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13 Warning Signs Your Web Copy Stinks

you know your web copy stinks when...
What’s that smell? Oh. Right. Your web copy. (Image source)

We’ve all been there. We’ve slaved over our web copy. We’ve carefully crafted and polished each sentence. We’ve rewritten, and edited, and tweaked again.

We finally publish our web copy…and face total letdown. We find web visitors are bouncing. We don’t get the email sign-ups we’re looking for. We don’t get the sales we deserve.

Could it possibly be that our web copy sucks?

I’ve collected the thirteen most common warning signs of crappy copy. Avoid these silly mistakes and you have a good chance to persuade your web visitors to stick around. To sign up to your email list. To join your free trial. Or to buy from you. And each warning sign comes with a tweetable takeaway, so you can share your new found knowledge with all your friends & followers.

Let’s have a look…

1. You don’t know your ideal reader

Your ideal reader is the person you’re trying to persuade to sign up or to buy.

To write persuasive copy you need to know what makes your ideal reader tick. It sounds obvious, but it’s often more difficult than it seems. For instance: Carelogger thought that their target audience would like to have a diabetes app that’s easy to use. But they found that ease-of-use isn’t that important for their users. Their users really want to improve their health.

Conversions increased by 31%, when Carelogger changed their headline from Keeping tabs on your diabetes just got a lot easier to Maintain your optimal health by keeping tabs on your diabetes.

Don’t write what you like to write. Write what your audience wants to read.
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2. You don’t use hypnotic words

Imagine you could turn readers into buyers just because you use a few words.

Use the following three hypnotic words:

  • The word you makes your copy personal. Address your readers as if you’re having a conversation with them. Make them feel involved in your story.
  • Use the word imagine to allow your readers to visualize what it would be like to use your product. Imagining using your product is proven to increase desire to own your product.
  • The word because gives people a reason why they should do something and that can automatically trigger a response.

Hypnotic words lower defenses to your sales pitches. Use them to bypass the critical mind of your reader.
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3. You’re talking too much about yourself

You’ve worked hard to improve your product. You’re proud of the company you’ve built. Of course you are. But the hard truth is: nobody is interested in your product, your service, your company.

Your web visitors are only interested in themselves. So don’t go on and on about your features and specifications. Instead, make it clear what you can do for your web visitors. How can you make them happier, healthier, or more productive? How can you help them save money or boost revenues? And which problems, glitches, and hassle do you help to avoid?

Web visitors aren’t interested in your products. They only want to know what’s in it for them.
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4. You’re in love with adjectives

Adjectives and adverbs can kill the persuasive power of your web copy, because they increase the number of words in your sentences; and more words slow your readers down.

Words like breakthrough, innovative, and cutting-edge have lost their meaning. They’re filler words padding your sentences. Cut these words from your copy and join my fight to stamp out gobbledygook.

Follow these four rules to avoid the destructive power of adjectives:

  1. Cut an adjective if you can remove it without changing the meaning of your sentence.
  2. Select sensory adjectives. Choose stinky or rough rather than bad. Sensory words are more memorable and impactful.
  3. Use specific adjectives. Use bank-grade security rather than high-grade or world-class security. Specificity adds credibility to your copy.
  4. Pump up the volume with emotion-rich adjectives such as enchanting rather than nice. Make your readers feel something to remember your copy.

Eradicate gobbledygook to create killer web copy.
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adjectives webcopy
The web copy of Dropbox doesn’t contain unnecessary adjectives. It’s easy to read. Click for full-size image

5. You write web copy like a book

Readers usually open a book on the first page of the first chapter and read through until the end.

Imagine people opening your book on page 147, or page 33, or on the before last page.

That’s exactly what web visitors do. They may land on any page of your website.

Write each web page as if it’s a landing page.
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6. You’re asking for money too soon

What makes a salesman sleazy? And aggressive?

A sleazy-sales problem usually occurs when people are asking for business too soon. Sleazy salesmen don’t give you the time to ask questions. They just want your money. Now.

Of course you need to win business. But are you asking for the sale too soon?

Respect your web visitors. Don’t expect everyone to be ready to buy.
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7. You’re suffering from sentence bloat

Sentence bloat makes your readers want to puke. Do you know what causes this miserable situation?

Over-indulgence in difficult words. Verbosity. Trying to sound better than you are.

Avoid sentence bloat by using simple words and short sentences.
» Tweet This «

8. You’re treating web copy like pure science

You understand how you can help your customers. Check.

You use persuasive words. Check.

You test your copy. Check.

But what about the beauty of sales copy?

Apple - alliteration
Apple’s copywriters attract attention to their copy with poetic tricks like alliteration.

Steal copywriting techniques from poets to make your sales copy smooth and memorable. Attract attention with alliteration, rhyme, and deliberate repetition:

  • Alliteration: Get bang for your buck (Whole Foods Market)
  • Rhyme: The world’s largest — and smartest — collection of apps. (Apple)
  • Repetition: No added sugar. No concentrates. No funny business. (UK smoothie maker, innocent)

Writing sales copy is both a science and an art.
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9. You suffer from superlative laziness

Do your web visitors believe you when you claim to be the best, the most beautiful, or the quickest?

Only use superlatives if:

  • You can prove why you are the most wonderful company. Quote your sources or use test results.
  • You quote someone else who says your service is the most wonderful they’ve ever experienced.
  • You use a superlative in a question: Could this be the best Italian restaurant in Washington? A question makes you sound a little humbler.

Avoid slick sales talk. Cut superlatives because they can make you sound insincere.
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10. You’re ignoring the impact of design

Writing your sales copy using Word or OpenOffice?

You’re missing a trick.

You need to rewrite, edit, and polish your sales copy once you see it on your actual web page.

Directv uses design tricks to highlight specific words:

Directv design
Directv uses various design tricks to draw attention.

Directv’s web designers and copywriters work together to create persuasive content. They use font styles, sizes, and colors to draw attention to specific text. For instance:

  • Triple $aving$ event doesn’t look right in a normal font, but it works on the Directv homepage.
  • You usually can’t underline text unless it’s a link, but First time ever! is fine because a script font is used and the underlining isn’t straight. Nobody thinks this is a link they need to click.

Copywriting and web design should interact and strengthen each other like yin and yang.
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11. You’re a little vague

Fuzziness kills landing pages.

A page is fuzzy when a web visitor doesn’t know what to read first on your web page. Or doesn’t understand what to do next.

Your call-to-action needs to stand out and be impeccably clear.
» Tweet This «

12. You’re putting Google first

Writing sales copy to rank in Google kills your creativeness, murders the beauty of your copy, and slaughters your persuasiveness.

Always write for your readers first, optimize for search engines later.
» Tweet This «

13. You’re not treating your web visitors like wild animals

Treating your web visitors like wild animals?

Yep, you’ve read it right. Usability expert Jakob Nielsen suggests web visitors are looking for information just like wild animals are foraging for food. Your web visitors are quickly scanning your page before deciding whether to stay or whether to go.

How do you entice scanners to stay on your web page and read on?

  • Highlight one big idea in your headline.
  • Use font sizes and colors to create a hierarchy of information.
  • Entice scanners with sub headlines and easy-to-scan bullet points.
Copyblogger scanners
Copyblogger has designed its home page to entice scanners.

Stop treating your web visitors like human beings. Treat them like wild animals instead.
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The truth about writing seductive copy

Writing good copy is about more than avoiding silly mistakes. Good copy seduces your readers. Choose the right words to make your product desirable. Dazzle your readers with beautiful copy and vivid imagery. Encourage your readers to take action.

Your turn

Now I want to hear from you:

  1. Which mistakes have you come across most often? Which irritate you most?
  2. Looking to improve your own web copy? Get the book How to Write Seductive Web Copy. An Easy Guide to Picking Up More Customers. Available exclusively from Amazon.

— Henneke Duistermaat


About Henneke Duistermaat
Henneke Duistermaat is an irreverent copywriter and marketer. She’s on a mission to stamp out gobbledygook and add sparkle to boring business blogs. Get her 16-part snackable writing course for busy people and learn how to create persuasive content.
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Comments:

  1. Nile Lars

    Hi Henneke,

    Thanks for valuable article. I have observed that content with knowledge sharing are liked by users and they want to stay on our web page. I suggest that you to add one point for content. Content with positive attitude also help us to improve conversion rate. banner images with positive attitude really help us to acquire faith of users.

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  2. Gary Wilis

    very cool stuff, honest!

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  3. Amandah

    Figuring out ‘who’ your ideal customer is will save you time and headaches in the long run.

    If you try to build a website/business first without knowing your target audience, you’ll feel the pain later.

    Brainstorm and narrow down your audience. Hire a business and or marketing coach to help you if you can’t figure it out.

    Take it from me, creating a website without knowing who your ideal customer/client is causes you aggravation and frustration. Get it right the first time!

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  4. Andy Kuiper

    Thanks Henneke :-) everyone should be able to find a takeaway or two from your post… I know I did :-)

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  5. bob

    # 3 – i’m really ashamed
    # 6 – the cat is in the bag >>>
    # 12 – i can’t handle the truth ;)
    Good stuff, to say the least !
    Keep on sharing …

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  6. Julie Myers

    Thanks, I write web copy for a living. I will send your list to my clients. BTY, #10 is a killer… we writers have no control over it.

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    • Henneke

      I’m hoping this will slowly change. As writers we need to push for closer cooperation with web designers. Hopefully web designers also want to work closer with us!

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  7. Randall Magwood

    I think everyone could use a good refresher/copywriting lesson from historical and influential copywriters…. like Gary Halbert, John Carlton, Jeff Paul, Michael Fortin, and Dan Kennedy. With the tips in this blog post, it will bring newbies closer to writing more effective sales copy that will actually bring them alot of sales for their internet business.

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    • Henneke

      You’re absolutely right. What continues to amaze me is that a lot of advice from almost a century ago – like the book Tested Advertising Methods from John Caples – is still valid for the internet age.

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  8. Mark Pusateri

    Thought this was excellent, except for suggesting that “imagine” is a hypnotic word. It’s not. It’s transparently manipulative. The reader says, “HEY! I know what you’re trying to do!”

    Never use imagine in your copy. Unless you’re John Lennon.

    Just set the scene and use sensory language. Their minds will go there.

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    • Henneke

      It depends how it’s used.

      An example from iPhone 5 web copy:
      “Imagine sidesplitting, adventure-filled, must-see flicks produced by you and shot on iPhone 5.”

      Or AWAI (American Writers & Artists Inc)
      “Imagine A Life Where You Can’t Wait To Wake Up Each Morning …”

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  9. Rachel Hirst

    Amazing Read Thank you i love to look over well thought out articles on an afternoon will be coming to look again thanks.

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  10. Baturay Kaya

    excellent article thank you for these nice information. Really good stuff to share with my friends

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  11. Ted Larkin

    People are looking for informative content, something they can take away from the words and apply to their life. So give them that in your content and they’ll love you for it!

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  12. Mark Ford

    I’ve never seen “you” described as a hypnotic word before but its a very good point. Using such words also helps eradicate the issue of point 3.

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  13. Kerry Adams

    I think these instructions should be followed. And these 13 signs are very effective. And I think if anyone follow these instructions then he will be gainer.

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  14. Hamza

    Really useful and entertaining article with plenty of great takeaways – thanks!

    I’m not sure that superlatives are so bad though. As long as you’re not in a super-competitive market which has clear and well-known leaders, and your claims aren’t too outrageous, no-one is going to pull you up on them. A quick, confident superlative can give your credibility an instant boost – especially when backed up by a professional website.

    I do agree that it is better to have a quote from someone else saying how you’re the best – and putting it as a question is a great idea if somewhat diluted.

    Hamza

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  15. Henneke

    Yes, it probably depends on the context and your readers.

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  16. Carrol Landis

    Though your post was totally funy but it’s really essential for those people who are really like to create their business website and promote their products. As a online marketer I would like to say that I’ve learned a lot about our common mistakes for creating and publishing our website content. I think this is high time we should be alert and aware from this kind of content copying. Thanks a lot for your excellent efforts and suggestion.

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  17. Ritch Crosby

    I just gave up and pay for my copy LOL

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  18. Andy Schilling

    A corollary to #5 (“you write copy like a book”) is “Your copy sounds like a lawyer wrote it.” And in fact, that’s often the case these days, if the product you’re offering requires accompanying disclaimers. It’s a sure way to write blah-blah-blah right past the potential reader. Potential solution — though difficult, since it must be run past the Legal Dept! — is to use principles of #7 (“avoid sentence bloat, by using short, simple sentences) , and to re-phrase the required text as if you’re writing to a person rather than a legal counselor.

    And your point #3 is spot-on, and is a major affliction of marketing these days: brand managers and other marketers who get too absorbed in themselves. The worst-case example is the enterprising brand manager who devotes himself to redesigning the PACKAGE…and then boasts about the grand “improvement” with “Same great taste — brand new look!!” Whooo-ee…that really improves my lot as a consumer.

    Thanks for a very useful set of observations on web copy and how to communicate successfully with audiences using today’s evolving media. I’ll share this one with our Team.

    Regards!

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  19. Henneke

    That’s a good point, Andy. It can be difficult to keep your lawyers happy, too.

    Mailchimp has made a good effort to making their legal policies readable: http://mailchimp.com/legal/. It’s about using simple words and short sentences as you say. And design has an important role to play, too.

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  20. Nithin Upendran

    Excellent stuff man! I was unaware of this thanks bro ! Thanks again bro for sharing this idea with us :)

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  21. used autoparts online

    Real good work. thanks for your hard work and research. I think, as like me everyone would love to see more updates. :)

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  22. Alexandra Skey

    I agree with #4. When adjectives are used sparingly, they have an impact. When you use them all the time, they become meaningless.

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    • Henneke

      Exactly, Alexandra. And reading too many adjectives makes me think: Don’t you have anything useful to say?

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  23. iman

    I had a small store and for three months I’v try to make it online, I found your post. I think I should to implement it

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  24. Muthu

    This job absorbs all of my time. Thank you mam

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  25. Barrys Web Design

    As a website designer who has re-written my home page and website copy probably over 100 times since the conception of my business around 10 years ago, I know how you get stuck in a rut thinking that the copy is all good but really its just that I have read it so many times that I am reading but not reading. I ask people to give me feedback on my copy but its hard to get fresh eyes to be really honest about what your writing because clients don’t like to offend (human trait). I like to put the reader in a position where they are comfortable and know that the services are for them and not me shouting at them about how great I am. I want them to read my copy and say that they trust what I am saying and its all about them. I think this is why I have so many clients stick with me over the years. Its all about them!! Without them there is no business..

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  26. Anico

    I knew we should speak about user’s benefits then speaking about company. But somehow such things get lost in my mind

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  27. Yudi

    excellent article thank you for sharing your knowlegde…

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  28. nydia

    Hi Henneke,

    Great article and great ideas. Thanks

    Sincerely

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  29. Bryan

    Great read. I think it’s time to take a serious look at my content and start the rewrite process! I’m guilty of writing for SEO purposes rather than to my readers. Time for a change!

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  30. craig wright

    I’ve bookmarked this page as a reminder of what to do for when I’m having periods of self-doubt (I’m a copywriter and technical author). Sometimes, reminding yourself of the basics helps a lot, and you’ve summed them up well here. Nice one.

    The use of ‘you’ has been rammed down my neck since day 1 of studying technical writing, so I’m surprised more people don’t realise just how powerful it is. There’s a reason ‘YOU’ was so large on those ‘Your Country Needs You’ posters!

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  31. harry

    Great read. I think it’s time to take a serious look at my content and start the rewrite process! I’m guilty of writing for SEO purposes rather than to my readers. Time for a change!

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  32. Alexander Cheung

    Great, simple list!

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  33. Charolette

    It’s actually a nice and useful piece of info. I’m satisfied that you shared this useful info with us.
    Please stay us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.

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  34. real estate

    Hi, yup this article is truly good and I have learned lot of things from it on the topic of
    blogging. thanks.

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    Reply
  35. 13 Warning Signs Your Web Copy Stinks - PSD to Final

    […] website visually, but what makes a bad site? Henneke Duistermaat gives us some valuable insight. This article was originally posted here. Image courtesy Tom via […]

    Reply
  36. Jeff Pederson

    I love finding different posts of this topic because it is important to have interesting compelling content and these are some good steps to keep in mind.

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  37. Cursed 'Un

    A great article, thank you. But I found this off-putting: “Sentence bloat makes your readers want to puke. Do you know what causes this miserable situation? Over-indulgence in difficult words.” It seems these days we have to write for the lowest common denominator and must assume everyone is uneducated or illiterate. English (as any language) is so beautifully expressive and nuanced. What a terrible pity to have to dumb it down to its bare basics.

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