget that, when it comes to online, you’ve got a permanent footprint of every single curse you make. So I always think you’re doing something you might later regret.

    But on the flip side, a few swear words certainly won’t stop me from reading a blog post that has something interesting and useful to say. In other words, it certainly won’t stop me from being a fan of Success Works and reading it in future.

    Heather, swearing online may not be to everyone’s taste (including mine). But you cannot go too far wrong by following your own gut feeling. And so it’s best just to do what feels right.

  10. Faye Oney
    Faye Oney says:

    This might be typical of the younger generations believing that swearing in print is acceptable. I believe you can get your point across without profanity. I use curse words in some situations (don’t we all?) but not in print, and especially not online where the world is your audience.

    I might be in the minority, but I feel that profanity in a blog takes the writer’s credibility down a notch.

    Remember potential employers or prospective clients may be Googling you, and if you’re trying to portray a professional image online, using swear words will destroy that image.

  11. Alan W.
    Alan W. says:

    I worked for several years in a metal shop where the workers often used bad words to express dissatisfaction, disappointment, disapproval, discontent, or some other dislike. Swearing, cursing, and cussing, were normal ways of expression for everyday things.

    For my former coworkers, profanity was a way to express frustration because they did not have any other means.

    I think that people who have had a certain upbringing, or a more extensive education, profanity may be more of a novelty. I can see how swearing can be intellectualized as “passionate” expression. But in reality it just smacks as “lack of words” and makes you sound “cheap”.

    Now, Cheap is a good word to label something of low value.

    I feel that when I read the work of a good writer, my expectation is that he or she will use creative ways to convey ideas, emotions, or concepts in compelling ways that will sway the reader. Swearing ain’t one of those ways.

    Bad words should not be used when we cannot find good words.

  12. David McCauley
    David McCauley says:

    Hi Heather

    “So What”

    This is what is being taught to use as a personal test factor for an Idea. It has to pass the “So What” process.

    But “So What” is kind of bland and high school prissy.

    People ask me all the time my opinion on various business ideas and issues. At first, my response was to give them my opinion, which was fairly lengthy, sometimes I detailed out how they could make it happen.

    People quit asking me because I took the fun out of their idea – I don’t blame them, but to me it was a pretty fuckin’ stoopid idea to begin with. I was just being nice giving some helpful tips. – but then they never took action with their idea- not my intention to stop them, just the opposite – to help them get it going.

    Later, after people come to me and started asking again, recognizing that I have a certain thought process I go thru before I actually give an opinion, I adjusted my speech to a simple sentence or two then give then my ultimate vague answers, somewhere between “hmmm – interesting” to “that might work” to “sounds good to me”. All of course, was my nice way of saying that’s a fuckin’ stoopid idea without taking the wind out of their sails.

    They would go start their idea, later failing. If I saw them, I would ask how things went, they would tell me the details of their failure- which was, btw, my long opinion how to avoid that exact failure. But being nice I sat and listened to their stoopid fuckin’ drama how they started with a pretty fuckin’ stoopid idea to begin with, then got fucked in the end.

    Now, if someone asks me for my opinion, I ask back “how far have you thought it through?”. If they tell me a lot, I say “My professional opinion is $300 a day”. If they don’t like my answer, I don’t give a fuck.

    If they say they were toying with the idea, my response is – “Well, you just have to work it past your own – ‘that’s a pretty stoopid fuckin’ idea’ to a point where you are ready to make a move on it, then come see me, and I will help you leverage it into a profit”.

    If anyone uses language in a blog or in the professional world, I have just this advice – never Ever, bruise someone’s ego with it, otherwise it’s fair game, and keep it to four words only – fuck, shit, damn and bitch.

    Alternatives for F-word or F-bomb users – here are three that can be used, but you should know the history behind them so they are taken within context today, and if you will be taken as authentic or imitator:

    Freakin came from an older usage meaning deformed or mutant – usually in a derogatory sense like retard. It has evolved to two variations, being different from the crowd as in style; its variation means creepy, more towards a stalking or molesting nature.

    Friggin is a variation of sexual intercourse, not really meaning much else.

    Frack was censored version of fuck, from the original Battlestar Galactica. It is also probably the best word to use if you want something lighter, however, if you are not pure Battlestar Galactica fan (and people will know) you will never be seen as authentic, just an imitator.

    Personally, if a client doesn’t like me to say fuck now and then, it’s more than likely a client I will have trouble down the road with anyway, or he never listened to George Carlson, where he presents the idea that “we have more ways to describe the dirty words than we have actual dirty words”.

    Shut the fuck up David, you made your point…

  13. Cherryl Wistos
    Cherryl Wistos says:

    Hey Heather…

    About this potty mouth thing… for me I’d think twice about swearing in a blog. Why? Well because it’s not just folks in the US that read them.

    I get ticked off sometimes too. And I suppose if I’m writing to friends and people who know me, they probably understand my swearing here and there.

    But really… is this what we want to spread across the internet galaxy?

    Not me, personally.

    You asked for comments. Those are mine.

  14. Koi
    Koi says:

    I love it when people get bent out of shape about a word. A word. Think about it. Words have no meaning until you apply some meaning to them. In my humble opinion, keep cursing because it pushes buttons. And hopefully gets people thinking about what really upsets them.

  15. Heather
    Heather says:


    I. Love. These. Comments. Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to tell me your opinion.

    I purposely held off on stepping in until now because I wanted to see the comments fly. I had no idea that this would be such a “hot button” topic. It seems like people fall into three camps:

    1. People who say “never swear, ever.”
    2. People who are OK with swearing, as long as it’s in context and the swearing doesn’t go overboard.
    3. People who don’t notice swearing and are totally fine with reading it.

    (It seems that most folks are falling into the second or third categories…but that could just be the folks who commented.)

    So, I’ve thought about the comments here and in the LinkedIn group, and here’s my take:

    It’s true that I have unsubscribed from some Twitter feeds because of rampant swearing. That’s not necessarily because of the curse words – it’s because almost every tweet was a swear-filled rant about something. I did find that unprofessional (and a little worrisome, too – I kept thinking that those folks needed to CHILL OUT.)

    Mostly, I found it boring. Seeing a constant stream of swear words wasn’t grabbing my attention – if anything, it was pushing it away. . So, it’s interesting to note that even I have a “swearing threshold.”

    Some people have mentioned that swearing does not equal passion, and there are other words to use. True.

    However, an argument could be made that swearing…if it’s done strategically and well…can shake people out of their complacency and get them to pay attention. (I know that many folks will disagree with me on this point, and that’s cool.)

    So what will I do now?

    Keep writing. And keep writing passionately. For the most part, my writing will be cuss-word free (as it has been for most of my blogging life.)

    At the same time, I can’t guarantee that you won’t see the occasional bad word. If I feel strongly enough about something, I’ll use the best word (at least to me) to express that passion. I tend to push the envelope (a lot) in real life, and will probably push the occasional envelope here, too. Will the blog turn into a NSFW site? Nah. It’s not my style – otherwise, I would have let more swear words fly a long time ago.

    (As a side note – I never saw any unsubscribes after my post. So although I may have pushed a button, I didn’t push it hard enough to get folks to kick back. Interesting.)

    So, thanks again for your comments, concerns, thoughts, emails and questions. I’ve really enjoyed reading what you’ve had to say. You guys rock! :)

  16. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I feel really old writing this comment (I’m not, really :) ) but I have to ask: where does the real problem sit? As writers, it is our goal to create natural, flowing content. I’m all for writing how you speak, it’s the natural way. The question is, why are you cursing while you’re talking?! Maybe I was raised proper/old-fashion, but my parents would have lost it if I had ever uttered a swear word growing up, and that standard has stuck till today. What’s wrong with our society if our dynamic influencers (the writers of the world) have resorted to what Alan from above calls “lack of words”?

    As a mom, I wouldn’t want to hear my kids cursing, even occasionally (and yes, I am that mom who says something if a raucous group is swearing it up around my kids!) I wouldn’t want my little angels sullying their mouths or their minds with profanity, so why should I?

    Just my humble opinion. Everyone’s entitled to their own…

    Thanks Heather for a colorful discussion!

  17. Lew Newmark
    Lew Newmark says:

    Hi Heather.

    As a blogger whose never really cursed on any blog post that I’ve ever written on my blogs,

    I think that it’s perfectly acceptable to use a few curse words (or swear words) when necessary…but only if they are prudent to what you’re trying to accomplish in a blog post.

    I wonder how my blog would hold up to scrutiny if I were to really let go every once in a while…I may just try it out and see what happens, because I’ve got a ton of things to swear about trust me. :)

  18. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    Hi Heather. I naturally don’t throw profanities loosely around because that’s totally a put off. But I use it often as well when I feel I need to make a certain impact.

    I thought really hard about a recent particular post and whether I should be substituting those words for another. Then I came across your blog post, and felt more reassured and decided to go ahead with it to bring the desired impact.

    Some old people have told me negative things with the use of my language, and I can’t help but feel a little discouraged. Even though I know I shouldn’t.



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