Forget proper grammar and correct spelling—any old word processor can help you there. If you really want to kill it with copywriting, there are a few copywriting mistakes you’ll want to avoid making. We talked to FreshBooks Senior Copywriter Shannon Murphy to get her take on some common copywriting errors and how you can avoid them. Plus, we’ve embedded some helpful resources that’ll help you take your communications to the next level. Learn on!
Copywriting Mistakes: Inconsistent Brand Voice
If you’re funny and light-hearted on your company Twitter account and Facebook page but your website is written in the Queen’s English, customers will rightly question which version of your business they’ll get when they hire you. They need to see a consistent voice throughout all of your communications.
A smart way to be sure you’re cultivating a cohesive voice is to create a one-pager outlining your brand guidelines. Murphy recommends filling in the blanks to three soul-searching questions:
My brand is… [playful, formal, service-oriented, creative, revolutionary, humble]
My brand is sometimes… [extroverted, funny, classic, irreverent, edgy, cutting]
My brand is never… [sexist, silly, stuffy, argumentative, spontaneous, political]
“Your brand guidelines inform the language that you use to speak about your brand. Figuring out what you stand for will help you select the words that ladder up to that,” said Murphy.
A brand guideline is also useful if you outsource your copywriting needs to a professional writer or delegate it to in-house staff members. “The brand guidelines should be specific enough to be understood by a complete stranger,” said Murphy.
Not sure how to begin articulating your brand voice? Check out the websites and social media accounts of companies you admire and see if you can decode their brand guidelines. Ask yourself what you like about their communications and why. You’ll get a sense of what you’d like to borrow and spot ways your business is different.
Here are some brands that have a distinctive voice (and which happen to be some of Murphy’s favorites):
- Refinery29 (especially their email subject lines and social copy)
- Skittles (check out their ad campaigns from 2013 – present)
- Cards Against Humanity (their FAQs are particularly on-brand—and are hysterical)
Copywriting Mistakes: Mismatched Copy and Images
Some people are drawn in by visual images; others by catchy headlines. Savvy websites and marketing material try to capture the attention of both by combining words with pictures (see: explosive popularity of GIFs).
“Images and copy are like best friends. They work together to tell stories and communicate with people,” said Murphy.
Selecting the right image to go with your copy is critical. Murphy says sometimes in their haste to throw in a visual, people send a mixed message. “If you accompany copy about invoices on your website with a photo of two people holding hands on the beach, that’s probably not the best.”
With so many free stock photography sites available (Murphy’s fave is Pexels), there’s no excuse for complementing your messages with inappropriate photos. When selecting images, consider the audience and the impression you want to make on them.
“You want people to trust your brand. A B2B company might wonder if they can trust an IT professional whose website features kittens playing with Ethernet cords.”
Copywriting Mistakes: “Click-baity” Headlines
It’s tempting to write provocative copy to get your brand noticed. But headlines like, “You’ll never guess how landscaping can save your child’s life” or “The hot new exercise you can do in your sleep” usually only serve to irritate and, ultimately, disappoint your reader.
“It’s great to be creative with headlines on social media or your website, but you want to make sure the headline doesn’t do all the heavy lifting. It should give readers a good idea of what they’re getting into by clicking,” said Murphy.
Even though, “How many pennies does it take to put in an eavestrough?” on your contracting website might intrigue your readers, the gimmick doesn’t land with everyone—and gets old fast with the ones who do tolerate it. You can find a happy medium by employing more straightforward headline-writing tactics like asking questions, e.g. “What are my rates?” or “How can I help you?”
“Questions automatically want an answer,” said Murphy. “They’re an effective way to engage the reader without annoying them.”
Copywriting Mistakes: Writing Too Much
Mark Twain is credited with apologizing, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
Murphy says this is an often misunderstood truth. “It takes time to be concise and communicate in a simple, straightforward way.”
She recommends taking that time to reflect on what you want to communicate while also considering what the audience wants to know—keeping in mind that less is more when it comes to reading online. In fact, it’s rare for people to scan beyond a paragraph or two before bouncing to another web page.
The About Us page on your website is often where entrepreneurs wax poetic instead of sticking to the basics. Unless you’re sure you can nail long-form writing, it’s best to keep it simple with a few short lines that speak to your credibility. A prospective customer really just wants to know if you’re qualified to do the job; they don’t need your autobiography in the process.
Want to learn how to write really great copy? Check out Murphy’s recommended reading list:
- “Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Ads” by Luke Sullivan
- “The Copywriter’s Handbook” by Robert W. Bly
- “Damn Good Advice” by George Lois
- “D&AD The Copybook” complied by TASCHEN
Copywriting Mistakes: Omitting a Call to Action (CTA)
In marketing-speak, a CTA is an instruction to your reader to do something. Even if it seems obvious, CTAs like “Order now” or “Call me today” really do inspire action in readers.
“People are used to being told what to do online… you need to be clear about what you want that to be. Ask for the business you want,” said Murphy.
Not every web page, Facebook post or tweet needs a CTA, but you should be looking for opportunities to use them where appropriate. Send readers your website with a “Find out how I can save you money” or tempt them to get in touch with you with “Call me for a free consultation.”
Murphy advises leaving your CTAs unpunctuated. “No CTA should ever have an exclamation point. There’s a fine line between being persuasive and aggressive… it can make it seem like you’re overly eager or lack sincerity.”
Copywriting Mistakes: Forgetting SEO
Search engine optimization should be a part of every entrepreneur’s toolbox, according to Murphy. “When writing for the web, you need to be sure you’re using SEO-rich words. There are lots of tools online to help you figure out which words are important to use for your business.”
Taking a bit of time to grasp a basic understanding of the power of SEO will give you a great ROI. Murphy’s favorite SEO resources include:
About the Author: Heather Hudson is an accomplished freelance writer and journalist based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publishing, corporate and agency clients who depend on her to deliver high-quality, on-brand content and journalism with a fresh perspective. Learn more about her work at heatherhudson.ca.