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10 Copywriting Mistakes That Dilute & Weaken Your Messaging

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10 Copywriting Mistakes That Dilute & Weaken Your Messaging


You only get one shot at a first impression.

This is never more true than with copywriting, where you have just seconds to get your point across and convince the reader to take action.

No one’s coming back later to be convinced the second time around.

And they aren’t reaching out to ask you to clarify what you really meant, either.

Putting weak-sauce copy out into the world is a waste of the time and energy you put into creating it.

Worse, it can be counterproductive and instill a negative image of your brand in the reader.

We don’t want that.

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So use this column as a checklist as you review your next landing page, email newsletter, or another piece of copy.

Avoid these common copywriting mistakes to strengthen your messaging and inspire conversions.

1. Making Word Soup

Jargon, buzzwords, island, and industry lingo are painful for anyone who is not you to read.

Consider that 21% of U.S. adults are functionally illiterate; that is, their reading skills are considered inadequate for completing daily living and employment tasks such as reading labels, menus – and websites.

(Don’t get smug, Canada.)

Even those with high literacy skills get annoyed by unnecessarily complex language.

If I have to get out the dictionary or consult an industry wiki to figure out what you’re talking about, we’re probably done right there.

Wherever your audience, you could be unintentionally alienating a sizable swath of prospects by being too wordy.

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WebFX has a free Flesch-Kincaid readability testing tool you can use to make sure you aren’t writing over the heads of your audience.

2. Writing From The Wrong Perspective

I liken this copywriting mistake to being that guy at the party no one wants to get stuck engaging because he talks about himself the whole time.

Great copywriting incorporates two very important things:

  • What the writer wants to say.
  • What the reader wants to hear.

You absolutely need to know the product or service inside and out.

But you’re completely missing the mark if what the business wants to say about it isn’t tempered with a healthy dose of what the reader wants to know.

Pourri, the makers of Poo-Pourri, not only creates hilarious commercials but writes stellar copy, too.

They could have simply said, “Enjoy the fresh, clean scent of citrus,” and that would have been an accurate description of what’s on offer here.

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But no, they went and cleverly made me visualize myself sipping delicious brew in the sunshine, surrounded by fresh laundry (that someone else is magically coming along to fold and put away for me).

Screenshot from Pourri.com, April 2022.

Great copywriting brings that user perspective that triggers that type of emotional reaction.

3. Sharing A Laundry List Of Benefits

Yes, it’s essential that you make the benefits of your product or service clear.

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But you’re missing the mark if you’re just reciting them off with no consideration for what each one means to the reader.

It has eight adjustable blades!

Who cares? How are eight blades better than six?

Isn’t eight blades kind of excessive?

Give the end benefits context with copy that speaks directly to the user’s needs.

Its eight adjustable blades make quick work of chopping and dicing, saving you precious prep time.

Awesome, I like to save time and hate chopping. Take my money.

4. Regurgitating The Product Description

This works in the same way as the above.

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Don’t just tell me what the feature is. Tell me why that matters to me.

Assuming it’s well-written, the product description does a fine job of laying out the product materials, colors, size, and other specs.

So don’t waste valuable copy telling me all of that over again.

I already know your course covers these 12 different topics.

Copywriting for a landing page, ecommerce store, etc. needs to go further and help me understand the difference that knowledge is going to make in my life.

5. Using Emotional Triggers For Evil

I’ve never been a fan of using negative emotional reactions as a sales tool.

Sure, it can be incredibly effective to tap into a person’s fear of losing their home to sell a payday loan, or make them feel uncertain about their body image to move a beauty product.

But while creating fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) can move the product, it’s not the basis for a healthy ongoing customer relationship.

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Women’s swimsuit descriptions are ripe for the FUD style of copywriting. You could focus on the features that will hide my bulk, mask my stomach pooch, and camouflage my flaws.

That style of copywriting does sell.

But you know what’s more compelling and makes me love the brand?

Copy like this:

Summersalt copywriting exampleScreenshot from Summersalt, April 2022.

Instead of making the reader feel terrible about their body, Summersalt focuses on the fun adventures I’m about to have in this swimsuit.

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Seriously… take my money.

6. Using Passive vs. Active Voice

This one is a personal pet peeve.

Once you learn to recognize passive voice, I promise it’ll drive you bananas, too.

Active voice is direct, actionable, energetic, and clear.

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Passive voice… is not.

In passive voice, the subject of the sentence is acted on by the verb.

Here’s an example:

Active voice: Professionals appreciate Basecamp’s simplicity.

Passive voice: Basecamp’s simplicity is appreciated by professionals.

Did you catch that? Here’s another one:

Active voice: You can find a new partner today.

Passive voice: A new partner can be found today.

Grammarly Premium is great for catching passive voice and is available as a browser plug-in.

Hemingway App is free if you don’t mind dropping your copy into a browser-based tool.

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7. Over- Or Underthinking SEO

Focusing too intently on optimizing your copy for search can make it stilted, awkward, and unnatural to read.

However, failing to consider how people will find your content at all can be just as harmful.

If the copy you’re writing is destined for publication anywhere, you’d like people to be able to discover it via search. It can only benefit you to brush up on current on-page SEO best practices and incorporate those into your work.

But don’t go overboard.

Google is a lot smarter than it used to be. You don’t have to use all the words on your keyword list in just the right places to rank.

Focus on the quality of your writing and being relevant instead.

Casper does a fairly good job of this on its product pages.

Casper copywriting exampleScreenshot from Casper, April 2022

This copywriter managed to work in a lot of relevant keywords – down, pillow, cool, night, fluff, machine washable, softness.

These are all closely knit concepts that make it clear to Google what this page is about.

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And yet they’re woven into compelling copy rather than acting as stumbling blocks in otherwise logical sentences.

Be thoughtful in how you use keywords. Be like Casper.

8. Going Absolutely Crazy With Intensifiers

Intensifiers are used to strengthen and emphasize adverbs.

They’re a great tool when used in moderation.

However, overusing intensifiers can make your writing very difficult to read and extremely hyperbolic in nature.

See what I did there? It seems a bit intense to say it would be very difficult to read. And is it really hyperbolic in the extreme?

“Very” is an intensifier that tends to sneak its way into copy too often. Other regular offenders include:

  • Really.
  • Totally.
  • Completely.
  • Absolutely.
  • Exceptionally.
  • Remarkably.
  • Super.
  • So.

Watch for intensifiers and challenge your usage of each one.

9. Using Idioms, Colloquialisms, and Other Obscure Language

Marketer and Minnesotan Angie Schottmuller once challenged me to use the word “cattywampus” in a writing marathon story. She made a pledge, and I had to figure this word out.

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Otherwise, I wouldn’t have a clue what the American slang cattywampus meant if it surfaced in a piece of content.

I wouldn’t expect many Americans to follow along if I suddenly dropped a codswallop, a strop, or the dog’s dinner in here, either.

Colloquialisms are slang and regional phrases that add color and personality to a piece of writing. And that’s great if you’re writing a novel or short story about people in one specific region.

Not so much in business copywriting.

Idioms are similarly confusing phrases that, if taken literally, suggest to the reader that some pretty strange things are happening:

  • It’s raining cats and dogs.
  • Don’t wait until chickens have teeth to get started.
  • It’s time to bite the bullet.
  • Don’t get bent out of shape.
  • It’s not mustard after lunch yet.
  • Some brands are a lot of noise and no walnuts.

These are common in small pockets of the world.

But for the vast majority of readers, they result in confusion.

10. Forgetting The CTA

Don’t leave me hanging… tell me where we’re going next!

Every piece of copy needs at least one call to action to give the reader the easiest possible path to the desired next step.

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It’s not always making the sale, either. You could be trying to drive them to download a lead generator, sign up for an email list, or read another more focused piece of content.

Some pages have multiple CTAs. Anywhere you identify a logical next step for your audience, give them the option.

It doesn’t have to be all “Buy now” and “Click here,” either. Get creative with your CTAs.

I like what Baileys is doing here:

Baileys copywriting exampleScreenshot from Baileys Canada, April 2022

Yes, please.

And that’s it! There are no earth-shattering secrets here – just good habits to develop as you make it part of your editing routine to weed out these common copywriting mistakes.

Your readers and conversion rates will thank you.

More resources:


Featured image: Shutterstock/Nata Shilo com

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SEO

How To Use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper

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How To Use Google's Structured Data Markup Helper

If you drill down to the very core, every search engine optimization (SEO) strategy has the same aim: convincing Google your webpage is the best answer to a user’s query.

There are a lot of tactics you can and should employ to achieve this, but that’s the goal.

And, as the Google brain has grown more complex, it’s able to display increasingly more detailed and helpful answers.

For example, if you’re looking to book a flight from Chicago O’Hare to LAX, Google can now show you options in rich snippets on search results pages.

Likewise, if you run a concert venue, you can add code known as structured data to your website that will encourage Google to display your events when they’re relevant to web searchers.

If you’re not familiar with the term “structured data,” don’t fret – there are a lot of SEO professionals and web marketers who aren’t.

In this article, we’ll set that right, plus give you tips on using the Structured Data Markup Helper to easily add it to your site.

What Is Structured Data?

As defined in this post, structured data is information (data) that is organized (structured). Organized information is basically what structured data is.

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For SEO purposes, structured data is a specific type of formatting that gives Google information about the meaning of a page.

Following a standardized vocabulary outlined by Schema.org, it is used across several search engines, including Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Yandex.

Structured data can use syntax like JSON-LD, RDFa, and Microdata, among others.

Why Is Structured Data Important?

There are several reasons why webpages use structured data.

For one thing, it makes navigation easier for both search engine crawlers and human users.

This is because it provides the information that can then be displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs) in the form of rich snippets, video carousels, and other special search result features and enhancements.

This leads to faster indexing by search spiders and enhances your site’s search visibility. This can also help improve your click-through rate, increase conversions, and grab more voice search traffic.

In an article for Search Engine Journal, Winston Burton, Senior Vice President of SEO at global search and marketing agency Acronym, detailed the results of adding structured data to the client’s website.

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With no other optimization strategies employed, the client saw a 400% net growth in rich result organic traffic and a 140% growth in impressions for the company’s answer center.

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Even if this is a statistical outlier, it still highlights the massive potential of using structured data.

What Is Structured Data Used For?

Now that we’ve covered what structured data is and why it’s important, let’s look into some of the ways it can be used.

In an April 2022 Google Search Central SEO office-hours hangout, Google Search Advocate John Mueller dove into structured data and its uses.

If you have 30 minutes to spare, it’s well worth the watch. If you’re in a hurry, the part that’s relevant to the current topic begins at 27:19. Or better yet, read Roger Montti’s coverage of it here.

In this hangout, Mueller was asked a question about how to choose the best format for structured data.

His answer was that it’s not so much about what format a page uses, but rather what kind of rich result is available for the page.

Structured data is very versatile and provides a lot of opportunities for businesses to use it to drive clicks. Some of these you may wish to take advantage of include:

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Knowledge Panels

Used for things that are part of the Google Knowledge Graph, they provide a quick overview of information about a topic.

Screenshot from search, Google, June 2022

As a business, you can use knowledge panels to give users at-a-glance information about your brand name, logo, and phone number, among other things.

Rich Snippets

Sometimes referred to as rich results, this is the additional data Google shows users in addition to normal search results. This may include things like music, events, or recipes.

Rich Snippets ExampleScreenshot from search, Google, June 2022

For commercial purposes, this is where reviews can be shown. It can also highlight things like products, addresses, and special offers.

Hosted Carousels

Common on mobile devices, this shows multiple “cards” from the same site.

Not to be confused with ordinary carousels, which can include images, video, and other data pulled from multiple sites, hosted carousels use content from only one “host” site.

Google currently supports the following types of hosted carousels:

  • Educational Course.
  • Movie.
  • Recipe.
  • Restaurant.
Carousel exampleScreenshot from search, Google, June 2022

AdWords

If you’re using Google’s automated ads as part of your PPC strategy, you can use structured snippets to give more information to customers.

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For example, you could use them to provide information about a line of products, included features or services offered.

AdWords exampleScreenshot from search, Google, June 2022

But, before you go inserting structured snippets into your webpages willy-nilly, you should know these are subject to standard Google Ads policies and must meet a number of requirements, a full list of which can be found here.

Getting Started With Structured Data

By now you should see the benefits structured data can offer, so let’s look at how to add it to your website.

The simplest way to add structured data to your webpage is by using Google’s Data Highlighter tool.

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To use this, simply open the tool and highlight data like name, date, location, etc. with your mouse.

Google will note this information the next time it crawls your site and present the data in rich snippets on search results pages.

You can also manually markup elements on HTML webpages. Sound intimidating? It’s not. You just have to have a small working knowledge of coding.

For your convenience, we’ve provided a step-by-step guide to help you through the process:

  1.   Open Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper.
  2.   Click the “Website” tab.
  3.   Select the type of page you’re marking up (e.g., job postings, restaurants, Q&A page, local businesses, etc.)
  4.   Enter the URL of an existing page or raw page HTML.
  5.   Click “Start Tagging.”
  6.   Highlight the parts of the page you want to be included in rich snippets and identify them in the dropdown that appears.
  7.   Fill in the required information. For an event, this includes the event name, location, and date.
  8.   After you have finished tagging, click the “Create HTML” button and choose an output format. JSON-LD is Google’s preferred format, though you can also choose Microdata.
  9.   Copy the code or download it. If you are using JSON-LD, paste the generated code into the body of the existing page. If you choose Microdata, replace your page with the generated HTML.
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Some other things to note:

  • To test the generated code, copy and paste it into the Rich Result test, which will show you any missing fields you need to fill in.
  • You can have multiple items on one page, but Google recommends that they are all the same type, e.g., all movies or all job postings.
  • All pages you want to display rich snippets for should be available to the public and not hidden behind login screens.
  • It may take a few weeks for Google to crawl your new page, but once it does it can be shown in rich snippets.

Is Structured Data A Ranking Signal?

Now for the $10,000 question: Will structured data markup help your site appear higher in search rankings?

Unfortunately, no.

In a deep dive into the topic, Search Engine Journal found that while it offers many benefits, there is no direct evidence schema markup is used by Google to determine search ranking.

That said, because it helps search engines more easily understand the content of your website, it can help you show up in relevant queries you may have been excluded from in the past.

Key Takeaways

Traffic is always the name of the game in digital marketing. And leveraging structured data on your website is a great way to help attract visitors.

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Not only does it enhance the appearance of your content in search results, but it can help your site get indexed faster.

Rich results (particularly positive product reviews) can also significantly improve your click-through rate and average time on the page.

If your page is used in a featured snippet, it will show at the top of SERPs.

In addition to the increase in visibility that provides, featured snippets are used to answer voice search queries. That means you’ll be the only result for anyone who uses Siri or Alexa for a query.

The final reason you should use structured data on your website is that it gives you more control over your information.

You determine how Google understands your brand and allows you to control how your information is defined.

Structured data is a useful tool in your toolbox. It doesn’t work for every site and every type of content, but if you’re in a field where it is useful, it’s something you need to be using.


Featured Image: NicoElNino/Shutterstock

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