(5 Common Copy Mistakes was written by guest writer Jessica Honard)
As a copywriter and writing coach, I’ve seen a lot of words. I’ve seen good words, bad words, and words that make me want to rip my hair out in frustration.
Don’t get me wrong: I love words. Words are the medium through which we communicate almost everything, especially online. Used correctly, words can accomplish quite a lot. They can comfort a friend, sell a product, or fund a Kickstarter campaign.
Words are a fantastic tool, and they are vital to your success. Even if your site relies heavily on graphics and video, you can’t avoid words altogether.
So, why do words frustrate me? Because so many people use them wrong. I have seen countless projects abandoned because the idea didn’t sell. It’s not that the idea was bad, it’s that it wasn’t framed correctly.
The words you choose can make (or break) your business. Keeping that in mind, I want to go over five copy mistakes I’ve seen used over and over again. Reader beware: Avoid these mistakes like the plague.
You’re writing for yourself
It may seem obvious, but you are not the person investing in your product or service. Your audience is. All too often, I’ve seen people write the landing page they would respond to, personally. This might work if you’re in the same niche as your target audience, but it’s not always the case.
Take, for example, a website developer who wants to sell their new fitness app. Most likely, they are going to be targeting individuals interested in wellness.
They themselves probably speak a different language than their target audience. Being techy people, their inclination may be to list a bunch of specs.
Unfortunately, their audience doesn’t care about specs. Their audience cares about how the app will help them save time and improve their health.
Take the time to research your target audience thoroughly. Understand not just their basic demographics, but their personalities. When you write, do so in a way that resonates with them. Speak their language, not your own.
You’re forgetting about emotion
Remember how you cried like a baby at the end of The Notebook? Or was that just me?
Up until that point, I felt sort of meh about the movie. It was good, but not earth-shattering. Plus, it was long, and I’m not the sort of person who easily sits still for hours upon hours.
Without that ending (no spoilers!) the movie would have been forgettable. With its emotional ending, it became stuck in my mind. Years later, I still think about it. Think about your favorite movie, TV series, or book.
What makes them so good?
They make you feel something.
People remember how you make them feel, whether that feeling is joy, anger, or fear. Emotions define the human experience, and tapping into those is gold.
This is no different when you’re writing copy. Before you even start, you need to figure out how you want your audience to feel. Then, find the words that help them feel that way.
Most decisions are based off emotion first, logic second. Tap into your audience’s emotions and you’re already halfway there.
You aren’t showing results
Finish this statement: “If you do ______________, then _______________ will happen.” Substitute the first blank for your product or service. Substitute the second blank for the end result, should someone invest in it.
And yet, so many people forget this crucial step.
Yes, your branding service may include vector files, unlimited edits, and customer support. That’s what you offer. But what do you do ? I want to know that at the end of it all, I will have a unique, identifiable brand that will define my business.
As a potential buyer, I want to know what your product or service will get me. Don’t just tell me what my short-term investment is, but what the long-term results will be.
Your copy is long, blocky, and unreadable
The words you choose is one battle. The way you squish them together is another. Offline, we’re used to reading longer paragraphs. Remember in elementary school, when each paragraph had to have three to five sentences?
Yeah, not true online.
When writing for your website, blog, or e-mail list you can be a little more creative. In fact, more often than not, shorter is better.
Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a place for long-form copy. That’s a whole different ballgame. When you are trying to attract someone’s attention quickly, you need to be careful.
You don’t want your audience bogged down in big, blocky paragraphs. They’re hard to read on a screen, and they make it easy for your audience to lose interest.
It’s okay, I won’t tell your elementary school teacher. Go on and break the rules.
You’re using jargon
I could go on about the possibilities of utilizing compound-complex sentences while maintaining an overall sense of parallel structure.
Or, I could tell you to mix up your sentence length, by taking advantage of semicolons and commas. Oh, and make sure your copy has a good rhythm.
In the first sentence, I’m using rhetoric-speak. It’s not only dry, but a lot of people may not understand what the heck I’m talking about. The second example has the same basic message, but it’s much easier to read and understand.
Each industry has its own jargon – words that are specific to people within that community. For example, I’m a rock climber. If I tell you that having an editor is like having a solid belay partner you might not understand what that means. Unless, of course, you are also a rock climber.
That’s fine if I’m writing a post for the rock climbing community. But if my post is being sent out to a group of fashionista’s who prefer indoor activities, I may lose them.
This goes back to my first point. Know your audience. Know their language. Don’t confuse them. If you have to use a word that’s outside of their realm, make sure you take the time to explain it.
Your words are your most powerful tool
As with any tool, words work best when used correctly. Before you put together your next e-mail or landing page, think about what message you want to convey.
Think about your audience and what words resonate with them. Create a powerful message that taps into emotion and logic.
And, when all else fails, don’t forget to ask for help. Whether a colleague, a friend, or a professional, every piece of copy can benefit from a second pair of eyes.
Jessica Honard is a writer and writing coach with a passion for helping entrepreneurs improve their copy. If you want to start writing better and seeing bigger results, you can start by downloading her free Audience Persona Workbook.