4 Common Copywriting Mistakes Everyone Makes

by Gabriella Sannino February 2nd, 2011 

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I dont 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. Thats 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, youll have a growing community of disenchanted readers and loss of trust.
  • Trying to be too original " Originality is fine, but theres 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 dont work too hard to come up with a completely original headline formula. Chances are it wont work.
  • Too much wit, not enough sale " Theres such a thing as being too witty. I understand " youre 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.

Whats the difference?

A lot of business owners struggle with the whole features vs. benefits question, so dont feel like youre all alone.

  • A feature answers the question, So, whats 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 dont 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 dont 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, youre writing about you " your product, your service:

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

Thats all great, but the potential buyer looks at this and says, So what? Why? You didnt 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, theres 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, youve 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 arent 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 theyll 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?

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.

Level343 Blog

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11 Responses to “4 Common Copywriting Mistakes Everyone Makes”

  1. Peter Egan says:

    This is a terrific article that contains a lot of really good advice. For me personally, the timing couldn't have been better.

    I recently got a job heading up the e-commerce division at a 100+ employee company, and one of my responsibilities is to develop the content for each and every product on the site.

    My copyrighting skills are adequate. However, as a former journalist, my writing at times comes across too much like news and not enough like sales copy. This article has definitely helped me to be a better critic of my own copy-writing, particularly in terms of the perspective from which I approach my writing.

    Many thanks for the well-timed advice.

    • Gabriella says:

      Hey Peter, I know what you mean…Not that I've been a journalist but I understand your struggles. We've had a few journalists/copywriters come to us over the years in order to better understand their "online" presence. Not easy when you're not just giving them what/when/how/why. Now you have to understand human behavior, intent, and of course relevance in order to get them there. Which has everything to do with engaging your buyers. One last thing Peter, we have not even discussed how important keywords and SEO in your content really are…but that's another article. lol Cheers!

  2. Vert says:

    Good article! The "so what" test is a great way to address if your copy is on the money. Keep the benefits in mind, but also don't be afraid to show a little personality!

  3. Dale Stewart says:

    The best advice I can offer about copy is to be succinct. For example: "Batteries included" doesn't need a whole lot of other explanation. To me it's a feature and a benefit in only two words.

    Also, don't use the word Benefits unless you're selling insurance. That shows you're a green copywriter. People "want" Features, Tips, Ideas, Time-savers…they don't want "Benefits" unless they're buying insurance. Benefits isn't a conversational word, and you'll be much more effective if you're conversational and succinct in your subject lines, headlines, sub-heads and text.

    • Gabriella says:

      Hello Dale, thanks for your input. Let me clarify and address my point of view. You see I come from a background of marketing, business development and yes sales. Most people in the industry will agree we were taught about Features Vs. Benefits. Granted, I can see your point but, with all due respect, our clients want to know the benefits they'll get from our services. Readers want to know the benefits they're about to embrace after reading a post. For example if I use these "tips, features, and ideas" how will it benefit my efforts by reading this post. I actually read a very nice post by Naomi Dunford that I wanted to share with you & the readers on here. Features Vs. Benefits – The Showdown | http://t.co/0oNUcyu

  4. I started freelance writing 6 months back as a part-time hobby for earning some money to finance my adventure trips. Back then, I never had a checklist for a finished copywriting piece. Now, I follow at least three of the rules mentioned here frequently, if not always – proper but good headlines, featured layout and the conclusion. I still have to give more time on the 'buyer needs' part. I tend to overlook as I do this just as a hobby.

    • Wow what a nice goal… planning adventure trips :) I'm sure you've heard the old saying "practice makes perfect" right? The fact you are being conscientious about what you deliver is already a great start. Thanks for your input Abhineet & hope to see you again soon.

  5. I couldn't agree more with you Gabriella on this, you when i started with SEO it was there in all the reading material that were present online 'Write Controversial Headlines' 45 years back i infact tried some of them, and as far as clicks are concerned initially there were plenty of it, but after some time they faded. there are still many companies that still insisting on writing controversial things. but if you want an article/write-up to stay intact not fade away with time, you need to research well and write well, whether controversial topic or not, doesn't really make a difference. but i still feel a healthy mix of wit really works well.

    • Hey Jeff… Indeed, we all want to write progressive, engaging content; when the topic is dry and boring it can be frustrating. At the end of the day, though, I never have issues writing for our blog – or even this blog. The ones that suck our inspirational juices dry are usually those that need research. However, as we all know, once you write something people can relate to that actually touches your readers – without all the bells and whistles – that's where you can draw the line between a successful post and a flop. Thanks for your input :)

  6. Gabriella, your write good:-) Seriously, you could easily expand your business to include "sales training consultancy" — teaching sales people how to sell! It's all about needs and not the features. (I can think of a recent example about getting a car)

  7. Gabriella says:

    Thanks Maureen :) I'll have to split myself in order to add another hat!! Very sweet of you to say!