When you write copy, it’s not just about using the right words to sell your product. It’s how your message connects with people. By changing a few words in your copy, you can make it more likely that people will buy from you.

I’ve been fortunate enough to help many small businesses get their first customers and grow their businesses a lot faster than they thought possible. And during that time, I’ve seen (and made!) a lot of common mistakes on landing pages, ads, emails, and other places that make your copy less effective. These mistakes make your copy almost useless if they’re not fixed.

What will help you get better results? I’ve pulled together a bunch of the most common copywriting mistakes that you should try to avoid, as well as some quick tips on how to fix them.

Writing in the passive voice is like you don’t really believe in what you’re writing.

When possible, write in the present tense or “the active voice.” In general, it makes your copy shorter and easier to read. It emphasises the subject of a sentence.

Active voice is vital in marketing copy when you are talking about the benefits of your product. They should be written as action statements with your customer as the main person. The active voice makes it easier for people to see the benefits.

Some good examples:

Telstra: “It’s how we connect” rather than “Connection can be achieved like this.”

Bunnings: “Lowest prices are just the beginning” rather than “Lowest prices are waiting to be discovered.”

Billabong: “Life’s better in boardshorts” rather than, “Life will be better if you do it in boardshorts.”

If you want to make your words stand out, use vivid and descriptive words instead.

Writing in the third person is writing to no one.

F. L. Lucas, a well-known literary critic, said that “writing should be done to help people rather than impress them.” Yet many copywriters use meaningless phrases like “#1 tyres,” “the best Indian restaurant,” to impress their readers without giving them any useful information at all.

If you write something, Lucas says it should help people. This is done most effectively by giving more specifics. Avoid using words like big, vague claims that sound like unsolicited boasts. Instead, talk to your readers about what they need and how you’ll provide it.

Here are a few ways to make your writing more specific:

  • Address the problem that is most important to your target customer.
  • Prepare for how people might object to what you’re offering. For example, a subscription service that notifies you before charging you after the free trial period.
  • Use the point of view of the second person.
  • Relate products to your audience in a direct way.

A wedding celebrant could say something like, “I am always meeting with couples just like you.” Later in the paragraph, they may even add, “The two of you are at the centre of what I do.” This makes the text very personal. Not just some vague claims about “I meet all kinds of couples” and “My clients are at the centre of everything I do.”

The best way to think about how your product might be used is how your product helped real people. This allows your prospective customer to understand how your product fits into their world.

Welcome to Vagueville. Do whatever you want.

Often, more complicated products have a longer sales cycle or lead time. That’s because there is so much information that people need to take in before feeling confident to make the purchase. This can cause writers to produce copy that doesn’t say what the customer should do next.

Effective copywriting moves people to do something. Because, in the end, it’s written to get people to agree with you or buy something. When you don’t include instructions on what to do next or have some “call to action,” you’re not writing copy. You’re writing literature.

Work backwards from what you want people to do after reading your content to avoid getting caught in this trap. Make each sentence move the person reading that bit closer to taking the next step.

Make sure your business has the right plan. — A “Talk to Sales” button is a great example. Or even “Learn More” or “Shop Now.”

Completely missing the point of what customers are after.

We like to think of ourselves as rational people, but the truth is that we are mainly emotional decision-makers. This is especially true of our shopping habits: We often buy with our hearts but justify our purchases with, often unconvincing, logic.

This means that your copywriting will have to change from being about long lists of features to something more aligned with what your customers want and how they feel.

Compare the headlines on the home pages of Wix and Joomla.

One is a web design platform that has been steadily declining for over a decade. The other is growing so fast that it has become the second-biggest website platform and the world’s biggest web host.

With Wix, a headline like “Make a website you’re proud of” shows that people want more than just a website. They want a website that looks good, not just a website that works. Clearly, Wix knows how to market itself to the masses as it ties into the feeling of real people owning their new websites.

Meanwhile, at Joomla, a community project steered by coders and programmers, you get “The Flexible Platform Empowering Website Creators.”

Hardly inspiring. Written in the third person. Vague. And symptomatic of a tech project that has made the product all about themselves, rather than the end consumer.

The users of both these systems may not need all the available tools. The self-starting small business owner will probably never need the “flexibility” that Joomla claims to provide. Primarily because they have no idea what that “flexibility” means. But they do know that they want a website they can be proud of.

Tech-talk, jargon and stuff that you need a PhD to understand.

An article that is easy to read is easy to understand. An article that is difficult to read is difficult to understand.

The average Australian reader can best understand content written at a seventh-grade reading level, which is about the level of a 12- or 13-year-old. Text that goes above and beyond what is written at that level becomes less understandable. The higher in comprehension age you go, the less the average reader will understand.

This doesn’t make them dumb. It just means that most people read to the level that they need to get by in life. Your copy, then, shouldn’t be written to a level that makes people think they are dumb. That’s a guaranteed way to make sure they’ll never read your words.

When you look at most data tools that work with websites to help you better understand your customers, they’ll use terms like:

  • Data visualisation
  • Heatmapping
  • Conversion funnel

For someone running their own website for a smaller organisation, this is just random words being thrown at a wall to see what sticks. It’s nonsense.

Explaining the software as “We make it simple to understand who is using your website and what they’re doing on it.”

This kind of wording is simple and easy to read and write. It is also easy to understand. Heatmapping and conversion funnel technology or “website visualisation software” can confuse people who aren’t familiar with analytics tools.

Write like you’re talking to a 12-year-old in Year 7. And if you need a hand with that, use the Hemingway App, Grammarly, or another writing tool to check if your text is easy to read.

Lots and lots and lots and lots of words.

Just like big words, hefty sentences are hard to read and understand. Shorter sentences let you focus on just one idea at a time.

Putting one idea in a sentence and cutting out words that aren’t needed is the best way to fix this.

See these examples of short and punchy copy from around the web to get ideas.

The Morning Brew Newsletter: Stay informed and entertained for free.

HubSpot: Create delightful customer experiences. Have a delightful time doing it.

Talking like your dad probably won’t resonate (unless you’re selling to him.)

Good copy tells people what they need to know, but excellent copy makes a lasting impression. It can be hard to make your copy sound relatable to your target audience if you don’t use similar words to theirs.

One of the best examples is a local pet sitter that I often see on Facebook. She uses words like “zoomies” and “doggos” to talk to people who love their dogs.

Brooks Running, a sports equipment brand, also uses running slang in its product descriptions. It shows which shoes are best for “overpronation,” “neutral running gaits,” and other terms that are specific to people who run.

To learn the language of your ideal customer:

  • Check out groups on Facebook, subreddits, and other places where your audience hangs out to see if there are any that might be a good fit.
  • Sit in on a sales call a salesperson who sells to them, read customer reviews and social media posts. You’ll work it out quickly.
  • Interview those in your target audience to understand what words flow for them — and what ones feel like hearing fingernails on a chalkboard.

The words and phrases used in this feedback and research should be on your list. Then, use them in your copy.

Weak headlines, weak engagement

Strong headlines make people want to keep reading.

This isn’t just true for landing page headlines. It also applies to email subject lines, blog post headers, and many more.

To write a more eye-catching headline, try one of these ideas;

“10 things you didn’t know you can use instead of eggs: #2 is pure genius!:

“The busy woman’s guide to Bitcoin without all the bro-talk.”

“The best seats on the plane, the train and the bus, anywhere in Australia.”

“How to be a public speaker even if you’re terrified.”

It’s a little awkward when you’re the only one making the claims.

A sales pitch can be seen from a mile away by the people who read it. They don’t like them because they’ve been burned by them. That means they’re never going to trust you.

Direct sales pitches come across as one-sided and pushy when they’re made in an obvious way that says nothing about the person who will use the product of the service. And we all know that infomercials pay actors to give testimonials. And we’ve all worked out that you can’t trust a thing that a business says about themselves on a website or social media page.

The way around this mistrust is to provide actual “social proof.” People generally don’t think your copy is pushy or fake if you add other people’s opinions of you. This is letting your happy customers do the selling for you!

Here are some more ways that you can add even more social proof to your website or social media posts:

  • Use a one-liner from a great review as a heading
  • Talk about how many happy customers you have
  • Tell the story in numbers rather than vague claims
  • Tag influential people who use your product or service
  • Tell everyone about the awards you’ve won

How about some ideas to get your creative writer juices flowing.

Highlighting the features is a one-way ticket to Yawn-dale.

Some copywriters tend to focus on the most eye-catching specifications or features of their products. Even more so if the product is new or cutting-edge. Your product or service’s features may be necessary to you. Still, they don’t answer that one question on every customer’s mind.

“What’s in it for me?”

Rather than focusing on the features, write your copy to show what’s in it for them. Link a feature to a benefit. Link a benefit to their lifestyle.

There is a lot of information about the Money product by Afterpay on its website. But the key message is something that anyone can understand, especially for their target demographic — young people. You see, Money by Afterpay is going after the banks and the credit card companies. And just like Afterpay is putting a big dent in Visa and Mastercard, Money plans to put a big dent in the savings market.

“Money. Know and feel yours like never before.”

“Feel it differently. Get in sync and give yourself the freedom to enjoy

the here and now, as well as relax into the what next. Because when you bank on

yourself, every decision feels easier.”

This is deeply-researched and deeply personalised copywriting.

The feature? Synching your spendings with your savings. The benefit? You can see more of what’s happening with your money. The feeling? You feel more in control of your decisions.

And what young person doesn’t want to be more in control of their decisions?

To make a feature seem like a benefit, think about how your customer might use it in the real world. It’s not just about what gives value but how it provides value. And how it makes them feel.

Whether it’s your landing page, an ad, an email, or something else, every piece of your writing deserves this kind of special touch. Because your customers deserve it. And so do you.

Dante St James is the founder of Clickstarter, a Facebook Blueprint Certified Lead Trainer, a Community Trainer with Facebook Australia, a digital advisor with Business Station, an accredited ASBAS Digital Solutions advisor and presenter, and the editor at The Small Marketer. You can watch free 1-hour webinars and grow your digital skills at Dante’s YouTube Channel.