4 Common Copywriting Mistakes Everyone Makes

by Gabriella Sannino May 16th, 2014 

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I don't care who you are; everyone makes mistakes in writing copy. Even the professionals who have to look at the copy with a jaundiced eye and tweak things. This is why we have drafts: because perfection seldom happens the first time around.

While the list of common copywriting mistakes could probably fill a small eBook, some are more common than most — like the four below:

1. Headlines

You can have the best content out there, but if your headline sucks, so will your numbers. That's just science. A few of the headline mistakes include:

  • Writing link bait – Link bait, a headline that screams controversy, promises huge guarantees, etc. serve a purpose, but only briefly. If you have a link bait headline, your content needs to back it up in some way. Use this powerful headline type sparingly; otherwise, you'll have a growing community of disenchanted readers and loss of trust.
  • Trying to be too original – Originality is fine, but there's a reason why professional headlines are much the same. These headlines have been tested over several years and they still work. You can be original with the words you use, but don't work too hard to come up with a completely original headline formula. Chances are it won't work.
  • Too much wit, not enough sale – Theres such a thing as being too witty. I understand – you're trying to catch their attention. However, the message often gets lost in all the witty humor, plays on words, etc. Save most of the wit and humor for after they click the headline.

2. Features vs. Benefits

Even long-time copywriters can get mixed up with the features and benefits. You write a short piece of copy and reread, only to find you addressed the features and completely forgot about the benefits.

What's the difference?

A lot of business owners struggle with the whole features vs. benefits question, so don't feel like you're all alone.

  • A feature answers the question "So, what's that come with?" A feature would be batteries included or 3 programs in one.
  • A benefit answers the question "How is this product/service going to help me?" A benefit would be this product is ready-to-use because batteries are included. You don't have to install more programs because this product has 3 programs in one.

Yes, the features are nice to cover, but usually in bullet-form only. Why? Because good copy addresses the potential buyers pain, and so do the benefits. They don't care about the features – they care about how the features are going to help them (the benefits).

3. Forgetting about the buyer

Forgetting about the buyer goes along with features vs. benefits, with a little bit more added. You see, when you write about features, you're writing about you – your product, your service:

  • 24/7/365 uptime
  • Great customer service
  • Batteries included

That's all great, but the potential buyer looks at this and says "So what?" Why? You didn't address the buyer and their pain.

The same can be said for almost any piece of copy you write (with the exception of, perhaps, your About page). As any copywriter can tell you, there's a fine line between talking about your company, product or service, and talking about the buyer. However, if you look over your copy and the percentage of I, me, we, us is higher than you & your, you've screwed the pooch. Re-write that puppy.

4. Poor content layout

Finally, remember bullets, paragraph headers, content insets, tabs, etc. These things are available for a reason. Online, people scan. To be frank, long paragraphs are daunting. If you have sentences that drag into three lines or more, forget about it. They aren't going to read.

  • Use headlines, paragraph headers, bullets and other content goodies to lead the reader down the page.
  • Give them the most important points in the headers and bullets, because this is what they read first.
  • Use bullets with short, to-the-point sentences for important information.
  • Paragraph headers should aptly describe the information they'll read in that section. No more, no less.
  • Sentences should be no longer than 2.5 – 3 lines long. Period.
  • Paragraphs should be no longer than 4 – 5 lines long.

Conclusion

Go out on the Web and look around. See what type of content calls to you and elicits an emotion. Take notes if you have to. What do these pieces have in common? What can you take from these pieces of copy and apply to your own?

Finally, look over your own copywriting efforts and ask yourself, Have I made one of these mistakes?

An earlier version of this post appeared in our SEO section.

Gabriella Sannino

For the past twenty years Gabriella has held positions as a consultant, web developer and creative director until she decided it was time to open Level 343, an SEO and copywriting company. She fancies herself an Italian rocker, rebel and SEO geek. She loves singing in the shower and keeps a notepad next to her bed.

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