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.
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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.
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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.
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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

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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