a white block with the words: write without fear. Edit without mercy.
a white block with the words: write without fear. Edit without mercy.
#copywriting

Top Five Copywriter Mistakes to Avoid

By
Paul Kiernan
(6.30.2022)

Copy makes the web go-round. The words paint a different picture, tell the story, and keep eyes glued to your projects. Copywriters are literary Gods, crafting heart-pounding messages, weaving earworm-worthy phrases, and creating stories seemingly out of nothing. Making your technology feel more human and finding common ground makes viewers and readers think they are speaking directly to me. Yes, copywriters can do it.

Great design, eye-catching colors, and mind-blowing images are vital to a good website, marketing campaign, or advertising push. However, these can all be hugely enhanced or tragically undermined by copy.

Copy makes the web go-round. The words paint a different picture, tell the story, and keep eyes glued to your projects. Copywriters are literary Gods, crafting heart-pounding messages, weaving earworm-worthy phrases, and creating stories seemingly out of nothing. Making your technology feel more human and finding common ground makes viewers and readers think they are speaking directly to me. Yes, copywriters can do it.

Also, they are just humans, despite their other worldly skills and human and prone to making mistakes now and again. And again.

So, as John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, once said, “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything. I’m positive doers make mistakes.” Your best copywriters understand this, and they learn and grow from every mistake they make. Some mistakes are not as deadly as others. But there are a few that keep coming up for copywriters, and those few need to be removed from your copywriting lexicon and should be avoided at all costs.

Here are five copywriting mistakes for our copywriter friends that you only get to make once. After that, you should hide your head in shame or accept a life of writing pop-up books about SPAM, the meat thing.

Plagiarism

Yes, plagiarism happens, and it happens to the best of us, usually not on purpose.

Good copywriters are also voracious readers, reading all the time for leisure and getting information on the subjects they are tasked with writing about. So, consuming so much of the written word, now and then, phrases and thoughts stick, and sometimes a writer doesn’t know where they came from.

The definition of plagiarism is taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as your own. While some copywriters believe this only applies when you’re taking something word for word or copying an entire article from someone else, it can be a little more tricky.

With all the words on their heads and the stress that copywriters are under, combined with the amount of copy they have to produce, a tried writer could accidentally take something they have

read or heard and think it was their own. This means that the writer usually wasn’t paying attention and didn’t correctly cite a source or reword an idea they were writing about. This happens; it is usually not on purpose, but Google doesn’t give a rat's puckered ass about the why; it only cares about the what you did. Google will blithely de-rank your or your client's copy if they detect plagiarism.

You copywriters must be diligent and stay on top of possible plagiarism. Cite your sources or rework the words to make the idea more your own. You can also use Grammarly or Copyscape; both these apps have plagiarism checkers.

Slapdash Content

an office cluttered with books and papers everywhere.

Typos happen; that is a fact of the copywriter’s life. That’s not earth-shattering, and it’s okay to make typos. What’s not okay is allowing typo riddle copy to leave your hands and get published. That is yucky. Yucky for you, your brand, your company’s image, and your readers.

Always reread your copy carefully. Check for misused words; their, there, and they’re, seem to be troublesome for some writers; make sure you’re using the proper form.

Also, don’t be afraid to kill your babies. Meaning, that if the piece is too long or paragraphs are filled with flowery, inaccessible language, serve the product, serve the client, do not fall in love with your own writing, and simply serve that. You have to make hard choices, which may include cutting some words that you just love.

A great way to feel more secure about what you’re putting out is to use Grammarly, a spell-checking app that checks for misused words, errant commas, and unreadable language.

Remember, what you put out in the world reflects back on you, your company, and your client; make sure it gets the best chance of being read and liked.

Incorrect Voice

One of the challenges and the joys of copywriting is the fact that we copywriters get to morph into new people with each new client. We have to write quickly, produce a large quantity of work, and we have to move between voices depending on the client’s demands seamlessly.

One piece may require a scientific voice that can be relied upon for facts and streamlined copy. Another piece may require a conversational; I’m your go-to friend, type of voice. You may be challenged to write as a woman if you’re a man or write as a man if you’re a woman. Keats called this his negative capabilities.

It’s exciting to jump from voice to voice, but you have to be careful not to meld all the voices together. You don’t want your scientific just the facts, ma’am voice taking over when you’re writing copy for a kid's product. And, you don’t want to be too casual or chummy when you’re writing copy for the government.

Keeping a voice consistent is imperative when you're writing for multiple clients simultaneously. Getting the tone wrong can be devastating for a brand and may cause a mess that takes time to clean up.

This is especially challenging when you haven’t written for a client in a while and you suddenly have to reproduce their tone, their voice after time away.

Here’s a little trick I use. When I start writing for a client, and we hit upon the voice we all agree on; I usually put a note about the voice on one of the major docs, the tone guide. I write a sentence that captures the voice perfectly and keep it in the copy to reference. So, if I have been away from the client for a while, I can quickly get the voice again by looking at the sentence and recalling what the voice was. Any tricks or hints you can come up with to keep the voice clear and singular are helpful.

Where is the CTA

A young man, stripped to the waist, flying through the air against a cloudy background.

A call to action is one of the most essential lines of content you’ll craft. It is a call to action concerning what you’re writing.

The sales funnel relies on a strong CTA; it also lends the copy an authority that can improve sales or convert leads.

The CTA is simple and straightforward. It leads the reader to click a link, sign up for a newsletter, go to a store, and take advantage of a sale or something. It seems like a trite thing, but if you leave it off, you risk having your audience lose interest, and they will have no idea what to do once they’re read your copy.

A well-written CTA is built to in the copy, and the CTA pays off in a big way. The CTA makes your content more efficient and allows the content to do what the client needs.

Poor Headlines

Headlines are the carnival barker in front of your copy, shouting to the masses and grabbing people’s curiosity immediately and inextricably.

Your headlines must be compelling, eye-grabbing, and inspire your potential readers to stop and spend some time with the copy.

Here are some traits that will improve your headlines:

  • It should be informative and concise
  • It needs to contain powerful words that evoke emotion in the reader
  • It should be optimized for keywords and current meta content standards
  • It must showcase the brand voice and helps readers connect with the company

Take time to work on your headlines, keep them tight and compelling, and you’ll have a better chance of keeping eyes on your copy til the end.

One More Thought

There is and will always be debate about the length of the copy. The rule of thumb, which is a kind of barbaric saying, is short and sweet. Yes, less is more, and you should strive for that. However, there are times when you can flex a little and allow some of your fiction skills to slip in and allow you to add some extra atmosphere or detail that will give the copy a bit of a punch.

But, you’ll recognize when you’ve overwritten, your copy feels aimless and like a trudge through rough ground. When you are not building to your CTAs, then you’re overwriting.

I don’t believe there is no room for art when writing copy. I don’t think that more words are always a bad thing. Sometimes, as copywriters, it is our job to write up and raise the reader up with the copy. There is nothing wrong with making the reader go to the dictionary or make a mental note to look up a word. Why not? That makes your copy active.

Never forget you’re writing for a client and not writing a piece of fiction. Be judicious with your word count, but don’t shy away from writing a bit more, adding some color or detail if you feel it works within the copy. Being a slave to a word count kneecaps your flow and puts you in your head, questioning and doubting.

In the end, do as Hemingway advised; write one true sentence and then go from there.

ThoughtLab Does Copy

Not everyone is a writer; among writers, not everyone is a copywriter. There are rules that need to be followed, and there are rules that cry out to be broken—knowing when and how is what can make or break your copy.

Don’t trust your stories, your CTAs, or your brand to just someone in the office who writes now and then. Copy is too essential, too precarious not to trust it to an experienced professional. ThoughtLab has experienced craftspeople who will write you compelling, eye-catching, mind-holding copy that will elevate your brands and tell your stories with skill and joy.

Don’t trust your copy to people who don’t understand and love words; bring your writing needs to us. Contact us for a free consultation, and see the heights your brand can reach.