Copywriting is hard.
Copywriting is also incredibly important for the sales and marketing of any modern business.
So how do you actually go about writing effective copy, especially if you aren’t a copywriting pro? In this article, we review some of the most common copywriting mistakes that will dramatically undermine the marketing copy that you use to promote your business.
Then we explore 3 strategies you can use right away to start producing better copy.
Mistake #1: Making it hard or unpleasant to read
It’s really hard to hold people’s attention in general. It’s even more challenging to hold people’s attention while they’re reading, so it’s important not to make things any harder than necessary.
Most people don’t read text word for word, rather they tend to scan and then read specific parts that grab their attention. And if it’s too challenging or unpleasant for them to read, then they’re likely to just skip the text altogether.
For example: When you see a single massive wall of text with no formatting, do you actually read it?
Certainly not. And that’s why no one reads terms and conditions docs either.
Taking a few basic steps to make your copy easier to read can make a dramatic difference on your results.
Here are a few to get you started:
- The single most significant factor that determines how easy it is to read your copy? The font. Checking that your font (type, size, and color) is easy to read on both computer and mobile will get you 80% of the way there
- Use short paragraphs
- Write your headers so that if they read ONLY the headers they get all the most important info
- Break things up with graphics, bullets, and some variety
Mistake #2: Writing from your own perspective (instead of your audience’s)
When you’re writing copy and you picture a person reading it…do you automatically picture yourself reading it? Or do you picture someone from your target market demographic? It’s very easy to fall into the trap of writing copy in ways that you find interesting or valuable, but that might miss the mark with the people who most need to engage with the content.
When you’re writing marketing copy, picture a specific customer avatar reading it, and speak directly to their perspective. This means the terms and the words and phrases used, and the value propositions which are most important to them, the goals / problems / worries that they have.
Mistake #3: Giving no reason to believe you
Why should people listen to what you say? Is it because you have 10 years of experience in your industry? Or because of the client companies that you’ve worked with? Or that you’ve been featured in Forbes magazine? Or that you have 10,000 Instagram followers?
Using credibility indicators dramatically increases the perceived value of what you have to say. So make sure to include in your writing the publication that you’ve been “featured in“, client testimonials, the fact that you have an MBA or PhD, etc.
If you have less to work with in terms of a track record or educational background to leverage, you can used ‘borrowed credibility’ to instill confidence. With this approach, you utilize the established authority of others (expert roundup, citing statistics, using industry case studies, quoting people with more established expertise, etc.)
Here is an example from Drip that does a great job of incorporating credibility indicators into their copy, alongside a clear, compelling call-to-action:
Mistake #4: Missing the hook
40% of website visitors disengage after just 15 seconds, which means that your copy needs to grab someone’s attention immediately. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing their interest before you get to the juicy bits (like the call to action).
In fact, if you can hold someone’s attention for just 3 minutes, then they are 2x as likely to return to your website.
5 types of hooks you can add to your copy
There are several ways to incorporate a hook into the leading part of your copy, such as:
- Sharing a relatable experience
- Describing a desire or pain point
- Referencing an exciting outcome that you’re going to be share later in your copy
- Asking an intriguing question
- Leading with a surprising statistic
Mistakes #5: Losing the ‘what’ in the ‘how’
What does your business help your customers do? What problem do you help solve, or what outcome do you help achieve?
It’s important to explicitly weave this information into your marketing copy (can often also be your hook). The common mistake is to get bogged down in an overemphasis on discussing how you can help…instead of what you help accomplish (AKA focus on benefits, not just features).
By the time someone finishes reading your copy they should have a clear idea of the ways your business can help them, and this is far more important than drilling in all the technical details of how you go about helping them.
For example: Why do businesses pay for advertising on Facebook? Because it’s an effective way to reach a wider audience and make more sales. Much less due to the technical features the platform has to offer (though those can be nice perks).
Here’s an example from Trello that shows that successfully avoids falling into this trap. The copy is focused on the main benefits and outcomes, doesn’t get bogged down going into detail about their features, and has a clear, simple CTA.
Mistakes #6: High-friction or ambiguous clear call to action (CTA)
The main purpose of copywriting (based on how it’s typically defined) is to persuade someone to take a specific action, such as buying a product, clicking a link, giving you their email address, signing up for a webinar, or scheduling a call.
An essential element of effective copywriting is to make sure you use a CTA that is clearly defined and communicated. When you sit down to write copy, make sure you know the intended outcome (the specific action you want people to take).
Ask yourself: if I can have the reader do precisely 1 small thing that takes <1 minute, what would it be?
Don’t fall into the common mistake of having an ambiguous or high-friction “ask”. If you ask the reader to take action in a way that is unclear or annoying to do, they will be far less likely to do so. Instead, keep your call-to-action simple, impossible to miss, and easy to follow.
The more friction you can remove from the process, the higher your conversions will be.
Mistake #7: Diluting your message with word-salad
When considering the main takeaways of someone reading your copy, it’s worth taking note that the more information you add, the more you dilute your message.
As mentioned above, attention is an important commodity that is in short supply. Let’s say your copy is able to hold a reader’s attention for about 90 seconds. Of course the most valuable use of that time is the full 90 seconds spent on the most important points.
The last thing you want is for the main takeaways to be crowded out by nonessential information. One way to think of it is that every unnecessary word added to your copy dilutes its message by precisely 1 word. Resist the temptation to keep adding more words and more information. Instead, always take a final pass to review your copy and eliminate everything that can while leaving the underlying message intact.
Saying the same thing in fewer words is almost always better.
Here is an example from Close.com (formerly Close.io) that has ultra-focused and minimalist copy, while still getting the point across clearly. It would have been easy to fall into the trap of diluting their message by writing more. In fact, previous versions of their landing page had much more text, so presumably the newer, streamlined version of their landing page converts better than the older, longer version.
Which Copywriting mistakes do you recognize from your own writing? Which copywriting mistake is the one that you struggle with most?
With these 7 common mistakes in mind, here are 3 strategies you can use to start writing better copy today.
3 strategies to write better copy
Copywriting Strategy #1: The PAPA formula
One way to combine several of the principles of great copywriting while avoiding all of the common mistakes is to follow a copywriting formula. While there are others, one of my favorite it the PAPA formula.
The PAPA formula:
- Advantage (of solving the problem, AKA benefits)
- Proof (so people believe that you can solve it)
- Action (clear CTA)
Example of the PAPA formula applied to Google Adwords (if you were to write marketing copy to pitching using it to businesses):
- Problem – “Most businesses have a hard time getting their products in front of the right people at the right time.”
- Advantage (of solving the problem) – “What if you could find potential customers who are actively looking for your solution, at the exact moment they are trying to find it?”
- Proof (so people believe that you can solve it) – “Check out this case study about how a similar business doubled their revenue in 12 months by using adwords”
- Action (clear CTA) – “Sign up to run your first adwords campaign, and get $100 worth of free advertising”
Copywriting Strategy #2: Write your own version of the top-performing ads in your industry
A great way to emulate the best copywriters and the strategies they use, without having to do it for 25+ years, is to practice rewriting the marketing copy that you find particularly interesting or persuasive.
If you need to write a sales page, try rewriting your favorite sales pages a few times before writing the copy for your own page. You’ll find that you’ll intuitively start applying a lot of the same principles in your own work.
In fact, if you’re creating copy for advertising, you can take this one step further by identifying and emulating the best-performing ads in your industry (for example, with tools like Spyfu, AdPlexity, or Anstrex).
Copywriting Strategy #3 – Read your copy out loud to yourself to hear how it sounds
There is one super simple thing you can do to catch the majority of the issues with your copywriting. Whenever you finish writing new copy, read it to yourself (out loud).
It’s a great way to spot all kinds of issues in your writing, like mistakes, or things that just don’t make sense. When you only check your writing inside your head (instead of verbally), it’s easy to miss these things, because your eyes will tend to skip over the same mistakes. But as soon as you you read something out loud, word for word, it becomes almost impossible to miss your mistakes. You’ll also get to hear how it “sounds” to help you get the tone right.
Between the 7 Common Mistakes, and the 4 Copywriting Strategies, you’ve got 11 foundational elements for writing better sales copy. You might not become a professional copywriter charging $1,000 / hr. But if you work from these principles, your copy will already be in the 90th percentile.
For a way to immediately start utilizing these principles…take a piece of copy that you think could be better, and check it against the 7 Common Mistakes. Then use the 4 Copywriting Strategies to help make it better. And the next time you’re going to write new copy, simply revisit this list and you’ll find that your copy turns out that much better!