Why Puffery Will Make Your Sales Go “Poof”

The other day, someone left a message saying they were from “the world’s leading Internet marketing company.”

“That’s strange,” I thought. I’ve heard from two other companies in the last three days, all claiming to be “the world’s leading Internet marketing company.”

Did I call them back? Nope. If I can’t trust what they say in a voice mail, why would I trust their business practices?

It’s the puffery that threw me off.

“Puffery” means exactly how it sounds – exaggerated statements that, in actuality, no reasonable prospect would believe.  If you’ve been to a bar during ladies night, the pick-up lines you’ll hear represent puffery at it’s finest. “I’m the best at…” “People say I’m the greatest.” You can almost picture the Leisure Suit Larry-type throwing out the lines.

The problem with puffery is it sets off people’s B.S. meters. You read things like “We’re the best in the industry” and, “We’re the world’s greatest at…” and you think, “Yeah, right.”  You don’t believe it. You can’t believe it. Especially when 1,000 competing Websites brag about the exact same thing.

The sad thing is, if you don’t know any better, puffy SEO copywriting can sound good when you’re writing it. Stumped for something to say, it’s easy to boast rather than provide benefits. “We’re the best.” “All experts agree!” “Work with the leading company in…”

What these folks forget is that their readers want real information. They want to know the specific ways your product or service will help them. They want to know how you’ll make their lives easier. Not how cool you are.

When I posted my “World’s leading Internet marketing company” experience on Twitter, I received some interesting responses:


And these Facebook responses, one of which from the always-wonderful @demib (someone who really can claim to be one of the top five SEO experts in the world):


How can you prevent puffery? Comb through your site and delete any comments containing unsubstantiated superlatives like “Everyone uses our services.” At the same time, boost your street cred the real, effective way – by announcing awards, touting your testimonials and raving about your reviews.  It’s one thing for you to say, “I’m the best in the business.” It’s quite another when you have 50 testimonials raving about your service, you’ve won industry awards, you’ve chaired boards and you have scads of press clippings quoting you as the expert source.

After all, it’s one thing to toot your own horn. But it’s so much more effective when someone else does it for you…

13 replies
  1. Rick says:

    Good post Heather.

    I wrote a short post about Jakob Nielsen’s 1997 piece, How Users Read on the Web, yesterday. One of the points he makes is to avoid “marketese”

    “Users detested “marketese”; the promotional writing style with boastful subjective claims (“hottest ever”) that currently is prevalent on the Web. Web users are busy: they want to get the straight facts.”

    The advice still holds true more than 10 years later. Substance over puffery!

    • Heather says:

      Great minds think alike! :) Yes, Nielsen has always promoted substance over puffery. It’s interesting how some folks have taken his advice – I’ve read some accounts stating that sites should be “just the facts” and boring to avoid “marketease” (which indicates to me that they think that copywriting = fluffy writing.) When in fact, good writing never relies on boastful, subjective claims – it’s all about the benefits.

      Thanks for your post!

  2. Bailey says:

    Puffery – What a great word! Don’t you just love it when they claim to be the best at whatever, filling their content with puffery and then they misspell something?

    Great post. Thanks!

  3. Andrew Hickey says:

    First of all, I dig the word “puffery.” I might start using it willy-nilly. Secondly, I wholeheartedly concur that substance is crucial to any piece of writing – no matter if it’s a blog post or FB comment. I just posted a blog on SEO copywriting. Well, it’s also about Elvis, MJ and Hank Hill, but that will become evident.

    At the risk of engaging in blatant puffery – it’s the bestest thing you’ll ever read.

    • Heather says:

      Ha! Well, using the word “puffery” willy-nilly sounds perfect. It’s a fun word to say, isn’t it? Puffery…puffery…

      Any anyone who quotes from “The Dude” in his SEO copywriting article gets to keep the link (well, not everyone…only people who write good articles that I happen to enjoy.) :) Thanks for the excellent (and funny) read.

  4. Andrew Hickey says:

    I knew that watching The Big Lebowski several hundred times would someday pay off. Thanks for the compliment, Heather. I’ll be keeping an eye out for blatant puffery from this day forward.

  5. Lisa Clift says:

    I believe “puffery” may be the true cause of spontaneous human combustion, if it does in fact exist. It always amazes me how easy it is to design a research study and rig the questions to get the results a company needs to claim it’s No. 1 or the biggest, or the top industry leader. I’m always suspicious when I hear or read a claim like that. Thanks for the great poof of wisdom.

    • Heather says:

      And thank YOU for your comment! :) Sadly, the presence of a “research study” adds a certain amount of credibility …and you’re right, it would be easy for a company to slant the questions to get the answers they wanted. Sigh.

      On the flip side, for those companies that really *are* #1 in their field, it shows that they have to do more than just say it – they have to back it up. :)


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