You don’t need me to tell you bad copy hurts your business.
It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into your site if your copy is bad. Design might get eyeballs, but good words close sales.
For your prospects, your website is the first point of contact with your brand.
This is where your visitors decide if you’re running a reputable business or if they should move along.
Do you think they’ll listen to somebody who sounds like everybody else?
Put it this way: do you want to work with somebody who sounds like everybody else?
Or would you rather work with somebody who has something to say, gets excited, and says something real?
The worst mistake I see businesses make with their copy is that it sounds too much like copy.
It’s stuffed with generic phrases that hold your guests at a distance instead of drawing them into a conversation.
Bad copy looks something like this:
“We are recruiting rockstars, dedicated to being decent human beings, cleaning up after ourselves, and making sure that good things happen to good people. We have a list of company values that are exactly the same as the company values you see everywhere else. We make the same vague guarantees in the same squirrelly language every other company does. And since we look and sound like everybody else, you know for sure that we’re unique and have an insightful approach. That’s what makes us the best!”
Okay, maybe it doesn’t look exactly like that. But you know what I’m talking about.
It’s bad, it’s generic, and it’s damaging your company.
Why do companies produce this kind of disaster time and again?
Simple: it feels safe.
When you slip into the same tired phrases you’ve seen a million companies use, you don’t have to risk anything.
You don’t have to think hard. You don’t have to work hard.
When your writing is a stack of boring, annoying, and ineffective clichés, you can get the copy written in no time.
When you slap content on your site without planning, you hold your visitors at a distance. You make yourself unapproachable.
Bad copy signals to your visitor, “I’m not interested in talking to you or getting to know your problem. I’m smarter than you. I know more than you. You should buy my thing because it’s what I want.”
Of course nobody’s thinking any of that consciously. But when you write bad copy, you send a clear message.
Copy is meant to start a conversation. So it ought to be conversational.
The rules of good copywriting are like the rules of good conversation.
So what are those rules?
A good conversationalist gives others their turn to talk.
A good conversationalist listens to what other people say.
A good conversationalist makes others feel good and actively finds ways to connect.
That’s what good copy is meant to be like.
Is your copy hurting your business? Maybe.
To help you find out, I’ve put together this list of ten clear signs of poor copy.
If you find yourself identifying with a big portion of this list, you might have a problem.
What does bad copy do?
- Bad Copy is Boring
You know what this is like. It’s happened a million times.
You’re looking for a new lawn service, birthday clown, or web promoter. So you go on Google and click the first link that appears.
What do you see on the main page?
You see a gigantic wall of text in tiny font. It’s written like a textbook, and by the time you’re halfway through the first paragraph you’re falling asleep.
That’s bad copy.
In the internet age, you have to seduce the reader a little. You have to show you can get the job done, but you also have to show you know how to have fun.
Bottom line: if it doesn’t get read, it won’t sell anything.
- Bad Copy is All About You
Let’s go back to the conversational rules we were talking about earlier.
Answer me this: how much do you want to talk to somebody who is only interested in talking about themselves?
Someone who keeps jawing about how they had the measles that one time.
Someone who keeps mentioning they drive a Ferrari.
Someone who keeps telling you about how their business won an industry award.
If you met someone who could only go on about themselves, you wouldn’t talk to them for long. What makes you think your customers want to work with you if you only tell them about yourself?
Here’s the secret: good copy is all about the customer.
- Bad Copy Doesn’t Speak to Your Customer’s Pain
Your prospect has a problem, otherwise they wouldn’t be on your website in the first place. People don’t end up reading your copy by accident.
Put it this way: if someone visits your site and reads your copy, they’re interested in hearing what you have to say.
If your visitors are qualified prospects, they’re at least open to the possibility of buying from you.
So if they’re on your site and considering buying from you, the only thing stopping them will be if you mess it up.
You have to prove you understand their problem and encourage them to take the next step.
If they don’t take the next step, it’s because you did something wrong.
- Bad Copy Doesn’t Have a Clear Goal
A lot of web copy gets written only to take up space. Many businesses treat web copy like it’s a nasty but necessary chore.
It’s no wonder you don’t see any use for it if you don’t have a clear objective in mind!
Good copy is always written with a specific goal in mind.
Maybe it’s generating sales.
Maybe it’s encouraging visitors to subscribe to a mailing list.
Maybe it’s enticing visitors to comment on your blog.
With good copy, everything is oriented toward one specific goal. Everything is calculated to create one specific effect.
Copy without a specific goal only takes up space.
- Bad Copy isn’t Directed at a Specific Audience
If you don’t know who your audience is, you don’t know what your audience cares about.
If you don’t know what your audience cares about, you don’t know what they’re looking for.
If you don’t know what they’re looking for, you don’t know what they need.
And if you don’t know what they need, you can’t help them.
The people reading your copy aren’t interested in what you’d like to say to the world as a whole.
They’re interested in what you can say to them and the problem they’re experiencing now.
That’s why you need to make a customer persona.
You need to know what your ideal customer cares about and what they’re looking for when they decide to buy from you. Otherwise you’ll write a generic appeal that doesn’t speak to them.
- Bad Copy Doesn’t Build Authority
If you’re not confident in your writing, people will sense it.
If you’re going to get people to listen to you, you have to convey that you know what you’re talking about.
There are complicated wrinkles here, but here’s the gist: if you’re not sure about your message, it’ll show up in your writing.
Maybe you’ll make unnecessary self-deprecating jokes.
Maybe you’ll use technical-sounding language to make yourself sound superficially impressive.
Maybe you’ll sneak in little phrases that create the impression you’re not sure of your message.
Authority doesn’t mean playing tricks on your reader or telling anyone what to do. It means conveying confidence and certainty in your message.
You must convey authority.
- Bad Copy Depends on Statistics
First off: there’s nothing wrong with using statistics in your copy.
It’s important to give your reader a few facts to justify their decision. But facts and statistics are not the main motivator for your customers.
We’re human beings.
We want more pleasure and less pain.
We want social connections.
We want people to notice us and see what makes us unique.
Most of all, we want emotional experiences. There’s a part of us that’s tired of all the responsibility and self-control we have to practice every day.
Good copy can give your visitors a chance to let go so you can take care of their worries for a while.
Statistics can help justify a purchase intellectually, but buying is an emotional decision. Never forget that.
- Bad Copy Doesn’t Engage the Emotions
Let’s hit the same idea from a different angle: as professionals, we have to pretend to be something other than what we really are.
I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s just that when we think of the “ideal businessperson,” we imagine someone who’s kind of like a robot.
Always motivated. Always ready. Always enthusiastic.
If you’re reading this, you know the ideal I’m talking about.
And if you’re like every other human being, you don’t live up to that ideal all the time.
There’s a knee-jerk feeling we need to write copy for that “ideal businessperson” who doesn’t really exist.
Don’t do that.
You’re writing for human beings who have their own stresses, their own tragedies, their own frustrations, and their own private lives.
The “ideal businessperson” doesn’t have human emotions and human weaknesses. The human beings you’re reaching out to do.
Write for them, not for the ideal.
- Bad Copy is Full of Buzzwords and Jargon
I talked about this at the beginning of this post. It was true then, and it’s still true now: if your copy is full of buzzwords, you’re holding the reader at a distance.
You don’t want to hold the reader at a distance. That’s the opposite of what you want to do.
If you’re going to turn your reader into a customer, you have to develop rapport and human contact.
It feels like using jargon makes you look well-informed. That’s a mistake.
Jargon only alienates your reader.
Explain things in terms a non-specialist can understand, and you’ll communicate more effectively.
Good copy is about action and communication. It’s not about proving how smart you are.
- Bad Copy Doesn’t Have a Call to Action
This is a big one. I’ve seen brilliant copy foul things up at the last second this way.
Remember what we were talking about earlier, with the importance of specific goals?
Well, here’s the thing: good copy is about three things:
- Getting your reader’s attention.
- Building an emotional connection.
- Encouraging the reader to take action.
The problem is that some people don’t ask the reader to take action.
Your readers are not psychics. No matter how strong your connection, if you don’t tell them what you’d like them to do, they won’t do it.
You have to take the initiative to close with a strong call to action.
Ask the reader to comment on your post.
Ask the reader to call the phone number for a sales representative.
Ask the reader to shoot you an email.
It’s not being pushy. It’s just being willing to follow through with what you started.
Let me know if you have any questions or concerns about copywriting. I’m always trying to tailor this blog to your needs, so I’d appreciate the help.
And I know some of you don’t like to post publicly, so feel free to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d rather do it that way.
Good luck, and good copywriting!