Let’s talk about copywriting mistakes that juuussstt may be lingering on your website. Because there’s no *good* reason to spend time focused on growing your social media or perfecting an ad strategy … UNLESS the foundation you’re driving to (your website’s landing pages & sales pages) is set up to convert.
Read on for 9 mistakes that you are likely making on your website—and it’s TOTALLY ok, I’ve made them too—and tips to correct them, so you can give your website a little *glowup*. 😉
You could, and 150% should, spend money on traffic building: think ads & time put towards growing social media platforms. BUT, if you’re doing it right they are funneling down to one thing: landing pages (or check-out pages) on your website.
If you’re not looking to up the conversion rate on those pages absolutely as high as it can be … trying to correct every single mistake you see in the foundation … then TBH, why are we doing all the other stuff, right?
Let’s get that website, that engine underneath revved up to max capacity.
For this article and YouTube, I actually clicked around on some of my friends’ sites to make sure my hunches were right, dug into our clients and Copywriting for Creatives students’ past websites and their killer updates (3x a month hop on a call with CfC students and audit their copy and review their website, so I’m pretty in the weeds looking at the lay of the land), and here are the 9 makeover, “do this, not that” things I find myself saying on repeat.
Maybe you’ve even heard some of this before. You probably have. But, if you’re like me, there’s something completely different from hearing a concept and then actually taking the time to go and apply it.
I hope you find these common copywriting mistakes and tips helpful for a “weekend warrior” hour or two.
When we’re helping support a client or student through copy install in the design portion of a project, I’m doing everything I can to make sure that their reader doesn’t have to think any more than they’re already thinking when they land on that page. That’s “cognitive load”—we want to reduce that as much as possible.
That’s what makes your website ~soo~ important.
(Yes, I still believe you *need* a website in 2020 and moving into 2021 and beyond)
Let’s jump straight in.
Copywriting Mistake No. 1 | I have no idea what you actually do because you’re not clearly telling me.
Some of these are gonna be things that I have completely done before—case in point, this story:
I’m a BIG fan of UserTesting audits, and—like I tell my students to run them—I run them myself. (TL;DR, it’s a tool to run a quick audit and see what other people are saying, complete strangers, when they land on your website.
My first website’s headline at the time was something to the effect of, “I’ll help you tell your story” … I can’t remember it exactly.
One of the sweet kind testers assigned my URL (remember, this is all anonymous) reads a little bit, scrolls, and says, “Oh my goodness it sounds like you could help me write my autobiography.”
That is not what I do at all.
I had to fix that.
People MUST understand what you do, who you do it for, and how they can get started on your website. <<< this wasn’t working for me.
Good copy is like good design: when it’s really great, you kinda don’t even notice it. Don’t get so hung up on the copy being clever or cutesy or fun that you forget that you can just say it like it is.
In fact, if you’ve ever heard Donald Miller talk before, he calls this the grunt test. If you opened up your website, you didn’t even scroll, would it be so easy that a caveman could stand there, look at the screen and grunt out who you are, what you do, who you do it for?
Here’s what your hero section should include: there’s the hero-size image or background, the headline and oftentimes a sub-headline or eyebrow copy, and oftentimes as well, a call to action button.
There are three different directions you could take that hero section to help make sure I can pass the grunt test:
- A Problem-based Angle or Lead
- A “Pining for”-based Angle or Lead
- A Value Prop-based Angle or Lead
If you’ve ever heard me talk through my P.A.R.I.S. copywriting formula, that’s what I mean when I’m talking about the P.
Watch the video above for a bit more about a problem-based or “pining for”-based lead … and if those confuse you, the third option will work a-ok. Keep it simple. 🙂
Here, you’re simply stating exactly who you are and who you serve. Look no further than our client Amy Porterfield to see how she starts off her website, to see a good example of the value prop hero space in action.
Get a total stranger’s take on your website. Whether it’s a random Facebook group, a mastermind community, or a UserTesting audit, see if you can get someone to tell you what they THINK you do (without telling them first). May need to get your big girl panties on for this—it’s a lesson in “hurts so good” to hear frank opinions about your website, but I promise it’s worth it.
It’s like having spinach in your teeth and not even knowing it, but we’re gonna fix it! 😉
Here’s a quick tutorial for getting UserTesting done on your website (starting at 11:07):
Copywriting Mistake No. 2 | You are not using the prime real estate in your navigation bar.
Trim your top nav down to the bare minimum. TAKE OUT THE COPY THAT SAYS “HOME” PLEASE. People know they can click your logo and go home. I got in trouble in a 1990s chat room one time for using all caps & the moderator told me I was yelling—but I’m saying this to you in my yelling voice. 🙂 Trim it down. Nix the clever words.
The rest you can pop in junk-drawer-style in the navigation at the bottom of your website.
Confused customers don’t buy. And creatives over-complicate websites constantly—I know because I’ve done the same. Work that top right-hand corner with your most important call-to-action button (contact, shop, etc.) … essentially that thing that you’re asking people to go ahead and do needs to go in that right corner. Otherwise, you’re risking it for a terrible biscuit: you’re not making it clear that you do want them to work with you and you do want them to buy from you.
> There’s someone out there who’s not as skilled at the craft you both do as you are. They’re not as crazy-obsessed with their customers and clients as you. But they’re making more money than you—and likely more impact—because they’re not afraid to get.out.there. and ask for the sell. They’re not afraid to make some noise and make some offers. <<<
If that isn’t a sucker punch, I don’t know what it is.Click To Tweet
To clean up this common copywriting mistake, invite people clearly to go ahead and reach out and get the conversation started to working with you. Get out there, talk about what you do. Put offers, put that call to action button clearly in front of people and move the rest somewhere else.
Let me show you a great example of a student Darcie, a Copywriting for Creatives student, who has done this so well on her website by employing a junk drawer bottom footer:
You know what to do. Go trim your top navigation, but things that aren’t of primary importance in the footer nav bar.
Copywriting Mistake No. 3| You used a really cutesy, clever slogan, and I actually now have no idea how you’re different from anyone else.
Okay, you’ve seen “Shark Tank” right?
Every entrepreneur that goes in has 2 things in their back-pocket, because Sharks always ask about ’em:
- Their value prop pitch
- Their numbers
That entrepreneur is D.O.A. in front of the Sharks if they can’t clearly and concisely explain what they do and how they’re different than anything else out there on the market, so the Sharks wanna invest in them.
👉It explains how your product or your service solves customers’ needs and problems
👉 It tells how you deliver specific benefits to them.
👉It displays your unique differentiation (aka why should I buy from YOU, not her or him? Why should I ignore your competition?)
This is not your slogan.
This is not your tagline.
Frankly, I think spending time on either of those isn’t worth anything if you don’t have an Onlyness Factor nailed down.
Let me show you a few ways my students and clients have done this, a few example of Onlyness Factors in action.
Remember, It takes 2.6 seconds (source) for a user’s eyes to land on the area of a website that most influences their first impression. So pass that front door test: make it clear, follow it somewhat of a familiar blueprint.
Copywriting Mistake No. 4 | You are selling me more on the thing—the product or the service … not what that actually does for me.
Okay, soapbox time.
The physicality of a product, or the perceived physicality, whether it is a silk printed scarf or a piece of jewelry, a digital download or course, planner, notebook, a wedding album, a piece of art—WHATEVER it is is—is ONLY valuable because that offer helps me do something or feel a certain way.
The physical features or again, the perceived physical features (if you’re selling more like a digital product) are WAY less important than what that thing, what that product or service actually does for me.
If you’re marketing in the creative or art space, the physicality or nature of something is honestly the only reason you GET to charge a price.
You can’t charge me otherwise.
Breakthrough Advertising covers this concept well, so I get a little irritated when people harp on “features over benefits” so much.
Specifically, talking about the FEATURES does five important things:
- It justifies your price
- It shows specificity
- It speaks to high quality
- It gives you a mental picture
- It makes you believable
The physical-ness (or perceived, like a digital course or product) always plays second fiddle to what your offer DOES for me.
To clean up this one of the common copywriting mistakes, on’t focus so much on the specs of your offer that you haven’t relayed to me WHY this is valuable.
Copywriting Mistake No. 5 | You think writing to one person will diminish sales.
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 here in Atlanta 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. *pats on head* Sir, I’ll make money with all my various clients, I’ll be damned, I thought.
I was terrified to talk to just creative small business owner about my copywriting services.
Short answer: he was right, I was wrong.
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].
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.
If you have more than one service or package, then break them into pages so you can talk to ONE targeted person. Speak to one type of client, right off the bat on your homepage. Here’s an example from our client Crystal Irom (her website makes our copy look DANG good!). Crystal is a relationship coach not just for any women, but high-achieving, go-getter women who seem to have it all together, but want a relationship.
She’s not afraid to talk just to that person.
THAT is how you your reader has that “get out of my head” moment reading your copy.
Copywriting Mistake No. 6 | My eyes hurt thanks to the formatting.
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 copywriting mistakes 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. 🙂 Conversion XL talked more about this 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.
Format your writing for the web! Bullets are one example of this.
Good bullets move your eye down …
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 CfC student Chelsea. Chels wrote copy with sectioned out bullets about everything swirling through her ideal bride’s head. And it’s great.
*NOTE: When is it ok to use justified columns in lieu of broken up, easy-to-read copy? When you’re okay with the reader not reading every square inch. My friends Jen Olmstead of Tonic Site Shop is the most gorgeous website designer, and you can tell her journalism major roots from her designs: her typography skills are mad, and her websites conjure glossy newstand magazine feels. 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.
BUT, on a sales page, where I want to reader to skim and find what they’re looking for, we’ll break that up a bit.
Here’s an example we did together for Jenna Kutcher, 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, glossy magazine feeling is worth it in some places—I’m okay if the copy isn’t 100% easy-to-read, because it’s not 100% necessary for EVERY reader to read.
Like all installs, design and copy have to dance together—just make sure copy dictates design, not the other way around. << keep this in mind and you’ll clean up a myriad of copywriting mistakes.
Copywriting Mistake No. 7 | You love your brand voice too much.
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.
As a copywriter, I realized I’d been switching voice from Delta Air Lines to Chick-fil-A in corporate, and from Amy Porterfield to Karrie Brady just this past year with client projects (look up the 2 voices—VERY different from each other!!). 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.
Find your brand voice, yes. But don’t elevate its importance over what your client or customer wants to hear/see in your copy.
Copywriting Mistakes No. 8 | All your testimonials are on one page.
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!
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.
The copywriting mistakes fix here? Pull your testimonials into multiple pages of your website. Your homepage, your services page for sure, and anywhere else you.
For example, here’s our 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.
Copywriting Mistake No. 9 | You follow a “best practice” you heard—but you’ve never tested it.
Secret: Online best practices are usually pooled ignorance.
Not always, but often. It’s like a game of telephone.
I know I’ve seen this with different copywriting “rules.” I read one time don’t start a subject line with ‘how to’—but when I split tested, we got 6% higher open rates on that one. I’ve heard “Have the hyperlink above the fold of your email newsletter” … but have tested that in a client launch funnel and shown the same click-through 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. Always.
Test early, test often. Run split tests and see what YOUR audience responds to.
When you’re picking a design template, working with the designer or ARE the designer, think less “what would look good” and more “what would solve the problem.” That’s why I have my 44 Questions Your Website Must answer checklist … it should help clean up a lot of common copywriting mistakes.
Now you know some switch-ups you can make for better conversion on your website, about this mistake I see ALL the time: telling YOUR story rather than inviting your customers into the story? I recorded an episode episode here (The Ultimate Guide to Writing Your Brand Story) where I talk all about that—I hope it helps!
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