Is Your Web Copy Any Good?

If a business has a website, it has web copy. And if a business has web copy, it has a problem.

 

What’s the problem? Simply put: how do you tell if your web copy is any good or not?

 

That’s a good question, and I’m going to answer it. But before I answer that, I’ve got a few other little things I’d like to address.

 

First and foremost: you might be scratching your head right about now and saying, “I’m not sure what web copy is, and at this point I’m too afraid to ask.”

 

It’s very important that we define what we’re talking about from the beginning, so here’s a rough definition: web copy is any written (or typed) communication on your website that’s meant to encourage your visitors to take action.

 

That’s not an official definition. That’s my definition. So if you think it’s a stupid definition, you can go ahead and take it up with yours truly.

 

(Don’t worry: I promise I’m going to get around to telling you how to tell if your copy is any good very soon.)

 

Here’s the thing: copywriting is all about action.

 

You’re not writing for your own personal expression. You’re not writing to tell the world all about your dreams, your hopes, or what you have nightmares about. You’re not writing to tell people what you think of the controversy of the week.

 

You’re not editorializing. You’re copywriting. And copywriting is about action.

 

If you fail to inspire action, you’ve failed at copywriting. Everything in copywriting is geared toward action.

 

Don’t forget that.

 

Kinds of bad web copy.

I know I’ve promised you I’ll tell you how to tell if your copy is any good, but that can wait.

 

First things first: how do you tell if your web copy is really bad? How do you tell if it’s so bad it’s not only failing to make sales, but it’s become a liability to you and your business?

 

I’ve come across three types of spectacularly bad web copy in my time. Let’s talk about them:

 

  1. Boring web copy.

 

This covers anything that doesn’t catch and hold the reader’s attention.

 

There’s a widely-cited statistic that says most visitors to a website only stay there for about 15 seconds. Companies that don’t want to put effort into their copy use that as an excuse for lazy writing.

 

Listen: some people don’t like to read online. That’s the way it is.

 

Write the most sparkling-brilliant web copy you can imagine. Write golden words sprinkled with angel dust. No matter what you do, your copy is never going to sell to people who don’t read.

 

But this is no reason to write bad web copy.

 

Good copy may not grab all the non-readers. But bad copy will alienate all the readers.

 

You’ve got to seduce your reader a little. Show you care. Show you see them. Show you know what they want.

 

Put real effort into your copy, and it’ll come back to you.

 

  1. Pushy web copy.

 

We all know web copy is written because it’s supposed to cause some action.

 

Your readers are smart people. They can tell if you’re trying to sell them something. They can tell if you want something from them. They can tell a lot more than you realize.

 

So there’s no reason to beat your readers’ eardrums by shouting, “Buy my thing!” in every other sentence.

 

They can tell you want something from them. Good copy isn’t about constantly reminding them of that fact. It’s about keeping their interest, inviting them to imagine buying from you, and giving them a positive emotional experience so they won’t resent you when you ask them to do something.

 

You’re going to have to invite them to take action sooner or later. But effective copy is written in such a way that your ideal reader has imagined doing the thing you want them to do long before you actually ask them to do it.

 

Even when we know we’re being guided to a conclusion, we like being allowed to feel like it was our idea all along.

 

  1. Completely nonsensical web copy.

 

The worst web copy—and I’ve seen this on more occasions than I like to admit—is the stuff that reads like it was written in a foreign language and run through Google translate.

 

It’s not only poorly written. It’s not only pushy or heavy-handed. It’s not only keyword-stuffed garbage.

 

It’s prose so awful you expect to read “All your base are belong to us” any minute. It doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t drive business.

 

It reads like it was written by an experimental computer program. And it drives away customers without as much as a second glance.

 

So that’s the bad stuff. What about the good stuff?

 

Good web copy works beautifully—but what is it?

I’m going to start out by saying something that probably sounds entirely obvious, but if you learn this one thing you’ll have learned the most important thing in all web copywriting.

 

This is central to everything. This is the alpha and omega of copywriting. Without this, you can’t hope to write the good stuff. With this, even a lousy writer can improve over time.

 

This is the North Star of copywriting.

 

This is the one point you can navigate by. In all the chaos and uncertainty of vague ideas, this is how you find your way. Out in the desert of not knowing how to get results, this is how you get results.

 

What is it? What’s the most important thing to know about copywriting?

 

It’s simple: good web copy improves your site’s conversions.

 

Good copy make customers more likely to buy from you. It makes prospects more likely to contact you. It makes visitors more likely to start a conversation with you.

 

Anything that makes it more likely that someone will buy from your company is good copywriting. That means you have to be intentional and experimental about your copywriting.

 

You don’t want your copy to be too short, because short copy doesn’t give enough time to create an effective emotional experience for the reader.

 

Here’s a tip: good copy is as long as it needs to be.

 

If it takes one word to skyrocket your sales, so be it. If it takes 10,000 words to get the same result, that’s just as good.

 

Our preconceptions cut our legs out from under us all the time. Don’t let your preconception of how long your web copy “ought” to be torpedo its effectiveness.

 

Good copy is about sales. Never forget that.

 

How do you write good web copy?

You know what you’re aiming for.

 

You’re aiming to make the kind of copy that will have clients with fat wallets drooling to buy from you.

 

You’re aiming to make the kind of copy that will send your business to the next level.

 

You’re aiming to make the kind of copy that will let you retire to your nice mansion in Honolulu where you eat gold flakes for breakfast.

 

Good web copy is a magnet for the green stuff. I hate the phrase “a license to print money,” but good web copy is probably the next best thing.

 

So how do you do it? How do you make your readers desperate to buy from you? How do you raise their buying desire to such a fever pitch that they’re ready to beg you to take their money?

 

It’s not hard. It’s complex, but not hard. With time, patience, and a little old-fashioned effort, you can do it for yourself.

 

Start out by getting to know your ideal customer in detail. You have to be ready to write for this person as confidently and as clearly as if she were sitting across the table from you.

 

You want to know this person. You want to know what they do all day. You want to know what they’re afraid of.

 

But most of all, you want to know what they want.

 

What do they want? What drives them? What is this person’s ultimate fantasy?

 

Are you selling sports equipment to an 18-year-old horndog? Show him all the gorgeous women who will be all over him the instant he buys.

 

Are you selling an investment plan to a woman who loves travel? Show her the canals of Venice or the rising peaks of the Himalayas.

 

Are you selling sandwiches to hungry people? Just show them the sandwich.

 

J.P. Morgan once said, “A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.”

 

When you write convincing, persuasive, seductive copy, it’s your job to know both. You want to entwine the good reason (“I’ll improve my income and be free of what’s holding me back.”) with the real reason (“I love the feeling of having someone go to great lengths to persuade me.”).

 

Good copywriting is all about understanding what motivates people. With a little time and effort, any clever person can learn that.

 

The best way to learn.

I’m not going to hype the best way to learn copywriting. It’s the same as the best way to learn any other kind of writing.

 

The best way to get better at it is to do it. A lot.

 

Start with your website. Then move on to volunteering with some nonprofits. If you do that for a while you’ll build up a nice portfolio with a lot of samples you can show to potential clients.

 

I’ll have plenty of more posts about copywriting in the future—in fact, I’m thinking about writing a whole series of pieces on copywriting methods. But the best teacher for copywriting skills is practice.

 

There are a million techniques I could mention right here. (If you’re clever, I’m sure you’ve noticed a few in this article.) But there’s no substitute for experience.

 

A natural talent for writing is nothing without diligent practice.

 

So if you’re a beginning copywriter, I’d advise practice. Lots and lots of practice.

 

But not only that: it’s also helpful for you to get in touch with some of the freelance writing communities gathered around the internet. If you’re looking for guidance, that’s the place to go.

 

And you could do worse than to let an experienced copywriter take a look at some of your work and critique it. I know some writers are awfully shy about their work, but (sad to say) writing doesn’t work very well if it never meets a reader.

It can be hard to submit your work to criticism. But if you give it to someone knowledgeable and trustworthy, it can be one of the quickest ways to improve your writing technique.

 

Best of luck to you. Copywriting can be an extremely rewarding profession, both personally and professionally. I love it, myself, and I hope I grow a little better at it every day.

 

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns about freelancing. 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 geofreycrow@crowcopywriting.com if you’d rather do it that way.

 

Good luck, and good copywriting!

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Are These 10 Mistakes Ruining Your Web Copy?

 

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?

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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 geofreycrow@crowcopywriting.com if you’d rather do it that way.

 

Good luck, and good copywriting!

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