80% of Business Websites I Critiqued Make These Copy Mistakes. You, too?

Do you know what you, a contractor and a project manager have in common? Brain-racking copy on their websites!

How do I know?

I do copy critiques. A lot. And I’m yet to see a web page that I didn’t have to rip ap…, I mean, offer many insightful comments and provide improvement suggestions for in a straightforward but respectful manner.

Below, I’ve listed the most common mistakes I see (and correct) during my copy critique using real-life examples* to mass-help you improve your copy. I put the most common copy mistake last to keep the intrigue. And no, it’s not jargon.

How many of these mistakes are scaring prospects away from your website?

* – No client feelings have been hurt during the production of this posts. The real-life anti-examples have been slightly altered to ensure anonymity or don’t exist anymore as they made room for new, clear and relevant copy that resonates.

#9 Arrogant or patronizing copy

…that makes your prospects roll their eyes and close the browser tab.

Copywriting mistake 9: Arrogant and patronizing copy
Arrogant copy comes in multiple flavors. I experienced these two to be the most common ones.

Arrogant copy flavor #1: Telling your prospects how awesome you are (or playing hard to get).

“I’m far from cheap.”

“We’re the best in our industry (not boasting, just stating the facts).”

“I’m booked for 6 months in advance, but if you ask nicely, I may squeeze you in.”

This is not “making your personality shine” (or if it is, you should lock your personality in a trunk and throw away the key). It’s you being a show off who talks down to their prospects.

Want to show your prospects how awesome you are?

Let them hear it from somebody else but you and include effective client testimonials.

Other effective ways to let your prospects figure out that you’re awesome all by themselves include:

  • Clear language packed with relevant and valuable information
  • Friendly and approachable tone
  • Clean web design.

Arrogant copy flavor #2: Telling your prospects how to feel.

I still remember this embarrassing moment like it was yesterday.

We were practicing our dance moves for a concert in high school. I decided to remember my ballet past and did what was supposed to be a grand jeté (a split jump).

As last time I did ballet was 10 years ago at that point, my jump had a grace of a hippopotamus jumping over a puddle.

Gloria hippopotamus
Although Gloria would have still done it better than me.

I was well aware of it but decided to play it cool.

“Awesome, huh?”, I said to the teacher supervising the practice.

#awkwardsilence

Which brings us to a flavor of arrogant copy #2: Telling your prospects how to feel.

“Easy, isn’t it?”

“Isn’t it great?”

“How awesome is that?”

This is you making your prospects feel awkward if they don’t share your sentiment. And although it’s great when copy evokes emotions, “awkward”, “patronized” or “talked down to” is not what you should be going for.

Want your prospects to feel excited about your offer?

Tell them:

  • How it solves their problems by phrasing features though benefits
  • How it makes their lives better by painting the picture of their lives after they buy it
  • What your customers / clients think about you / your product by including credible testimonials.
Gill Andrews

Wondering if your web copy is any good?

Let me critique it.

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#8 Copy that lacks confidence

…and makes your prospects wonder, if you don’t believe in yourself, why should they?

Copywriting mistake 8: Copy that lacks confidence

Are you a cat or a dog person? I’m 100% team cat. Dogs make me afraid, and it’s a vicious circle because I can see them sensing my fear, which makes me even more scared.

Your prospects are like dogs. They sense when you’re afraid you’re not good enough and aren’t confident in your skills.

Maybe. Perhaps. Possibly. In case you’re interested.

Burn these with fire and substitute them with assertive language.

  • Feel free to reach out -> Contact me.
  • In case you’re interested -> Interested? Contact me. or Want this benefit? Contact me.
  • Maybe we’re a good fit -> Add a section “Whom is this service for?” where you describe who’ll benefit from your services most.
  • Perhaps we can work together -> Let’s work together.

Stuff like that. Because if you’re not sure you’re any good, how can they be?

(And even if you’re suffering from an impostor syndrome, your clients don’t have to know.)

#7 Generic copy

…that your prospects find irrelevant.

Copywriting mistake 7: Generic copy
Behind every generic sentence, there is a hidden agenda.

Take this sentence, for example:

“Research suggests that 80% of new businesses fail”.

What are you trying to achieve here? Are you trying to scare your prospects into hiring you?

“Will I be among those 80%? Oh no! Let’s hire this person who knows cool stats!”

This won’t work. “Research suggests” is distant and unspecific (what niche? what businesses), and it will have zero effect on your prospects.

Plus, your prospects are smart and know the real value of averages. Because – haven’t you heard? – Serena Williams and I have won 11.5 Grand slams on average.

Here are a couple of other, less obvious examples of generic sentences:

  • It’s always a good idea to review your progress on a regular basis. (Yeah… so?)
  • It is never too late for the right move. (That’s a nice inspirational quote, yes.)
  • Revolution is not always necessary in order to make a new start. (That… is true, I guess?)

How to get rid of generic copy

Instead of wasting the valuable space on your web page and the precious time of your readers:

  • Talk directly to your prospects.
  • Say clearly what you’d like to communicate.

Not like this: Research suggests that 80% of new businesses fail.

But like this: Are you worried that your new business may fail?

#6 Wrong questions

…that your prospects answer with a “no” and decide that your offer isn’t for them.

Copywriting mistake 6: Wrong questions

Ask questions, they said. Your readers will be more engaged, they said.

What they didn’t tell you is that this may epically backfire.

Why? Three reasons.

Reason #1: Your prospects respond with a “no”.

“Are you ready to upgrade?”

“Would you like to work together?”

“Do you need magic content?”

…are all pretty sucky questions because they don’t guarantee you a “yes”.

Seriously, who is ever ready to upgrade and what’s magic content anyways?

If your prospects answer “no”, they may decide your offer isn’t for them.

That’s why you need to use question that your website visitors are most likely to answer with a “yes”:

  • Want to do more in less time? (Sure!)
  • Want to grow your business faster? (Who doesn’t?)
  • Want to sell more? (You bet!)

Reason #2: Your prospects respond with “Yes, so what?”

“Could instinct make you extinct?”

…reads a header on a homepage of a business consulting company.

True story, by the way:

Website tagline example 2: Could instinct make you extinct?
Could it? I don’t know, but one thing for sure: If they don’t change this headline their company will be extinct pretty soon.

“Are you measuring your social media efforts?”, asks an agency first thing a prospect lands on their website.

Seems like a legit question. Except it’s irrelevant to their offer of copywriting for social media.

What to ask about instead?

The real problems your prospects are struggling with, as in:

  • Tired of spending countless hours on your social posts for three measly likes?
  • Want more engagement on your social shares?

Don’t do it like this, though. 👇

Reason #3: You ask too many questions.

Are you struggling with this? Do you feel like this? Maybe you feel like this? What if I told you you could feel like this? Or like this? Or fix this problem? How would you feel if you wouldn’t feel like this anymore?

Phew… That’s a lot of questions!

But have you thought about it this way:

Every time you pose a question, it creates friction.

Not all frictions are bad, though, and questions, if used properly, are “the good ones” as they indeed keep the readers engaged.

But if a prospect would have seamlessly read through a definite sentence, a question is a speed bump that forces her to stop and reflect on an answer (even if it’s just half a second).

This is a great tactic to keep your readers awake, but, as any speed bump, it needs to be used sparsely because your readers don’t appreciate miles of a bumpy road.

Which brings us to the main point of how to use questions effectively:

How to use questions in your copy effectively

  • Use only questions you’re sure your ideal clients will answer “yes” to.
  • If you have a question that your not-so-ideal clients would answer with a “no”, that’s fine. You aren’t thrilled about working with them anyways.
  • Questions are frictions. Use them with caution.

#5 Distant copy

…that make you sound like a robot and sparks zero emotions in your prospects.

Copywriting mistake 5: Distant copy
Imagine this:

Your boss called for a team meeting, and she isn’t happy.

She says, “Some individuals embarrassed our client in front of their vendors”.

You (thinking): “Eh, whatever. It’s just some individuals, not me.”

But what if she says, “You embarrassed our client.”?

Suddenly, you’re paying attention. Your stress levels shoot up as you feel like she is speaking directly to you.

Same with your web copy.

Except you shouldn’t scare your prospects but say nice things – like describing their problems or benefits of your offer – addressing them directly.

Copy mistake: Not addressing your readers directly

Not like this:

  • The locking tilt-in-space function makes it easier for individuals to sit in comfort and safety.
  • I provide this service for business owners who need a plan for the next stage of business growth.

But like this:

  • The locking tilt-in-space function makes it easier for you to sit in comfort and safety.
  • Need a plan to take your business to the next stage? Get [these awesome things that will make your life easier like that].

Address your potential clients with “you” / “your team”. Make them imagine already enjoying the benefits you describe.

This will trigger an “I want this!” emotion.

Which, in turn, will trigger that finger to press the “buy” button.

Which is actually what you wanted all along.

#4 Self-centered copy

…that makes your prospects wonder if you care about them at all.

Copywriting mistake 4: Self-centered copy

“I teach great marketing”.

“I provide business owners with actionable marketing plans.”

“We work with clients who want to grow their business.”

Well, it’s your website. It should be about you, right? What else do people visit it for rather than learn about how you started your company, your values and hobbies, what you provide and teach?

Truth time: Your prospects aren’t your friends, and they didn’t come to your website to become ones.

They have problems that keep them awake at night and need solving. So, the only thing they care about is their pain points and how you can help relieve them.

How to discover (and eliminate) self-centered copy on your website

  1. Open a page on your website. Your homepage is a great place to start.
  2. Press Ctrl+F and type “I ” (mind the space character after “I”).
  3. Write down the number of occurrences.
  4. Repeat for “my”, “you”, “your”, etc. and compare the numbers.

I just did this test for my homepage and got 5:48. What’s your “I”-score?

If you used I/my more often than you/ yours, rephrase the self-centered sentences:

  • Business owners -> You
  • I provide -> You’ll get
  • I teach -> You’ll learn
  • I’ll show you how -> Find out how
  • I worked with clients XYZ -> I helped clients XYZ achieve
  • I work with one client at a time -> Your project will have my undivided attention.

Forget pretty photos and hip design theme! Make this simple change instead to make your prospects appreciate your offer and connect with you.

#3 Fake benefits

…that may sound like benefits but are, in fact, something your prospects don’t care about.

Copywriting mistake 3: Fake benefits

Do you go mushroom hunting? I do, every autumn since I can remember.

Benefits are like mushrooms. They make look like something valuable, but if you don’t know how to tell them apart, the people you will be feeding them to won’t be thrilled, to put it mildly.

So, how do you spot a fake benefit?

Let’s say you have a sentence that you suspect to be one of those tasty benefits, for example a headline:

“Make your SEO work hard”.

Sounds enticing. But ask yourself this:

Can you imagine your prospects ever jumping out of bed, slapping themselves on the forehead and screaming, “I gotta make my SEO work hard!”?

If that image seems rather unlikely to you, congratulations, you’ve uncovered a fake benefit.

How to convert a fake benefit into a real one

(Doesn’t work with mushrooms, unfortunately).

There is a straightforward solution to this benefit disaster, namely the “So what?” test.

Take your fake benefit and ask “so what?” till there is still an answer to this question.

I’ll demonstrate.

Make your SEO work hard.

So what?

You rank better in search.

So what?

You get more targeted organic traffic.

So what?

You get more interested potential customers to see your offer.

And that, my friends, is the real benefit.

#2 Unnatural language

…that throws your prospects off.

Copywriting mistake 2: Unnatural language

“Not sure how to proceed with your IT projects and needs?”

“Ground your strategy in the ongoing employee and customer understanding.”

It’s not jargon. Every word is clear.

Ground – check. Your strategy – check. Ongoing – check.

It’s just doesn’t make any sense together or sounds nothing like you’d say in a real-life conversation. Which is a huge throw-off for your prospects who not only have no idea what you’re saying but now hurt their brain by trying to understand your copy.

How to sound like a normal person in your copy

There is a somewhat silly solution to this: Read your copy out loud, sentence by sentence.

To your spouse. A friend. A stuffed animal – doesn’t matter. Just get those words on the outside of your head.

Would you use the same phrasing to explain your offer to a new friend you met at a party? Will he understand you or call a doctor suspecting a stroke?

How to make your copy sound natural:

  • Rewrite it using clear plain words.
  • Use as many words as you need, but not a word more. Sculpting is a great method to create clear and concise sentences packed with value.
  • If you’re trying to explain a complicated concept, use a real-world analogy.
  • If it’s your website tagline, use one of these formulas.

And what about our “don’t do it like this” example?

  • We’ll work with you in devising how a content marketing strategy can be introduced to your organisation with metrics to monitor the impact.

Let’s remove the passive voice and tell the prospects specifically what they can expect:

  • We’ll analyze your current position, help you define your narrative, identify the best channels to spread the word and show you how to measure the results.

#1 Unspecific copy

…that makes your prospects wonder, what the hell it means.

Copywriting mistake 1: Unspecific copy

Let’s do a quick exercise. I’ll tell you three things, and you’ll try to imagine them.

Ready? Here goes.

Everything.

All your needs.

Any person.

How did it go? Were you able to imagine anything concrete? No? And neither can your prospects when they read your sales pages with those words in the copy.

Why is this a bad thing? Two reasons.

Reason #1: If your prospects can’t imagine it, they won’t buy it.

For your prospects to get excited about your offer, they need to imagine it. They need to be able to see themselves and / or their problems reflected there.

  • We provide a number of services to suit any person’s situation.

“Yes, yes! I’m that any person, and I want your number of services!”, said no customer ever.

The following sentence will also leave your prospects indifferent:

  • We’ll take care of everything for you looking after all your marketing needs.

Want to sell more? Don’t be afraid to use longer copy if it gives your prospects a concrete image they can recognize themselves in.

Like this:

  • We’ll walk you through every step of your marketing journey: From building a solid marketing strategy to creating stunning content and running viral campaigns.

Reason #2: Unspecific is not trustworthy.

Imagine, your son comes home later than usual. You ask him where he’s been. What answer would sound more believable?

a) I’ve got held up at school.

b) Mr. Johnson asked me to stay after class to discuss that play we’re performing on Friday, and I missed my bus.

It’s b), isn’t it? Because it’s more specific.

If your son gives you a vague answer, you can still ask additional questions. But as your visitors can’t do that, you have only one shot to make your copy sound believable on your website.

How make your claims more believable by being specific

Here’s a small cheat sheet that gives you an idea how to use specificity in describing your value proposition, products, freebies, and much more things that matter to your potential customers.

How to make your copy specific

Final words of wisdom

Your copy is a bridge. A bridge between the place your prospects are in now and where they need to be to convert. And your bridge should better be strong to carry your prospects to their destination.

But a solid bridge isn’t just a collection of bricks. The same way as good copy isn’t just a collection of words.

You can’t build your bridge in a hurry. Nor build it without any engineering skills.

Want to build strong and smooth copy bridges to sell more through your website? Learn some bridge-building skills: Study this copy mistakes, eliminate them from your current copy and avoid making them in the future.

(Or just let me critique your copy. This works, too.)

Wondering if your web copy is any good?

Let me critique it sentence-by-sentence, point out the problems and suggest the ways to improve it.

Learn more

About the Author
Gill Andrews is a content creator and web consultant who turns underperforming websites into slick lead-generating machines. To tune up your small business website, get her ultimate website checklist 2018.

10 Comments

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  1. Hi Gill,

    Another awesome article! Although I could probably relate to one or two mistakes, I don’t feel stupid-stupid after reading it, thank you! Love your sense of humor and an easy writing style.

    Just have a little question for you if I may. I’m polishing my new lead magnet – a free course, and I’m not sure how to write “about me” ( a short presentation/bio). Everybody seems to write in third person which feels distant and disconnected. But will writing in first person be self-centered?

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Irina. Glad you found the post helpful 🙂

      Generally speaking, it’s perfectly fine to write about yourself in first person. The only exception is when you have some great achievements you’d like to talk about. Then it’s better to write in third person.

      For example, “I’m a best-selling author” may sound as if you’re showing off or be perceived less believable than if you say “Irina is a best-selling author”, which creates an illusion of somebody else saying it about you.

      Hope this helps 🙂

  2. Oh, Gill. Another awesome post. This one I’ll save for me. I can already see a few things I could improve in my website copy. Thanks for taking the time to create this. I absolutely love your sense of humor. It was a fun read.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Chidinma. Glad you enjoyed it, because I enjoyed writing it a lot, as one can see! 😀

  3. Gill, you killed it with this post! Loved it. I had so many “aha!” moments, especially re: questions that don’t guarantee a “yes.” Thank you as always for your amazing and easy-to-implement advice.

  4. Hey Jill,

    Oh my! Such a lot of great tips! I wrote all your suggestions down so I could keep going back to it! Thanks so much for this post. I am definitely guilty of speaking too much about my client and not the benefits they deliver. I need this tattooed in place.

    Thanks again,

    P.S there were a few spelling / wrong words mistakes that really disrupted the flow of a very important point. Unsure if you want to have a gander and eliminate these to make this post even more amazing 🙂