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March 19, 2018

Do This, Not That: Top 5 Copywriting Mistakes You’re Making (+ Makeovers to Fix Them)

Copywriting Tips

Reading time: 11 min.

Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist, right? (Paging Picasso. That was a good zinger he left us with.)

Your website is the front door to your digital digs, your calling card on the internet, the hand you outstretch to shake a new friend’s: And for you, I want it to feel like the most comfy-cozy resting spot in your whole house.

I want you to feel confident in it.

I want you to feel like you can explain what you actually do without fumbling with your words.

While I want you to read it and nod your head, “hey! This sounds like me!” …

… I want your ideal readers to read it and nod THEIR heads, “hey, I feel considered!”

Today, I wanted to round up the 5 most common mistakes I see on creatives website. I actually clicked around on some of my friends’ sites 5 to make sure my hunches were right, dug into our clients and Copywriting for Creatives students’ past websites and killer updates, and here are the 5 makeover, “do this, not that” ideas for you I came up with.

I hope you find these helpful for a “weekend warrior” hour or two updating your website.

Copywriting mistakes you're making and how to fix them

Oh, and don’t forget your freebie to 44 questions your website needs to be answering, should you find yourself with a bit more time!

[freebie]


Mistake #1: You think writing to one person will diminish your sales.

Kicking things off here with the one that—even being a copywriter—I went down kickin’ and screamin’ about.

Quick story: With my corporate desk packed up and ready to go on my own, and all I knew is that I was going to make money two ways: (1) calligraphy, and (2) writing. I remember exactly where I was turning left onto Piedmont Road when I heard some entrepreneur on a podcast talk about going after one target audience. “Niche,” he said.

I rolled my eyes, thinking this chump didn’t know that I was happy putting in my two weeks notice with one corporate copywriting retainer client, handful of wedding industry clients, and half dozen editorial writing gigs. It wasn’t the 6 months of income I wanted saved up, but it would do.

I was terrified to talk to just creative small business owner about my copywriting services.

Ashlyn Writes creative copywriting and calligraphy

Corporate businesses were coming in hot with freelance copywriting requests and it gave me wide eyes me to think I’d write on my own website and not even acknowledge them. However, eventually, I realized I had to just talk to my fellow wedding and creative industry creative entrepreneur.

And my business grew when I solely wrote to that target.

You’re a business owner, not a freelancer. Get specific.

It’s a copywriting linchpin rule, but you always want to write to one reader, with one idea, and one offer [source].

This is a bigger business conversation than just the copy on the website alone, but go ahead—get specific and write to one person!

If I land on your website and feel like you could be talking to me, a creative, millennial woman who works from home and loves the energy of a bigger city … or you could be talking to my dad, a company vice president baby boomer in a small town in Alabama who’d take the woods over a big city … we have a problem. 😉 Exaggerated example, but you can see the problem.

When you talk to one person at a time, they have the “how’d she know that’s exactly what I feel like!?” moment.


Makeover Tip:

So what can you do to get started today?

If you have more than one service or package, then break them into pages so you can talk to ONE targeted person. Another way? Speak to one type of client, right off the bat on your homepage. Here’s an example from our client Samantha Royer (her new website makes our copy look DANG good!). Let me tell you about Samantha: she’s run major marketing and Facebook ad campaigns for some pretty big faith-based organizations, like Proverbs 31 ministries and iBelieve.com.

She could do marketing strategy for corporate organizations and female entrepreneurs.

But she’s just talking to the female entrepreneurs here.


Mistake #2: My eyes hurt.

Raise your hand if you’ve heard “people don’t read on the web anymore.”

Ok. So, here’s the thing. They read if it’s interesting. They quit if it’s boring.

And there are lots of patterns that show eye mapping studies (more on that in a sec).

The problem I see a lot is that there are entire paragraph chunks that I can’t wade through and come out on the other side—it loses me somewhere in the middle.

If a paragraph looks like a War & Peace excerpt, your reader’s probably gonna skip it.

Studies have gone back and forth, but I first heard about the Nielson Norman Group’s 2006 study about how we read for the web around 2011 when I was writing website copy in a corporate job. We had a lunch and learn training about website copywriting, and I loved it. 🙂  Just this past year, Conversion XL talked about it in an article called “10 Useful Findings About How People Are Reading Online,” so while it’s *slightly* contested and misappropriated at times, overall, it’s kinda true.

Watch your eyes when you read online. Majority of us will read most all of line 1, half of line 2, and then skim through the rest slash bounce to the next paragraph.

The study found a few other ways of your website visitors are reading your website and blog, according to the NN/g study:  

 

  • Layer-cake pattern occurs when the eyes scan headings and subheadings and skip the normal text below. A gaze plot or heat map of this behavior will show horizontal lines, reminiscent of a cake with alternating layers of cake and frosting.
  • Spotted pattern consists of skipping big chunks of text and scanning as if looking for something specific, such as a link, digits, a particular word or a set of words with a distinctive shape (such as an address or signature).
  • Marking pattern involves keeping the eyes focused in one place as the mouse scrolls or finger swipes the page, like a dancer fixates on an object to keep balance as she pirouettes. Marking happens more on mobile than on desktop.
  • Bypassing pattern occurs when people deliberately skip the first words of the line when multiple lines of text in a list start all with the same word(s).
  • Commitment pattern consists of fixating on almost everything on the page. If people are highly motivated and interested in content, they will read all the text in a paragraph or even an entire page. (Don’t count on this to happen frequently, though. Assume that most users will be scanning.)

 

TYPICALLY for creative entrepreneur websites (I’m NOT talking about sales pages), I’d argue, people will read F-shape style because they’re committed, but being efficient, and they’re not going to read every single word.


Makeover Tip:

Format your writing for the web!

Bullets are one example—I’m trying to keep this actionable for you!—so, here are some ideas to try and makeover your copy today: So, give me some bullets and line breaks!

Good bullets move your eye down …

the …

Page.

And because everybody loves to feel like a winner, give your reader the chance to feel successful on your website: feeling like we’ve gotta wade through 10th grade history chapter reading all over again isn’t the best feeling.

  • Present facts in bullet form on your services page.
  • Answer a question with bullets (example: “Here’s what you need to avoid when you start searching for a wedding photographer”) in a new blog post.
  • Ask a question, and then help me identify myself as your potential client on your services page (example: “Do you make these mistakes when you’re trying to design your own PDFs?”).
  • Give me reasons why I should trust you (example: all your crazy-awesome accolades on your about page hurt my head in a paragraph).

 

I LOVE this easy example from our sweet CfC student Chelsea Q. White Photography in Texas. Chels (it’s okay, I asked if I could call her that!) wrote copy with sectioned out bullets about everything swirling through her ideal bride’s head. And it’s great.

*NOTE: When is it ok? When you’re okay with the reader not reading every square inch. I think about this a lot because my friend Jen Olmstead is the most gorgeous website designer, and you can tell her journalism major roots from her designs: her typography skills are mad. Jen and I have worked on a lot of clients in tandem, and she designs BEAUTIFUL text blocks that make you feel like you’re reading Vogue.

Here’s an example we did together, but see how the columns are broken into to tiny paragraphs? That helps break your eye a bit.

For me, the copywriter, that high-end feeling is worth it in some places. I’d rather get that feeling to come across than the cheaper feeling of having broken up copy. So, I’ll just make sure that copy isn’t the end-all-be-all must read.


Mistake #3: You’re being too woo-woo with your brand voice

Confession: I talk about brand voice, I’ve created an entire workbook on it, and I’ve also created a quiz on it.

But lean in—sometimes I feel like we get a little too obsessed with finding our brand voice, when it’s just as important to find your audience’s voice. Let me explain.

Voice is the impression or tone your readers get when they take in your captions, blogs, and content.

You know how you’re able to recognize your friends’ and loved ones’ handwriting on a grocery list or notecard? It’s the same thing—seeing a line scribbled in a familiar handwriting instantly installs trust.

As a creative business owner, it’s important to have a recognizable brand voice, too! This helps your readers trust you and build authenticity.

BUT, you marry that with what they’re already saying.

Source: Kat Denan

As a copywriter, I’ve been switching voice from Delta Air Lines to Chick-fil-A, from Jenna Kutcher to Desiree Hartsock to Katelyn James. When students first asked me how I was doing that, it took a minute for me to step back and figure out how I was actually constantly switching personalities—basically playing dress up every day in the office over here.

I boiled down my process to 6 steps, so you can find your own brand voice in this PDF, but all in all, remember that it’s a combination on your website. It’s your voice PLUS their voice.


Makeover Tip:

So, I love this example. Have I said that yet? Copywriting for Creatives students Michaela and Ashley worked really hard on this for Bloom the Workshop, but basically, they realized that in a sometimes-fluffy creative conference world, they were sassy pants x2. Their favorite attendees? Also Sass McGhee. There’s no Kleenex at this creative conference, just two bantering girls and a roomful of fiesty world changers who also like to arrange flowers and better their blogging.

They nailed it on their brand’s voice in speaking to their clients. Just look:

Oh and there’s this:

And this:

 

Get it, girls!


Mistake #4: All your testimonials are on one page and what if I never click over there?

 

This one makes me so sad. What if you housed all of your gushing testimonials on one page of your website, and I don’t click there!?

What’s the MOST effective way to write copy … without really writing copy?

Get bomb.com testimonials, of course!

I challenge my students to think about their testimonials as a piece of copy you can leverage across pages of your website. “Nearly 63% of consumers indicate they are more likely to purchase from a site if it has product ratings and reviews. [source]”—so by golly, let’s get those reviews and sweet words right under their nose, so they don’t have to go hunt for them.

I’m not saying you can’t have an only testimonials page on your website (actually, HubSpot has a great article here with 6 purdy examples), but use them other places, too.


Makeover Tip:

Pull your testimonials into multiple pages of your website. Your homepage, your services page for sure, and anywhere else you.

For example, here’s my business coach and client Shanna Skidmore’s website. See this? It’s a whole success stories page, which is fun to read.

(Look mom! That’s me! 🙂 )

BUT, see this? This is her services splash page. She’s also got kind words there, so I’ll see them even if in the seconds I spend on her website, I never click over to the testimonials page.


Mistake #5: You’re following some “best practice” you heard but actually haven’t ever tested it.

This past spring at The Copywriter Club #IRL event, one of our teachers said something I scribbled and underlined in my journal:

“Online best practices are usually pooled ignorance.”

Amen, friend!

How many times do you hear you’re SUPPOSED to do something a certain way on your website or blog or email newsletter, but when you do the opposite, you get better results?

I know I’ve seen this with different copywriting “rules.”

“Don’t start a subject line with ‘how to’”—cool, but when I split tested,

we got 6% higher open rates on that one.

“Have the hyperlink above the fold of your email newsletter.” Okay, but my readers

have shown they still click through at the same rate if it’s AFTER the fold.

“Don’t write Instagram captions that are so long.” Again, fine, but sometimes

I get MORE engagement in those posts.

 

Bottom line? I’ll lay you out the rules, but I’m putting it on you to test. 🙂 You’re the boss, and YOU get to decide what YOUR people respond to.

Because the RIGHT thing to do is going to be whatever your hard-earned audience likes!

Back in agency world, we’d run “splitter campaigns” as we called them, basically A/B testing subject lines, messages, and images in Delta Air Lines email campaigns. It’s so, so stinking fun to see what people do, and I’d TOTALLY recommend trying to split test different things in your website copy.


Makeover Tip: Here’s an example from my client Jenna Kutcher’s The Photo Lab sales page, which we recently switched up the subject line for. This past time? It was this:

There were a lot of factors, but being attentive to the headline wa one thing we wanted to pay attention to. Verdict? She says right here on this podcast what she ended up pulling in from the launch, but I’ll spoiler alert—it was a $400K launch. Whoop! So exciting for her to get to grow her business, honor her hard earned team for their time financially, get to help hundreds of new students get started with email marketing, and more. (p.s. I love how Jenna looks at money. Click here for a great episode where she gets real about her take home, how they’ve recently paid off all their debt, and their outlook on living within their means).

What can you do? Start testing things! An easy way to start is by plugging in Sumo, and watching heat maps on your website—something I teach my students. What do people ACTUALLY click on??

So there we have it! Have a weekend warrior glam sesh with your website and fix those five mistakes if you’re making them. Got more time? Here’s a 44-question checklist you can use to gut check your digital digs.

 

Here’s a free download below, but let me know in the comments below: what other website writing tricks do you want to know?

2

comments

  1. Maranda

    March 26th, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    Very interesting and informative read.

  2. Ashlyn Carter

    April 2nd, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    Hey Maranda! I am so glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for your kind and encouraging words. Xo. Ashlyn

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Hey, y'all! I'm Ashlyn.

Freshly sharpened pencil bouquet ready, I'm here to make sure you stand out as a copywriter and calligraphy. I help women like you steward your story well, so you can work from a place of rest—not hustle.

free mentoring? yes, please

Welcome to the AW blog! I hook up women with words. Grab a cup of coffee or glass of wine, and enjoy a peek behind-the-scenes of my ink stained life. 

LET'S PARTY:

I'M ASHLYN

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