The 20 Cardinal Sins of Writing Web Copy You MUST Avoid

Think your website copy is in need of a heavenly touch? Steer clear of these errors and turn skeptics into believers

 

Website-design-layout

Copy on a website often lacks the quality needed to help a business. In fact, it often achieves the exact opposite. Despite being a feature of every single website (like, ever, in the world), web copy rarely gets the due care and attention it warrants.

Achieving quality copy starts with avoiding the errors scattered all over the internet. So, we’ve compiled the 20 most sinful web copy errors, along with tips on how to create angelic web copy that sends search engine robots and web users head over heels.

 

Sin 1. Treating text as a placeholder

From a human perspective, the copy you provide will sway many a potential customer one way or the other. Plenty of people will turn to your copy to identify product information, business information, brand reputation and so much more — making it far from a placeholder or a chore to create.

From an SEO point of view, you need to have plenty of words (a minimum of 300 is the unofficial number recommended by many — including us) on your website for Google to take it seriously and give yourself a chance of ranking strongly in searches. You’ll also need to include relevant keywords and useful, common-sense links (more on those later).

 

Sin 2. Copying everyone else

It’s good to take pointers from website copy that already exists, but totally copying their style or approach will rarely produce the best results. The majority of online industries today are saturated and super competitive. To stand out, you need to do something different.

People often think “different” means being wacky or over-the-top, but that’s certainly not the case here. Sometimes, just a couple of minor tweaks can be enough to make your writing more memorable. Using shorter paragraphs, shorter sentences, impactful words, informal language, or asking rhetorical questions are all ways of producing copy that engages and stands the test of time. To remain in the conscience of visitors, don’t be bland. Be bold.

 

Sin 3. Your copy doesn’t match your brand

Aim to establish what your brand is all about through your copy. Use the type of language that reflects what your business is all about, whether that be results-driven, super-approachable, off-the-cuff, or business-savvy. Make it clear exactly what makes your brand the very best in your chosen industry. Shout about your unique selling points (USPs) from the rooftops. Tell the real story about your brand’s rise to its current position that viewers can connect with. Use the passion that drove you to create this website and weave it into your copy.

There aren’t many better examples of brand establishment through copy than the ‘About Us’ page of apparel brand Filthy Casual. Just a couple of paragraphs of text perfectly outline the greater purpose of the brand, its target demographic, the relatable story of its inception and a tangible connection between business and customer.

 

Sin 4. Bad grammar

There’s no denying that grammar seems to matter less and less in today’s online world. Social media is crammed full of viral and popular content in which the grammatical quality matters very little. Major companies, influential celebrities and even the most powerful person in the western world seem to consider strong grammar an afterthought at times.

But don’t let that fool you. Grammar still matters. Just like a poor website design or a slow loading time, bad grammar is a staple of low-quality websites. Poor grammar tells visitors that you don’t pay close attention to the finer details, so why would they want to invest in your business? Of course, all of that screams poor user experience and authority, meaning search engines take a pretty dim view on bad grammar in your copy.

The online world’s general lack of care and attention towards grammar doesn’t mean you should do the same. It actually creates an opportunity. Whilst other brands overlook the importance of accuracy in writing, you can make a far better impression by producing accurate copy that exudes quality and trustworthiness.

 

Sin 5. Perfect grammar

Now, this may seem rather contradictory, but hear us out.

Yes, accurate grammar and quality writing in web copy are signs of a strong website. But, if you focus solely on the substance and not the style, you risk alienating your audience. If your copy is written like an academic essay — completely accurate but using long sentences an overly complicated writing style — you may well turn people away, instead of engage them.

As we’ve already mentioned, copy can be a key form of communication between yourself and potential customers. It’s often a good idea to be more conversational and relaxed in web copy to encourage engagement, which is a style that often requires you to bend the rules of grammar a little.

If you’re a high-end venture capitalist firm, complex sentences and advanced vocabulary may be what your audience enjoys. If you’re a local car wash company, though, you’ll be wanting to use a more accessible style of writing. Understand the industry and subject matter your website covers and tweak your copy accordingly — even if that means stepping away from A* grammar and vocabulary.

 

Sin 6. Keyword-stuffed copy

If you have or are looking to create a website, chances are you know all about the importance of keywords on web pages. As well as reiterating the key products, services or subjects you’re featuring to web users, keywords enable search engines to understand what sort of search terms your pages should be ranking for.

However, keyword stuffing is frowned upon by the likes of Google. If search engines decide your copy is using keywords in an unnatural way, expect low positions in search results and limited visitors. As for the visitors that do find that page, they’ll struggle to be engaged by unnatural copy.

 

Psst — unsure if the keywords you’re using are correct or being used effectively? Get Exposure Ninja’s SEO experts on the case.

 

Sin 7. Thinking your audience doesn’t care about copy

GIFs and images are taking over the online world. The internet isn’t the text-heavy universe it used to be, so if you’re selling products or services, you might think that visual, interactive content of them should be enough for website visitors to make their decision.

Not quite. Web users will usually visit a website multiple times before deciding whether or not to convert. Very rarely do people arrive on a website 100% sure of what they want to buy or achieve, so you need content that reassures them that they’ve come to the right place. Testimonials can do this. Sales rates can do this. So can strong web copy, using persuasive language and reassuring people on why they should do business with you, through a medium we are all comfortable with.

 

Sin 8. Copied copy

You’re writing up some web copy and have managed to nail your call to action or mission statement for your business. Excellent! But, should that copy be repeated, word for word, on as many pages as possible?

Absolutely not, for two key reasons. Firstly, from the perspective of web users, copy-and-paste tactics with your web copy will just ooze laziness and lack of attention. All the positive vibes you created by writing an awesome couple of paragraphs will be eradicated if visitors find themselves reading the same thing, every time they head to another page.

Secondly, duplicate content is a no-no in the eyes of search engine crawlers, which decide the ranking ability of your pages. These robots have a finite ‘budget’ and, if they keep coming across duplicate or “appreciably similar” content, they’ll struggle to understand which is the most relevant page to rank. The time and confusion this costs will limit the budget given to your website, meaning some pages may not be crawled and the overall ranking potential of your website takes a hit.

 

Sin 9. Not valuing your readers’ time

The speed at which we can find and consume information today is unbelievably fast. Apps, search engines, social media timelines and plenty more online staples are constantly working on ways to give us information in a quicker, more refined way.

We often take this for granted, which means we can often become frustrated if we don’t find what we’re looking for in double-quick time. Research uncovered that you can expect users to leave a website after just five seconds. You need to keep this in mind when it comes to writing website copy.

They are foraging for information, so get to the point quickly to connect with web users during their often-small window of curiosity, reassuring visitors that they’ve come to the right place. Then, once you’ve achieved that initial connection, focus in on writing creative and persuasive copy that keeps them engaged.

 

Sin 10. Abusing headings

Whether your website is sales-focused or dedicated to providing information to readers, headings and subheadings are going to be a big part of your site layout. On product pages and blog posts, we’re used to seeing these features defining the layout of the page.

Those who consider web copy to be a secondary feature of a website, however, might not see the point in incorporating these into each area of copy. The reality is that headings and subheadings guide web users and crawlers through any kind of text-based content. It establishes a subject for the page, highlights key subtopics, breaks up unattractive walls of copy and guides them down a well-defined path.

 

Sin 11. Missing links

Already have a blog on your website? Looking up tips for making one, or just used to consuming blog posts and articles online? You’ll know that content like this will regularly use links (URLs anchored onto text to link you to another web page).

Just like headings and subheadings, links may have a home on blogs and articles, but they can be beneficial within the text of any kind of web page. Links to other websites should direct users to important information, or be a source for a statistic or fact you’ve mentioned, from authoritative places. Links to other pages of your own website should direct people to a relevant destination (like the ‘Contact Us’ page if you’re asking people to get in touch), or helpful nudges towards pages that could benefit the user experience, like similar products or special offers.

Oh, and use anchor text that makes sense and is unobtrusive. If your readers are scanning through copy, as they often are, links will stand out and attract their attention. Using generic anchor text like “click here” will have no context to skim-readers (or search engines), so use text that makes the destination clear. Do all of this and you’ll have customers easily reaching the pages they’re looking for, and pages that rank highly due to their helpfulness and authority.

 

Sin 12. Not thinking “why?”

It makes total sense that the driving factor behind most of your website copy would be the “what” aspect — establishing what a business, product, service, or other purpose is. Without this, you’ll have a clutch of confused, put-off users. But alongside answering the question of “what” should always be answers to many other important factors.

Being able to answer the “why” aspect, for example, can often inspire people to take action. In terms of a product page, aim to tell people why you’re selling it. Why did you create this product? Is there a hole in the market that needs filling? The answers to these questions can create engagement and support, so weave them into your copy where possible.

Other important questions can also be covered, such as the “how” (how your products/services are created, tested, performed), the “when” (opening hours, history of the company, seasonal offers) and the “where” (HQ, operating locations, shipping and delivery details).

 

Sin 13. Believing that good copy is only needed to sell poor products

Whether the user has stumbled upon your website, found you in a search, or clicked through from an ad, your work is far from done. Their decision over whether to invest in your business may be driven by the quality of your product or service, but every other part of your site will — consciously or subconsciously — be affecting that decision, too.

Visitors will hardly ever be 100% ready to convert once they land on your site, meaning any hint of poor quality can still turn them away. They’re looking for reassurance and clear signs of trust and authority. More often than you might realise, copy is your closer.

When it comes to copy, providing accurate, attractive, helpful text will give them what they want and expect. Eliminate all doubt and present your brand as one that should be invested in through your copy to get close conversions over the line.

 

Sin 14. Being boring

For those who are new to creating websites or writing copy, the concept of adding humour into the mix can be daunting. It’ll be instinctive to keep things simple and not take risks, whilst hitting the right tone with humour is rarely easy and can turn unamused visitors away.

But if you did everything the easy way, your website would struggle to be memorable or generate return visits. Put in the effort and research into how to weave humour into your copy and it could leave that key lasting impression.

Talk with and check out the online activity of your current customers. What sort of humour do they use and enjoy? Take a look at some of the most successful websites that go with humour, such as Innocent, Old Spice or Devolver, and see if their ways of generating laughs can be incorporated into your own approach.

 

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Sin 15. Trying too hard to be down with the kids

Of course, those worries mentioned in the previous point about getting humour horribly wrong are far from unfounded.

There are countless cringe-worthy examples of major businesses attempting to use humour or keep up with modern culture, only to appear awfully out of touch and just plain unfunny. Sometimes, the internet is as a cruel as the school playground; a meritocracy based on ‘coolness’. If you try too hard to be funny, you’ll be perceived as a brand that isn’t in touch with its audience, or even ridiculed on social media pages like the ones linked to above.

The best course of action is to be genuine with your approach to writing copy. If humourous writing isn’t really your thing, stick to what you know best. Or, if you really think humour should be used, delegate the task of writing copy to someone more comfortable with writing that way.

 

Sin 16. Thinking that low-traffic pages require low-effort copy

Both common sense and website statistics may tell you that some pages of your website are far more popular than others. Sure, your homepage and product pages may receive plenty more views than your terms and conditions or staff details pages, but that doesn’t mean you should care less about their copy.

We’ve already established the importance of the quantity of copy on each area of your site, but the quality needs to be maintained, too. Establish the reasons for people reaching that page, aim to assist them however you can, and maintain the tone you’ve set in the copy of the main pages.

Expect people to arrive anywhere on your website. This is what the majority of top business websites are doing; heck, even some of them are going above and beyond on their 404 error pages to create copy and content that makes them memorable.

 

Sin 17. Ignoring format and presentation

If you’ve spent countless hours on website design, colour schemes and high-res images, you might think that copy is just getting in the way of the stunning visual quality of your website. It can feel like the two concepts are working against each other at times — but a little bit of creative flair can have them both pulling in the same direction.

There are many tools you can use within web copy to make it a visual feature. Our own website homepage shows plenty of these in action. Different fonts and sizes; a mixture of paragraph lengths; italics, bolds and underlines; all these small additions give the copy — and the entire page — more life.

 

Sin 18. Going off script

If you’re creating a promotional, introductory video for the top of your homepage, who’s writing the script? What about your company slogan within your logo, or the text you choose to use on social media accounts when sharing content? All these areas and more require an adept understanding of copy. Keeping on top of all of these areas allows you to be consistent with your brand voice, adding another layer of professionalism to your online presence.

 

Sin 19. Neglecting your CTAs

Your call to action (your way of encouraging the user to take the action you want them to) is the reason each of your web pages exist. Yet, far too often on websites, it seems like the CTA is placed at the very bottom of a page, or at the very end of the copy.

Sure, if someone scrolls through everything your page has to offer, they’ll end up at the bottom, so a CTA there is handy. But a website isn’t consumed from start to finish like a book and, as we’ve mentioned before, people rarely have the time or patience to go all the way through your copy. So, make your CTAs (plural) as obvious and enticing as possible. In terms of copy, this can be done through using impactful, emotive language in a short and snappy manner.

If you want people to contact you or visit a certain page, start by telling them that early on in the copy (above the fold, for sure). However, calls to action can be more effective further down the page, too, as the user has had a chance to read more web copy along the way and be convinced to take action.

Think of your CTA as the sole purpose of your web pages. Your copy should be all about inspiring action, without nagging or becoming too repetitive. Whatever it is that you would like visitors to do, it should be in your mind throughout the design process of your website — especially with copy.

 

Sin 20. Set-and-forget publishing

Websites that looked cutting-edge and super-optimised five years ago look like dinosaurs today, so when your frequent website design updates take place, make sure to include a web copy update — preferably every six months or so, with some A/B testing to ensure you’re achieving the best results.

As your business grows and your website becomes more established, your copy will begin to serve different purposes, with the original content possibly becoming outdated. In your copy today, you might want to emphasise your SME’s tight-knit nature and lofty ambitions. But five years from now, when you’re dominating your industry and have hundreds of employees, that copy will need to be different.

 

Now, that’s a lot of rules and a lot of words. Nobody’s expecting you to memorise them all before you get writing — although it might be a good idea to bookmark this post so you’ve got it close to hand!

Throughout all 20 of those cardinal sins of web copy, though, there are some key points that pop up time and time again. Follow these points and the rest should fall into place:

  • Even with the rise of more interactive mediums, the power of words shows no sign of weakening
  • Web copy plays a vital role in meeting the expectations of both people and search engine crawlers — which, when you break it down, are almost identical
  • The quality of your web copy, and understanding how to use creative and persuasive language, is just as important as the quantity
  • Web copy can be the long-term tool for sustained sales and success for a business, establishing a connection with customers and encouraging return visits

 

Exposure Ninja’s team of digital marketing superheroes includes expert copywriters, capable of improving the effectiveness of any website’s copy — including yours. Pick up your FREE, no-obligation website and marketing review, in which our Ninjas show you how to generate more traffic and sales.

Tags: articles, blog writing, content creation, content marketing, digital marketing, SEO, Websites

About the Author

Chris is a content editor at Exposure Ninja, ensuring every piece of content from our Ninjas is on point with grammar, SEO, structure, tone of voice and plenty more. When he takes the Ninja gear off, Chris is losing himself in a video game, playing his guitar, and pretending he knows stuff about comics.