Picture this: it's your best friend's wedding. The two of you have been best buddies since grade school. You've been through it all. You've seen each other weather the best and worst of what life has thrown your respective ways. As your best friend gets ready to enjoy what is destined to be one of the most memorable days of their lives, you're on the front lines of wedding preparations. Even though your friend is on a budget, some expenses just aren't spared-like the caterer and photographer. Why is that? Can't Aunt Josephine cook just as well as the $25 a plate caterer, and isn't Uncle Jim a crack shot with a camera?
The truth is Aunt Jo makes a mean mashed potato, and Uncle Jim takes gorgeous photos, but neither one are in the wedding business. On this one and only day to say, "I do," your friend spares no expense on these two venues for a very simple reason: they can't afford mistakes.
In much the same way, a lot of business owners hire out their copywriting needs because they can't afford (nor do they want) mistakes. But just what mistakes can be made? I mean, we're only talking about writing a few words and making people want to buy stuff, right? How hard can that be? I bet that friend of yours-the one who aced a few high school papers-could handle it. Let's see why that couldn't be more wrong.
Why Copywriting Is Hard
We're stepping into the debate box to cover a controversial subject. A lot of people will tell you that copywriting isn't that hard. Others will say it's easy as pie. Still more will compare it to the piano; easy to do poorly and exceedingly difficult to do well. Well, here's the skinny on writing:
- Mechanics Matter - Can you guarantee excellent spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation? By excellent, we mean 99.9% perfect 99.9% of the time, which means following the rules of English perfectly and knowing when it's okay to break them in favor of audience appeal.
- It Requires Skill - If you were handed a piece of wood and told to craft a statue of a bear, could you? If you were a carpenter by trade, probably! If not, doubtful. Writing is the same. It takes skills, the kind of skill that results from years of practice and firsthand experience.
- It's Art - No joke, writing is part art. If writers merely crafted sentences per the stringent rules of English, there would be no such thing as audience appeal. It's like the difference between the computer code that makes your favorite app and the beautiful bright interface you know as your favorite app. Both parts of needed to make it work, and you can't have one without the other. Good copywriting isn't mere raw skill. It's part skill and part art, and the percentages change based on the project.
So, can just anyone write? Let's put this into perspective: can just anyone perform heart surgery? I mean, it's just major surgery, right? What could possibly go wrong?
It's All Fun and Games
Getting your friend to tackle your copy, or striking off into the unknown on your own are all adrenaline rushes. But the fact remains that they're all fun and games until someone-likely your business or a reader-gets their eye poked out. 25 of the simplest copywriting mistakes are easy to make if you lack experience:
- Writing for the company: People have one burning question on their minds when it comes to your product or service: what's in it for me? According to Crazyegg.com, they don't care about your company, your life story, or your sheer awesomeness. They care about what's in it for them. Don't bore them with endless company drivel.
- Missing the target: Audience, that it is. Do you know exactly who your target audience is? More importantly, does your copywriter? Your copy has to hit that target dead on. It has to hook, captivate, and motivate. If your writer doesn't know your target audience intimately, they might as well be trying to shoot a moving target with no ammo-it's not gonna happen!
- Bad formatting: You can write an epic article, but it'll never meet the reader's eye if it's badly formatted. Bad or no headings, long and tedious paragraphs, and a dull visual presentation will kill your copy on publication.
- Failed headlines: According to Copyblogger, your headline is the first, and perhaps only, impression you can make before a prospective reader either clicks to your content or passes you by. A strong headline tells the reader why they can't miss your article before they even open it. Can you pack an informative, emotional, and curiosity causing punch in 5 to 10 words?
- Improper tone: How often doesn't the wrong tone spark an argument?Couples will be the first to admit that slipping into the wrong tone at the wrong time can spark a blowout that'll leave somebody sleeping on the couch! So too can choosing the wrong audience tone. Tone is a thousand times more important in copy because it's written; there's no body language to save the day, only words and context. It takes an experienced pen to not only choose the proper tone, but also hold it from start to finish.
- Address the right customer: Your target audience isn't made of universal customers. In fact, it's likely your customers break down into categories of people all searching for similar yet unique solutions to several problems. Each piece of copy from your company must address the right customer, and your combined pieces of copy need to be all-inclusive yet easily structured for a breakdown for those detail oriented customers.
- Invest the audience emotionally: Creative storytelling isn't just old school, it's a staple of the savvy Internet copywriter. Storytelling invests the audience emotionally, which keeps them reading and makes them come back for more.
- Stay on topic: People are flooded with information on a minute-by-minute basis. Between Twitter, Facebook, and G+ feeds, and then multiple news feeds and e-mail subscriptions, the average person has more material hitting their devices than they could read in a lifetime. Chances are, if you haven't made mistakes 1 through 7, they'll give your copy a glimpse. But you had better stay on topic. Take a surprise trip down the rabbit hole mid-article, and your audience will bail.
- Get to the point: If you've avoided the rabbit hold, then the next thing to dodge is taking your time getting to the point. You and I don't like being held up in the Starbucks line. Why would be spend an extra five minutes reading for the writer to get to the point? Hit us with that bad boy fast, and then we'll decide if we should read more.
- Stay relevant: This applies to each piece of copy AND your content as a whole. If it isn't all relevant to your product, service, and brand, then readers will drop like flies. They won't understand why you're writing what you're writing, and they aren't going to try to figure it out.
- Rely on facts: Factual content is credible and authoritative. It tells people you're more than a sales machine; you're a resource. People want to be educated. Weave proven facts backed by evidence into your copy, and you'll be creating a golden egg.
- Build in proper citations: If you've made it this far and haven't made mistakes 1 through 11, then it's time to build in proper citations to show that evidence that backs your facts. But any old citation won't do. You need to cite credible material. Do you or your writer know how to use tools like MozBar to determine a website's credibility and authority, and then choose the cream of the crop to link to?
- Assuming the reader knows what you mean: This is an epic error. Never, ever talk down to your audience. But never, ever assume they know exactly what you mean. You have to strike the perfect balance between general writing and jargon.
- Closing correctly: The best copy ends on a motivational point known as a call to action. The CTA will tell the reader what to do. The writer has to know just how hard to push without coming across as pushing. A CTA could be as simple as encouraging them to contact you or read more on your website, but if it isn't presented properly, it will fall on deaf ears-or is that blind eyes?
- Remain PC (politically correct): In other words, don't offend! Word choice is everything. Leave copywriting to an inexperienced soul, and you just might find a large portion of your audience taking offense to the words or ideas that are conveyed.
- Focusing on features: It's one of the most common and repeated copywriting mistakes. People don't care about the features as much as the benefits. What's in it for them? Why are you more beneficial than the other guy?
- Saying too much: According to Crazyegg.com, it's not about long vs. short copy. It's about rambling. The inexperienced writer has a tendency to say more than needed. Say too much, risk losing your audience.
- Keyword optimization/density: Over or under optimize your keywords, and you'll feel it in your search engine rankings. Does your writer know the ins and outs of the most recent keyword standards?
- Too much product focus: The customer wants to know about your product and/or services, but they also want to know a bit about who they're buying from. Don't forget to give them a taste of what you and your company stand for.
- Too much fluff: We all love marshmallow fluff, but only in moderation. Strong copy cuts the fluff in favor of the meat and potatoes.
- An adjective overdose: According to Shopify.com, adjectives are the handy dandy words that help us explain what our product looks like, what it does (features), and how it makes the buyer feel (benefits). They're fine in moderation. But if you over do it, the reader will OD; thus, slowing them down and causing confusion.
- Lack of personality: Appealing writing has personality. It speaks. Your brand should reflect its personality through your copy. Fail to do this, fail to produce quality.
- A sheer lack of editing: The pro copywriter has an editor. Somebody proofs over their work and catches the tiny errors that can make or break the copy. Working with a pro is like getting a two-for-one. Doing it yourself or hiring a friend means you had better get yourself an editor, and they had better know what they're doing.
- Lack of a unique selling point: Why are you different? Your writer has to understand how and why you are unique and then highlight that selling point to the customer. Otherwise, you'll blend into the crowd.
And The Biggest Mistake of Them All
- Investing in the wrong pen: Copy is the blood of your online presence. It is essential to life! Sure, you can opt to do it yourself or hire a local buddy, but is it worth the risk? Revisit your best friend's wedding. What if Aunt Jo catered? Her mashed potatoes are spectacular, but can she make them for 1,000 people? Can she create a thrilling three-course meal for such a huge event? Does she know how to bake the cake? And what about Uncle Jim as the photographer? Is he going to capture every once in a lifetime moment in stunning clarity, at the perfect angle, with the best light? As much as we love Aunt Jo and Uncle Jim, they're just not cut out for the task. To put them in such huge and stressful positions would jeopardize the day AND their relationship with the family. Why would you put yourself or your buddy in the line of fire when it comes to your copywriting needs?
Advertising and copywriting go hand-in-hand much like caterers, photographers, and weddings. According to BizCommunity.com, if you search back through the history of advertising, you'll discover that the industry was built on copywriting. It's a hard, cold fact that not all copywriters are created equal.
Don't entrust the very survival and livelihood of your business to just anyone. Can you guarantee anyone other than a skilled expert could avoid the 25 mistakes we've covered? And these mistakes are just the tip of the iceberg. Don't be the Titanic! Avoid the pitfalls of second-rate copy and make an educated investment