7 deadly sins of copywriting you don’t want to commit

Website copy

Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride; we all know the traditional seven deadly sins – the movie Se7en is forever etched in my mind. But what about the seven deadly sins of copywriting? Based on research, science, and my years of experience doing this copy thing, here’s my ‘pro-wordial’ law.

While committing them definitely won’t send you to hell – copywriter’s purgatory, maybe – doing so can be fatal to the effectiveness of your copy. And if your copy isn’t effective, bye-bye potential customers.

1. Taking a ‘we’ mentality

Look at so many websites, brochures, adverts, or whatever, and what do you find? Companies banging on and on about themselves – we sell this, we offer this, we are awesome blah, blah, blah. This is a big copywriting no-no – people simply tune out and switch off.

While the whole point of marketing copy is to let people know about your business, you need to frame it in terms of benefit to the customer. Ultimately, people only care about what you can do for them. So, reduce your we’s, and add more yous applying the 20/80 rule.

Don’t say ‘We sell orthopaedic mattresses’ ask ‘Do you want a good night’s sleep?’.

2. Having textual diarrhoea

In today’s crazy busy world, people don’t have time to read lengthy waffle that takes sentence after sentence to cut to the chase. Instead, we like copy served up short and sweet.

Because of this, to get your message across effectively, keep your sentences tight – no more than two clauses. And don’t over-explain or digress. If a word, sentence, or even paragraph doesn’t need to be there or isn’t adding any real value, take it out.

Have a tendency to add literary embellishments? My advice: kill your darlings; this is copywriting, not novel writing.

3. Being adjective enthusiastic

Adjectives may be linguistic tools designed to help us give more information about the thing we’re trying to describe. However, use too many, especially generic ones, in an attempt to sell the benefits of a product or service, and they end up sounding trite and meaningless.

From the ‘World-class, sun-drenched beaches’ of travel marketing to real estate’s ‘Stunning property with amazing outlooks,’ it all sounds a bit like fluff. And the reality is that people don’t buy it. Plus, it sounds clunky and slows the reader down.

So, instead of reeling them off, stick to one per noun, ensure it says something concrete, and don’t state the obvious.

4. Smart arsing it up

When people think good copywriting, they typically imagine clever, memorable campaigns or advert one-liners that delight and engage the customer due to their creative genius.

But this idea that every word and sentence in a piece of copy must be award-winning is a dud one. Sure, coming up with fantastic puns, word plays, or analogies are great. But generally, every line of copy doesn’t need to be fancy-schmancy; it just needs to be clear, compelling, and speak to the customer’s needs.

In addition, think long words and jargon sound smart? They don’t. They just alienate people. Keep it simple; imagine you’re explaining it to an eight-year-old.

5. Ignoring the psychology

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, copywriting is both an art and a science. This means, while it’s easy to get caught up in wordsmithing, it will be to no avail if you haven’t swotted up on your customer psych.

While people like to think they make rational purchase decisions, study after study shows we’re intuitively emotion-driven. Plus, it’s known that we digest and interpret things in specific ways.

Did you know that the more we hear something, the more we believe it? That rhyming is deemed more truthful? That people block out sales messages but listen to stories? Or that readers remember what they read first and last, but not the middle? Now you do. You’re welcome.

6. Being soulless

What I’m talking about here is writing copy in a one-dimensional corporate tone of voice – think dry company report. Rather than enticing the reader with professionalism, it actually turns them off because it fails to connect with them emotionally (see point five).

When customers are looking for a product or service, they want to feel an immediate connection – something which builds trust, which is the key to sales. By injecting personality into copy and giving it a more conversational feel, you can create one.

Yes, even copy about toner ink, accountancy, or toilet paper can have soul.

7. Using too many exclamation marks!!!!

This is one of my personal bugbears. I want to get out my red pen and scribble ‘No’ all over them when I see them on websites or other marketing bumf like direct mail or emails. Even more so if they’re used more than once in multiple places.

Thanks to social media and the like, these shouty little punctuation marks have become so overused they now look unprofessional and cheapen the message.

I always remember a friend of mine at university saying, if something is funny or surprising, it will still be funny or surprising without an exclamation mark. And this is so true. You don’t need them, so don’t use them, or at least use them sparingly.

So, there you have it, folks – be a copywriting winner, not a sinner, and elevate yourself into business heaven.

Need some help avoiding these copywriting sins? get in touch.