Whether you’re working on your newsletter, blog, website or a social media caption, your efforts won’t much matter if the words on the screen alienate your audience.
Today’s readers demand copy that’s entertaining, engaging and educational; anything less will be ignored.
Here are seven common but damaging online writing sins to avoid:
1. Writing for a novel, and not the web.
Readers on the web approach text differently. They’re not here to cozy up with your piece of online copywriting and enjoy it sentence by sentence. (You get bonus points if they do.) They’re probably scanning it during a morning break or in the middle of meetings, maybe on their mobile phone on their commute, or waiting in line for coffee.
Their attention is strained, and often they shouldn’t work too hard at finding what they need, or they’ll get frustrated and look somewhere else. To cater to today’s readers, construct your articles like maps, and direct them to the information they need.
- Use bullet points to highlight and summarize.
- Keep your paragraphs short (two to five sentences).
- Use headings and subheadings as signposts to where to find information.
- Include infographics and pull quotes to draw attention to important information.
2. Sounding more keyword than human.
SEO used to be a quantity-as-good-as-quality game—the more keywords, the better—and if you had to sacrifice style to get a higher keyword density, so be it.
Algorithms keep changing, and keyword stuffing can hurt your SEO score.
There’s no golden rule as to what the perfect number of keywords is, but overall, experts recommend having your keyword appear in your title (if it doesn’t sound awkward), your headings, and a few times in the body of your piece—the further up the page, the better.
3. Writing for yourself, and not your audience.
For marketers and copywriters, it’s easy to get excited about our own products and services. We know the ins and outs, the features, the great team behind the product, so it’s tempting to spend valuable real estate in an article waxing poetic about our company and our product.
In the consumer age, however, we have to keep everything about our messaging centered squarely on them. For example, your long-awaited version update is exciting to you, but it isn’t relevant to your customers by itself. How does it improve their lives? How does it solve a particular problem?
Luckily, getting into your customer’s mindset is a science. With some reading, some practice and making the effort to know and help your readers, you can start creating sales-generating copy.
Treat your articles like a first date. If you’re spending the entire time talking about yourself, and not making a real effort to get to know about the person you’re talking to, you’re probably not going on a second date.
4. Making the same adjectives do all the work.
We hear some words and phrases many times that we become numb to them. (How many times on the internet have you been told that you won’t believe what this article has to say?)
Vary your adjectives. Be specific, and add color and imagery if possible. Use verbs, as an action-oriented piece is far more likely to hold readers’ attention.
“Our copywriters can create top-quality content, from blog posts to research papers to speeches.”
“Our team of copywriters is experienced in crafting a range of content across industries. from snappy blog posts to in-depth research papers.”
See the difference?
5. Not playing with the other kids.
The internet is a social place, and search engines reward social websites. Link back to other websites, trustworthy bloggers, case studies and data. Invite guest bloggers to contribute to your site, and share your expertise with others.
It isn’t just good internet social etiquette. Networking is a big part of a successful content strategy and an important part of building domain authority.
6. Not doing your research.
This and the previous point are linked. In content marketing, if you’re not collaborating with other outlets and writers, you’re not backlinking, and you’re not talking, you’re probably not dedicating the proper amount of time to original, in-depth research.
You don’t have to run a think tank, but you should be sourcing opinions from your own following or from experts on your staff.
As copywriters, our job isn’t just creation; it’s also curation and translation. If you want to be a leader in the field, you should be keeping up on industry trends and events, reading updates, doing your own analysis and contributing to the conversation.
It’s a heavy demand. However, with so many content aggregators and so much content itself, resharing or relisting content can only elevate your brand’s reputation.
As the field gets more crowded, what will make an impression on consumers is well-written, insightful, clear and useful content from personalities they can recognize.
7. Failing to proofread.
It’s one of the most tedious parts of the job, but a hefty chunk of good copywriting is solid copyediting.
Entire services have been built on the power of spellcheck. Though you don’t have to splurge on the Cadillac of grammar-checking software, it is important to have fresh eyes on your work, whether that’s a friend or another colleague.
After writing a piece we’ve spent a long time on, we’re particularly prone to skip over small mistakes or subconsciously autocorrect them. These errors, however, can stick out like sore thumbs in an online piece.