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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.
    » Tweet This «

    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.
    » Tweet This «

    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.
    » Tweet This «

    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.
    » Tweet This «

    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.
    » Tweet This «

    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.
    » Tweet This «

    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.
    » Tweet This «

    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.
    » Tweet This «

    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.
    » Tweet This «

    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.
    » Tweet This «

    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.
    » More blog posts by Henneke Duistermaat
    • 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.

      • Yep, that’s a good point, Nile: Always be helpful.

        Thank you for adding your thoughts!

    • Gary Wilis

      very cool stuff, honest!

      • Thank you :)

        I had a lot of fun while writing this!

    • 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!

      • Exactly, Amandah. That’s spot on!

      • I have a wide ranging ideal customer that covers most sectors and sizes of company. To combat this I identify target groups and tailor external marketing whilst focusing generic on achievements, services, team etc with a catch all tone.

        I would expect your target audience to be wide catching too Amandah, do you follow a similar approach or just focus on your ideal?

        Love your writing style and yours Henneke.

        • Hi Chris,

          Nice website and web designs!

          My target audience isn’t as wide catching as it was years ago as I enjoy writing for certain industries compared to others. But, I’ve been thinking about focusing on one particular industry. I too tailor my marketing for each segment because it makes sense.

          By the way, I love the UK! It’s one of my favorite countries.

          • Oops! I meant to write that the “UK is one of favorite travel destinations.” :)

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

      • Henneke

        You’re welcome, Andy :-)

    • 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 …

      • Henneke

        It’s good to have room for improvement!

    • 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.

      • 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!

    • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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 …”

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

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

    • 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!

    • 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.

      • Henneke

        Exactly. That’s a good point!

    • 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.

      • Henneke

        You bet!

    • 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.


    • Henneke

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

    • 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.

    • I just gave up and pay for my copy LOL

    • 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.


    • 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.

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

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

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

      • Henneke

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

    • 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

      • Henneke

        Good luck! I hope it helps.

    • This job absorbs all of my time. Thank you mam

    • 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..

    • Anico

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

    • excellent article thank you for sharing your knowlegde…

    • Hi Henneke,

      Great article and great ideas. Thanks


      • Henneke

        You’re welcome :)

    • 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!

      • Henneke

        Good luck! Let us know how you get on?

    • 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!

    • 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!

    • Great, simple list!

    • 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.

    • 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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    • 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.

    • 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.

    • thanks buat infonya, menarik sekali untuk disimak

    • thanks for the information, may be useful .. regards success


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    • terimakasih buat infonya sobat, mantep nih artikelnya

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    • good morning gays,

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    • sangat keren

    • nice article

    • thanks to information

    • Thanks untuk informasinya gan tetap semangat yahh

    • Hello Henneke!
      Thank you for this amazing article! I totally agree with everything written here! And that is true that you must put yourself in the readers’ place and imagine, what you want to read about and what information you want to see on the website! You don’t need to talk much about yourself, but concentrate your attention on the needs and problems of readers! It sounds sad, but everyone fixated on their own problems and they don’t care about you! I like your article very much! Looking forward your next works!

    • Thanks untuk informasinya salam sukses :)

    • This is a great article. Most people THINK they are writing great web copy and it’s often one of the biggest weaknesses of their website. Without an actual focus or purpose a lot of web copy is painful to read, made for SEO not for the actual reader.

    • Terrific tips you have here, thank you for sharing. How does my site seem http://www.jobsonlinereg.info ?

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    • Great post Henneke. I came here randomly following a link on one of my evening procrastination jaunts and I’m glad to say that your post was like a breath of fresh air in an increasingly saturated online world where most bloggers rewrite other bloggers. Definitely subscribing to both, Unbounce and Enchanted marketing blogs! I am writer who’s trying to level up his writing skills so this post gave me some great tips that I’ll apply in my next blog post.

    • Hi Henneke, I love reading this article, it’s really an awesome piece of knowledge. I like point 6 the most: “Write each web page as if it’s a landing page” We usually implement it on lead pages but I am planning to test it on all pages with CTA at the most prominent space.

      Thank You!!

    • Amazing post and very informative too. Before starting a business proper strategic planning is necessary to be successful. This is really very useful information.

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    • Great post Henneke. I expect content production including copy-writing to be the next major focus for the digital sector. For years it seemed an opportunity for site owners to reduce costs and complete in house by untrained writers but trends towards investigating in content production have shifted with videography and a more picturesque web being beyond the skill set of most businesses, and in the slipstream follows investment in the written form which more often then not would be better suited by a third party.

      I fall foul of most of those as shown by this post and respect professionals that master the discipline.

    • I think part of making your copy apepaling is giving it the right voice. Nobody wants to read robotic text. You have to make it personal but targetted to your audience. Keep it easy to read and make the effort to research the topic well.

    • my teams sucks for 8 out of 13

    • You can actually get some pretty unique insights to your impression / CTR results in the SERPS by throwing your site into Google webmaster tools. Traffic and search clickthrough are becoming increasingly important (especially having titles and meta descriptions that get clicks!)

    • great post

    • This is really a great stuff for sharing. Thanks for sharing.

    • thanks for sharing tips. this will help us to avoid all this mistakes.

    • ロレのダイバーとか素敵だと思うんですけど。

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    • thanks for the information very useful I from here I into learn again to repeat a mistake.

    • tks for sharing. this is a good info. Great work!

    • article is very nice

    • thank your article is good

    • very nice good

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    • train pnr status

      thank you for sharing the great article.

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    • I think if writing is not your strong point you should hire a professional copywriter. There are so many pit falls that if you want to create engaging content, you should get someone who does it for a living.

    • Tanks sangat menarik untuk disimak, semoga bermanfaat buat saya dan semua yang membaca artikel ini

    • As a blog owner I should say that it is very important to work with professional writers to create competitive and valuable content. Also, it helps to concentrate on your strategy and create your own writing style. It will bring you new visitors and make your business more unique and competitive on the market.