Copywriting might seem straightforward. After all, we all know how to write, don’t we? But the ability to write does not make a copywriter. If you write your web content yourself and you’re struggling with your conversions, you could be making one or more of these common copywriting mistakes.
1: You talk to everyone
Do you talk to all of your readers at the same time, as though they are part of a crowd? Andy Maslen, author of The Ultimate Guide to Great Copywriting, calls this Reader Multiple Personality Disorder by Proxy (RMPDP):
“Perhaps you have received a letter written by an RMPDP sufferer. The copywriter uses phrases such as ‘some of you’, ‘many of you’ and ‘there are those of you.’ They will often switch from a personal to an impersonal tone of voice mid-letter. My reaction is to look over my shoulder to see who these ‘some of’ me are.”
Your readers are all individuals, so you should write as though you are writing for a single reader. To do this, Maslen prescribes “large doses of the second person singular (‘you’)” and a reminder that “readers are alone when they read copy and, except in very rare cases, NOT themselves suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder.”
2: You don’t know your audience (or your product)
Do you know who you are selling to? It might seem a lot quicker and easier to write your copy with the assumption that you know all about your audience (“they’re looking for a weight loss product so they want to lose weight – that’s all I need to know, right?”), but the more you know about who you are writing for, the more targeted and relevant your copy will be. And the more targeted and relevant your copy, the better it will convert.
Picture the average person visiting your site. How old are they? What are their likes and dislikes? What is important to them? You can even give them a name. Once you’ve created a persona for your typical website visitor, imagine they are sitting opposite you every time you write and talk directly to them.
And it should go without saying that you should know your product inside out before you attempt to sell it. It doesn’t matter how well you know your reader, they are not going to buy from you if you don’t know what you’re selling.
3: You’re writing in the passive voice
Remember learning about the passive and active voice in school? Neither do I. Here’s a cool trick we’d probably all remember if we had been taught it at school: If you can insert “by zombies” after the verb in your sentence and it makes sense, you’ve got yourself a passive voice.
“Simon was eaten (by zombies).” Passive.
Zombies ate (by zombies) Steve.” Active.
Much like a zombie, the passive voice sucks all the life out of your words and weakens your message. The famous movie quote from Apollo 13 wouldn’t have had anywhere near as much impact or been so memorable if it had said “Houston, a problem is had by us.” Check out more movie quotes ruined by the passive voice here.
So hunt down those zombies and eliminate them. Use the active voice to give your writing more impact and to better engage your reader. Your writing will be clearer and more direct – exactly what you need when you want your reader to act upon your words; for example, by buying your product. Another bonus of using the active voice is that you use fewer words. Which will help you fix the next mistake.
4: Your copy isn’t concise enough
Your reader is busy. So you need to get straight the point and fast. The more you waffle, the more chance you have of sending your reader to sleep, or to someone else’s (more interesting) site.
Avoid waffling by cutting out any unnecessary words and phrases from your copy. Words like ‘that’, ‘then’, ‘if’ and ‘of’ are the most common non-essential words you can strip from your copy. Use bullet points and subtitles to make your copy easy to scan and read. Consolidate what you have written as much as you possibly can, and aim to reduce your text to 30-50 percent of what you started with. It’s called tight copywriting, and it’s not easy. But if you can master it, it’s one of the most important things you can do to improve your copywriting.
5: You’re not proofreading your copy
The thing about online marketing is that it relies on the written word. So what you write has to be free from spelling and grammar errors. What impression do you get when you come across a website with mistakes in it? Probably not a great one, if you’re like most people.
In this article on the consequences of poor quality content I wrote about a study which found 79% of consumers say they notice when a website has poor spelling and grammar. Even more worryingly, 59% say they wouldn’t buy something from a company with bad grammar or spelling mistakes.
Proofread your copy thoroughly before you hit the publish button. Spellcheck is useful but it can’t spot everything. For example, it can’t tell you when you’ve incorrectly used the word ‘you’ instead of ‘your’. Print it out and proofread it again. You’ll catch more errors when it’s down on paper than when it’s on your screen. Ideally, give it to someone else to read too. They’ll probably spot even more things you didn’t notice the first, or even second time round.
6: You’re not explaining the benefits
Your customer doesn’t care about the features of your product. What they care about is what it will do for them. What problem does it solve? What solution does it provide? It is absolutely essential that you clearly describe the benefits of what you are selling to your customer, otherwise they won’t buy it. But beware of the “Faux Benefits” that direct response copywriter Clayton Makepeace warns can kill your sales copy. Can you spot the benefit in the following headline?
“Balance Blood Sugar Levels Naturally!”
That was a trick question. There isn’t one single benefit here that anyone actually wants or indeed, wants to pay for. So what’s the real benefit here? Makepeace explains:
“Nobody really wants to balance their blood sugar levels. But anyone in his or her right mind DOES want to avoid the misery of blindness… cold, numb, painful limbs… amputation… and premature death that go along with diabetes.”
And that’s the true benefit – avoiding the disastrous effects of diabetes. It’s not always easy to reveal the true benefit of what you’re selling, but in my last article, I wrote about a fast and simple way to know if you’ve written about a feature or a benefit.
7: Your headlines are weak
Your headline is what gets your copy read in the first place. If you’re sending an email, your subject line is what gets it opened. So if your headlines or subject lines are weak, chances are your body copy won’t be read. You have to convince your readers that they really need to read your web page, article or open your email. Most people scan a page first before deciding whether or not to read all the details. That means your subheadings need to be strong too.
Get your reader’s attention with the word ‘you’ which tells them the message is about them. Use numbers (like I’ve done in the headline for this article). Use adjectives such as ‘effortless’, ‘essential’ and ‘incredible’, and trigger words like ‘how’ and ‘why’. Asking questions is another good way to grab your reader’s attention.
Advertising legend David Ogilvy effectively summarised the importance of headline with the following quote: “On the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy.” Bottom line is, your headlines are critical to the success of your copy. Don’t be tempted to skim over them.
8: You’re not using a clear call to action
Does your reader know what it is you want them to do? It might be perfectly obvious to you that you want them to download your free guide or buy your product now, but if it’s not crystal clear to your reader, they won’t do anything. Your call to action must be clear and noticeable, and should compel your reader to act. Never use the word ‘if’ in your call to action:
“If you’d like to order, click here’”.
“If you’d like to receive a copy of our free guide, enter your email address here”.
These CTAs have no sense of urgency, are not at all persuasive and imply that even you yourself are not entirely convinced they should do what you’re asking.
‘Buy now! Click here to order”
“Get your free guide now by entering your email address here”
Better. But to be really persuasive, don’t just tell your reader to buy your product or sign up to your mailing list. Tell them why they should and what they will get out of it – the benefit:
“Get washboard abs in time for summer with these 3 easy exercises! Enter your email address now to get your free summer body guide”
Identify and improve any weak CTAs in your copy and you’ll definitely see an improvement in your conversions.
Writing great copy isn’t easy but it is a skill that can be learned. While implementing a few simple tricks like the above won’t turn you into a copywriter overnight, avoiding mistakes like these will greatly improve your copy and your conversions.