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  • Writer's pictureSarah Turnbull

9 Common problems with web copy


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Writing web copy can be a challenging task, even for experienced copywriters. There are several mistakes or problems with web copy that can negatively impact the website as a whole. It can be a bit of a minefield!


Here are some of the common problems and mistakes that people face when writing websites. I’m going to cover both business owners and copywriters.




Features versus benefits:


One of the problems with web copy, when business owners their own, is what they tell their audience. That sounds mad, I know!


Business owners know their business best, much better than copywriters, obviously. But business owners tend to talk about themselves and what their products or services do… the features.

What the audience wants to hear about are the benefits. Not what the product or service does, but what the product or service will do for them.


How’s it going to make them feel? More confident, happier, healthier? Tell them. Is it going to save them money, time, stress? Tell them!


When writing copy, it’s really important to think about what the audience wants to get out of the purchase. Think about what they’re looking for then write to that. If you can appeal to desires or fears, even better. Emotion works, but no matter what, think about the benefits over features. And do you know why?


Because benefits sell.



Tone of Voice:


Tone of voice (‘ToV’) is a biggie. It’s especially important when working with a copywriter. A copywriter will do research into your business and your brand. But they don’t always get what they need from your site, especially if there’s a lack of clarity about how you present yourself.

Tone of voice is part of the bigger picture of your overall branding and should form part of your brand guidelines – I’m just going to focus on ToV in this post.

Clarity about tone of voice is really important. It shows how you want to appear to the outside world, what your messages are and the language you want, and don’t want, to use.

Ideally tone of voice should be documented, it does make things easier. If written, it’s something that can be provided to anyone who represents your business online, through marketing and in person.


If you haven’t got it formally documented, it’s worth spending a little time before you start working with a copywriter to think about the style of writing, the tone, what words you’d definitely use and those you wouldn’t.


The benefit of doing this is you’ll get something much closer to the final version earlier on! I did a project where I didn’t take my own advice and started without a ToV document and the project owner wasn’t a native English speaker.


We’d gone through the drafts and had what we thought was a decent version, which she shared with senior management. It didn’t fit the bill for them. Too corporate. I used words in that copy that they wouldn’t.


It subsequently took longer to get things right, which probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d ‘insisted’ on a ToV document from the outset. Lesson learned.


So, if you want to get the right kind of language and have your copywriter present you in your style, it’s definitely worth putting something together.


Inconsistent tone can be a problem too. If the tone changes abruptly, it can be jarring for the reader and detract from the overall experience as well as just feeling… weird.



Language:


This, of course, ties in with tone of voice. Both business owners and copywriters can be a bit too formal in the language they use or – God forbid – use too much jargon! Obviously, you’ve got to think about your audience, but I always recommend ‘writing like you speak.’ It makes for better reading…


- Use contractions – ‘I’m’ instead of ‘I am’

- Don’t add in extra words just because it’s grammatically correct, it makes the copy clunky

- Ditch the jargon. Unless it’s for a really specific audience, aim to write for someone who has the reading ability of a Year 7 to 8 student. It’s not dumbing down, it’s just nicer and easier-reading

- Don’t write too much if you can get the message across quicker


A good example of this is:


‘Remove unnecessary words that you don’t need in sentences’
-> 'Remove words you don't need.'

See what I did there?



Forgetting a Call to Action:


This happens a lot too. Take your audience on a journey that produces a result. Tell them what to do, and make it easy for them to do it. This is a very common mistake when business owners write their own copy.


Keep calls to action simple and start them with a verb.




different technology including a Mac PC, laptop and tablet

Too much copy:


Attention spans are SHORT. Keep writing concise. Short words, short sentences, short paragraphs.


Think about when you’re browsing a site – especially on mobile. If you see a MASS of copy to follow, what do you do? Switch off. Go somewhere else.


Your audience will too. If you can say what you need to say in two paragraphs, use two. Not five. Urrrgggggh!


Mix up your sentence lengths too. Mix longer with short. And never have sentences of over 25 words. Keep it short and keep it interesting.


Give your audience a reason to STOP THE SCROLL!


Business owners particularly have this problem when writing copy. You’re proud of your business, I get that. But don’t make the mistake of saying too much, or talking all about the features. Your audience wants short and sweet, with benefits hitting them between the eyes.



Poor SEO:


Web copy that’s not optimised for search engines makes it difficult for your target audience to find your website. This is especially true if the copywriter isn’t familiar with search engine optimisation (SEO) best practices, such as keyword usage and meta descriptions.


Now, SEO changes all the time – it’s an ever-evolving art. I’m not an SEO specialist… and I always recommend going to a specialist for mega-optimisation.


If you do want SEO, don’t make the mistake and bodge it yourself. Spend the money with an SEO specialist – no, it’s not cheap – but that’s where you’ll get the results.



Unappealing design:


I work quite regularly with the team at Mint Sauce Media in York.


When we met the first time, we talked about what makes a perfect website. It was fab, because we all agreed there were three fundamental elements to a quality site – great design, great copy and great imagery. If one of these is missing, the site won’t perform. The user will turn off and go elsewhere.

So, for me – as well as Chris and Jen at Mint Sauce - web copy should not only be well-written, but it needs to be visually appealing too. Poor design can detract from the message of the copy and make it difficult for users to navigate the site. A no-no.


It does not pay to spend money on your web development but scrimp on your copy or use poor imagery. This is a huge mistake! You should only create a new website every 4 or 5 years, make it count. With poor design, poor imagery or poor copy, it'll age very quickly and you won't get the results you need. And if you scrimp on two or three elements, forgedabboudit!




Outdated information:


Web copy that’s out of date is a major problem for websites. It can lead to misinformation, but also makes the site and business look unprofessional. Keep it updated.


Simples.


And finally, one of my personal favourites…



About pages:


Ahhhh, this is where loads of people make a fundamental mistake!


Don’t make your About page about you… make it about your audience. The brutal truth is they don’t care about you or your kids or your background. They care about what you’re going to do for them.

Don’t make the mistake of talking too much about ‘we.’ That makes it business-centric. Change it to ‘you’ (You’ll need to change the sentence structure to accommodate the change, obviously).


Read the copy and see how many times ‘we,’ ‘us’ and ‘our’ crops up and change it to ‘you’ and ‘your’ – make your audience feel like they are the most important person. That’s what they want.

A good rule of thumb is for every ‘we,’ ‘us,’ or ‘our,’ you should have at least ten ‘you’ or ‘yours.’


An About page (notice how I don’t call them an ‘About Us’ page?) is a subliminal selling space. It’s a page that gets decent traffic, so you should be telling your audience how you’re going to fix their problems. Tell them about those all-important benefits!


Want to know how to write a zinger of an about page? Take a look here for some more advice.


How to avoid problems with web copy


In summary, both business owners and copywriters need to be mindful of these problems or mistakes when writing websites. They crop up a lot, but if you've got sight of them, they're easier to avoid!


By paying attention to the benefits, SEO, design, tone of voice and user experience, you or your copywriter can make sure that the web copy is more effective and successfully delivers your message.


Like to know more? I'm always happy to chat about copywriting and give some advice. I also offer FREE, no-obligation website audits that can highlight areas for improvement in your web copy. I run through a 60-point check and will provide a report and recommendations - many, if not all, you can do yourself!





 

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