improve your written communication skills

Common Copywriting Mistakes that Drive Readers Mad

By in
No comments

Copywriting can be the difference between a booming business and a frustrating failure.

Good copywriting introduces your brand to potential customers and attracts them to your doorstep (or digital doorstep if your business is web-based) eager to learn more.

But poor marketing habits and too many copywriting mistakes can have the opposite effect, driving potential customers away.

Don’t worry, though:

Once you identify the most common reader turn-offs, they’re easy to avoid.

5 Common Copywriting Mistakes

And What To Do Instead

1: Quotation Marks

Not all quotation marks are bad – for example, if you are quoting somebody, use quotation marks.

However, quotation marks should never be used for emphasis.

Here’s why:

Although the copywriter intends to stress a particular word or phrase by surrounding it in quotation marks, the reader is getting the exact opposite message.

Why?

Because air quotes are culturally recognized as an indicator of sarcasm.

air quotes are a sign of sarcasm

Think about it:

Imagine you’re talking to your friend and they say:

That new buffet is the best deal in town!

You probably read that with some excitement, and you stressed the word ‘best’ because of the italics, right?

Now, when you see the quotation marks, imagine your friend making air quotes:

That new buffet is the “best” deal in town!

See the difference? Instead of believing that the buffet is genuinely a good deal, your friend now appears to be making fun of them, even though it’s the exact same phrase.

Sarcasm (saying something but meaning the opposite, not to be confused with wit) isn’t something you want to convey in your marketing messages…especially not accidentally.

Do this instead:

Replace emphasising quotation marks with italics, or make the text stand out with a different color.

In many cases, though, the emphasis isn’t needed at all.

Marketing modifiers, those near-meaningless words copywriters use to try to sound important (like supreme, premium, limited edition, and special) rarely need extra umph.

In fact mistake number 2 is…

2: Meaningless Marketing Modifiers

Okay, so you have a premium service.

Fine.

My email club is “elite” so I totally get it. (By the way, you should definitely sign up to get those free emails. Just saying.)

However:

Overusing marketing modifiers makes your copywriting look like one of those late-90s AOL popups that proudly proclaim they’re NOT A SCAM!!!!

[Also, here’s a bonus tip: don’t use more than one exclamation point, ever.]

Even if you don’t look scammy, you’re still going to be the marketing equivalent of that guy who never shuts up about how smart, influential, and well-connected he is.

Nobody likes that guy, and they don’t like copywriting filler vocabulary, either.

Why?

Because consumers are actually intelligent.

Perhaps that’s not a popular assertion, especially among marketers, but it’s true. Your marketing messages aren’t being read by some mindless representative of your demographic. They’re being read by smart individuals, and smart individuals recognize marketing drivel.

In other words:

Everyone knows that your ultra-premium super-lush exclusive imported luxury royal bath towel is just a towel, and it was made in Taiwan like all the other towels.

Do this instead:

Be concise.

Say as much as possible in as few words as possible.

Instead of trying to find adjectives that make your widget sound good, actually do some homework and figure out how people are going to benefit from said widget.

Paint a picture:

Describe to your readers how much better their life is going to be once they use that widget.

Once you’ve got them visualizing, back up those benefits with credibility boosters like:

  • Testimonials
  • Research findings
  • Demos (think about those infomercials where they saw cans in half and stuff)
  • Background information

In other words, if you’re calling your product premium, you’d better prove it.

3: Capitalization

Here’s what should be capitalized:

  • The pronoun I
  • Beginnings of sentences
  • Proper nouns
  • Titles and headlines

Here’s what should not be capitalized:

  • Everything else

Just like some copywriters incorrectly use quotation marks for emphasis, so too do some copywriters try to capitalize words to increase their perceived importance.

But there’s a problem with that:

Contrary to the evidence on social media, most of the population is literate.

In fact, a large portion of the population is even educated.

Capitalizing incorrectly irritates lots of educated people, and it gives readers 2 distinct impressions:

  1. That you are old and have trouble with computers and/or typing, and
  2. That English (a proper noun, by the way) is not your first language

Incorrect capitalization and quotation marks are like older people trying to use current slang and doing it completely wrong:

You look out of touch.

Readers think you’re trying too hard.

Since random Capitalization Takes the Reader a split second longer to Process, [ugh that was painful to type] it changes the cadence, thus it seems like you’re not familiar with English.

Do this instead:

First, review the 2 rules above for what should be capitalized and what shouldn’t.

(Click on this link if you’re not sure about a capitalization rule, like the difference between New York City and New York state.)

If you were going to use capitalized words to stress a statement, don’t.

Instead, use bold or underlined text.

Be sure, though, that you actually want to emphasize that word, because copywriting mistake #4 is…

4: Overemphasis

If everything is important, NOTHING is important.

Picture a mall kiosk guy.

He’s got to make a sale right now or he’s going to go out of business.

You make that fatal mistake – eye contact.

He swoops in and starts telling you about his super premium state-of-the-art exclusive hand lotion [see mistake 2] and you try desperately to squirm away, but you’re way too polite, so he’s got you in his mall kiosk clutches.

He describes the best feature.

And then he describes another best feature.

But there’s yet another best feature…

After a few more minutes, you manage to break eye contact and slip away while he dives into the cart to show you the gift wrapping that comes free when you buy 4 bottles.

What stands out in your mind after you make your escape?

It’s definitely not some kind of hand lotion feature.

More likely, the thing that sticks with you is the feeling of being bombarded while you waited desperately for a chance to bark “Not interested!”

Now, picture a sales letter where every line has BIG BOLD WORDS and italics and underlined phrases and…

What’s the idea that’s supposed to stand out in your mind?

Do this instead:

Emphasis accomplishes 2 main things:

  1. It highlights the most important ideas and makes them stand out from the rest of the copy, and
  2. It gives the copy a natural speech cadence that keeps readers moving smoothly through.

When using emphasis to make a specific point, be sure to do so sparingly.

Only stress 1 word or phrase at a time. Avoid clutter.

Using emphasis to create conversational cadence takes a little more practice.

Developing a conversational tone is more of an art than a science, and you’ll know you’ve gotten it right when you can read your writing out loud and it doesn’t sound forced.

Once you build some skill, you’ll even be able to use the natural rhythm of your writing to help emphasize points without necessarily needing to punctuate the point itself.

It’s synergy.

Or something like that.

5: Audience

Out of all 5 common copywriting mistake, this one may be the most common…

And the most likely to wreck your copywriting efforts.

As a copywriter, it’s absolutely vital that you know the audience for whom you’re writing.

Special thanks to Gen Zucman for taking this photo and allowing me to use it

Too many marketers appeal to the wrong emotion, use the wrong language, or try to use the wrong technique to reach the people they’re supposed to be talking to, which is why most marketing sucks.

At best, not knowing your audience makes your copywriting ineffective.

More often, unfortunately, it makes your copywriting actually repellant.

Bad copy is the reason that sales resistance exists.

Nobody wants to be forced to listen to a sales pitch, and especially not when it’s a generic message.

Your readers will feel like you’re an outsider trying to take advantage of them…unless you do your job correctly.

Do this instead:

Yes, you should spend a lot of time researching your widget, its benefits, and all of its finer selling points.

However:

You should spend twice as much time researching the people who are meant to be reading this sales message.

Of course it’s a lot of work.

It’s worth it.

You’re not looking for the easy way out, are you?

Time for homework!

Share your own copywriting and marketing pet peeves in the comments! What drives you absolutely crazy?

We all make mistakes.

Go back to the last blog post or article you wrote and read through it to check for these common 5 missteps.

If you’ve committed one of these copywriting sins, go back and edit your work.

It’s never too late to get better!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *