Have you ever tried to read a book, only to find you just can’t get into it? You find yourself reading the same page over and over, but the information doesn’t really seem to ‘seep in’.
Sometimes this happens because the book is badly written. The sentences are too long and the information isn’t presented clearly. In other cases, the author is clearly a brainiac but their use of big words is overwhelming. They may also have made the mistake of going into too much detail, which renders their text hard to absorb.
Luckily for the author, you have already bought the book. However, if your website, brochure or blog copy is snooze-inducing, you don’t have much hope of generating a sale.
The written word is one of the most powerful ways to communicate with your customers. It has to be persuasive, engaging and appealing in order to convince them now is the time to buy.
If you are creating lots of content but not getting results, your writing technique may be holding you back. Here are a few common copywriting mistakes:
Too much copy
Back in our school days, we were taught to break our writing into paragraphs and include three or four sentences in each, or even more. We diligently wrote our English essays in this format, cramming in extra adjectives to make the all-important final word count.
When writing copy for your blog, website, newsletter or marketing brochures, it is time to forget the rules your English teacher enforced (sorry Sir!). Instead of writing three or four sentences per paragraph, limit it to two or three. Particularly when that copy is going to be read online.
In a further blow to our essay writing skills, when it comes to copy, less is more. You see, people don’t visit websites so they can sit back and have a good read. They come to find a solution to their problems. The same can be said for blogs.
When you open a web page crammed with copy, your eyes and brain will find it overwhelming. There is simply too much information.
[This law firm keeps it very simple with short captions, while still answering key customer questions and establishing credibility]
Including long paragraphs, wordy sentences and poorly spaced copy is even more of a no-no in this time of smartphones. The ‘readability’ factor is diminished and the user doesn’t bother scrolling through the content to find the answers they really need.
When writing copy, minimise flowery adjectives and avoid using two words when one will do. Before you hit publish, run it through a tool like Hemingway app to check if your sentences are too long.
No clear headlines
A web page or brochure is there to serve a purpose — to explain to the reader why the goods or services you are offering are right for them.
Studies have shown users view websites in an ‘F’ shape. They look to the top statements, flick their eyes across and then progress down the page. As they continue, they are seeking statements which will answer their questions.
[Another legal firm example, this site offers headings followed by a small amount of information, and the opportunity to ‘Learn More’]
This is why headlines are important. Some people want lots of detail, others only want small nuggets of information. By breaking your content into sections, you are able to offer both.
Another clever way to work the ‘F’ shape to your favour is to include lists and bullet points as well as headings. This presents clear information which is simple and easy to digest.
It’s all about you
‘I’ can be a dirty word when it comes to writing copy. For example, a real estate agent may have a profile page where he explains, “I am the best in the area.” He may write, “I made over $5 million in sales last year” and “I have been in the industry for over 25 years”.
These are all good things, however if you are reading this and looking for someone to sell your home, do you really care how much money they have?
Consider if the agent instead wrote:
- When you work with me, you will be able to sell your home for the highest possible price
- You will experience less stress while preparing your home for sale
- You will be delighted with the service you receive
This all comes back to an acronym, WIIFM, or ‘What’s In It For Me?’
When you write copy, speak directly to your customer as much as possible. Instead of writing “Our clients experience exceptional results”, switch it to “You can expect exceptional results” or even “Expect exceptional results”. This makes your copy far more personal and direct.
Benefits aren’t clear
No matter what you sell, there are features and there are benefits.
A feature of KFC is its secret recipe with 11 herbs and spices. The benefit is it is ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’.
A feature of Hamilton Island in The Whitsundays is a range of accommodation options. The benefit is it is affordable for many budgets.
A feature of an air conditioning unit is wireless connectivity. The benefit is being able to set the temperature before you even get home.
[Who cares how it works… Daikin highlights the benefits of ducted air con]
Many writers make the mistake of going into too much detail when promoting their product. Yes, features are important, but it is the end result which prompts someone to make a purchase. Always highlight what’s in it for them when you create your copy.
No calls to action
Your copy has the purpose of informing your customers and encouraging them to buy so don’t be afraid to do so.
A call to action tells your customers what to do next. If you’re wondering what call to action to include, think of the thing you want them to do most. This could include:
- Call now
- Book an appointment
- Claim your discount
- Become a member
[Strong headings, clear benefits and a succinct call to action from Deliveroo ]
It doesn’t hurt to add a benefit to your CTA, for example ‘Call now for a free quote’, ‘Book an appointment to start your weight loss journey’, ‘Claim your discount and get more for less’, or ‘Become a member for exclusive benefits’.
While the younger generation is all ‘fo’ shiz’ and ‘lemme get that for you’, unless this is your exact target market it makes sense to err on the side of caution with your writing.
The demise of sub-editors means even major publishers run pieces with typos these days but the fact is these mistakes are instant credibility-killers.
Some common errors to watch out for include:
- Missing apostrophes or incorrect use of apostrophes. For example YOU WON’T BELIEVE OUR SALE’S DEALS (take out the apostrophe in SALES)
- Your vs you’re. For example GET YOU’RE COPY TODAY (it’s your, not you’re)
- Mixing up their, they’re and there
- Its and it’s, which is an exception to a rule. When you write ‘its’, it means the thing that is owned, for example IT’S A LOVELY DAY / THE SUN SHONE ITS RAYS
- Then and than, e.g. MORE DEALS THEN YOU CAN SHAKE A STICK AT
The unfortunate problem with grammar is it can be subjective. This is especially the case when it comes to the placement of commas and hyphens. The rules can change depending on whether you use Microsoft Word, Google Docs or another program to craft your text.
If you’re confused about how to write certain phrases or what grammatical rules to apply, find a ‘source of truth’ and stick with it. Grammarist is a good site to refer to, or you can use Grammarly, a free tool which will surface mistakes in your text.
Overuse of ‘bland’ words
As I mentioned earlier, avoid using two words when one will do. There are some phrases which are tautological, for example ‘all of’, ‘your own’, ‘in order to’ and ‘totally unique’. Keep an eye out for these as a way to tighten your writing.
Several words have become ‘crutch’ words and are barely ever necessary. These include:
Sometimes when you are writing it feels as though your sentence won’t work without these words. But once you have finished, review your copy and see if you can take them out or reconstruct so they’re not necessary (I took ‘that’ out of my original draft five times but have left it in the title after checking this post).
Writing great copy is hard! Not only does it take time, once you have finished it can be difficult to spot your own errors. You can also get stuck in the trap of making endless tweaks and never getting it out there.
If you’re not confident with your writing, you can always use the support of online tools and ask a friend or colleague to read it over for you. Alternatively, enlist the help of a professional to create copy which showcases your business in its best light and draws customers to your door.