30 Mistakes Every Copywriter Has Made at Least Once in a Lifetime

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30 Mistakes Every Copywriter Has Made at Least Once in a Lifetime

On April 27, 2015, Posted by , In Blog, With No Comments

We’re only humans and we all make mistakes, even when we’re professionals. Only when you’re a copywriter, every mistake you make remains forever immortalized in writing, on the Internet. And the Internet never forgets, my friend. So, in order to avoid the permanent embarrassment of your writing mistakes being recorded for posterity, I’m going to list the most common mistakes that most, if not all copywriters have made at least once in their lifetime (yes, even me!).

  1. Typos – Probably the number one mistake copywriters make. I mean, we’ve all been in a hurry or tired or distracted and made some typos we didn’t catch upon review. It’s not a big deal in itself, but it leaves a very poor impression. Revise, revise, revise and pay attention to those misspellings!
  1. Not enough research – You’re given the topic, you skim the details and you immediately start writing, correct? No! You have to research everything you write. Yes, you’re going to be more familiar with some topics than others, but you still have to take the time to research everything you write. There’s nothing worse than writing something ignorant or insufficiently researched.
  1. Misunderstood the topic – A mistake often made because you’re in a hurry or over-confident, misunderstanding the topic is… well, it’s bad, obviously. Some clients will be kind, correct you and give you the opportunity to rectify your mistake, but others will just be wholly unsatisfied by your apparent lack of professionalism and will take their business elsewhere. Always double-check with your client on what the topic is and what they are expecting you to write, in order to avoid misunderstandings.
  1. Superficial writing – If you’re not that interested in a topic or you fail to do research on it, this will be obvious in your writing. The topic will inevitably be treated superficially; you will over-generalize and mainly sound like you have no idea what you’re talking about. Again, research and checking with your client are extremely important. Taking genuine interest in your writing is also crucial, because when you don’t really want to write, all your content will be superficial.
  1. Boring headline – Your headline is the first thing that readers see and the one which ultimately convinces them to read your piece – or not. The headline is actually one of the most important parts of your article and its impact should not be underestimated. At the end of the day, no matter how well-written your content is, if your headline is lackluster, no one will get to see your brilliant work, because they won’t click on it. Makes sense, right?
  1. No-value information – One thing that I repeat time and time again is that you should always make sure to provide value in your writing. This is what the reader is looking for, when clicking on your articles or purchasing your e-books. After they finish the piece, the reader should remain with a sense of value that they’ve taken away from your writing. You should have provided them with interesting, relevant and valuable information. This is what differentiates quality copywriting from mindless, meaningless drivel.
  1. Click-bait headline – Again, stressing the importance of headlines; precisely because you know a good headline will attract readers like honey attracts flies – or bears – it can be tempting to exaggerate your headline and announce more shocking information than your piece actually contains. This is a largely-used strategy by plenty of well-known publications with a large readership. However, while it may be successful, it’s also dishonest, misleading and off-putting. Someone who clicks on your article expecting one thing, only to find something else is going to feel disappointed and lied to. This understandably leads them to lose trust in the publication and in the writer who mislead them with a headline full of false promises. By engaging in click-bait, you are only sabotaging yourself, by single-handedly dissolving your credibility.
  1. Not taking into consideration the target-audience – Whenever you write, no matter what you write, you always have to keep in mind the audience you are writing for. Different audiences will require different tones, a different writing style and, obviously, different content. Failing to write for your intended target audience means you will fail to reach them and gain their interest, which means your piece will fall flat and won’t fulfill its desired purpose.
  1. Bad layout – Your layout is just as important as your words. It’s true, form matters. When your layout is bad – and it often is, for a lot of writers – your readers might not remain engaged or they might not read, at all. When your article is badly structured and difficult to read, no one will be motivated to continue reading, no matter how good your ideas are. Or they won’t even get to find out how good you are, because they lack the necessary patience. Your writing should be well-spaced, aired and easy to read; that will attract the largest number of readers.
  1. Inappropriate tone – As I mentioned earlier, tone is also very important. You will not use the same tone for all the different kinds of public you are writing for and for all the subjects you are addressing. A piece or writing about business, for example, will require a more serious tone, while an article about island vacations can benefit from a more playful one. Making the mistake of switching the two can mean your content will either not have the expected success or will even be rejected or criticized. Pay special attention to any jokes you might want to make, because they will absolutely not be appropriate in any occasion and might even read as offensive, even if you didn’t intend them that way.
  1. Going off-topic – Probably most of us are guilty of this one; it’s easy to get distracted and start writing about topics adjacent to your main subject, without even realizing. But studies have shown that this puts off readers, and with good reason. When you click on an article about a certain thing, you understandably expect to read about that. Additional personal ramblings are confusing and useless and they have no place in a professional piece of writing. Stay on topic and keep it concise.
  1. Writing copy completely devoid of emotion – Writing is an art form, it lives, it needs emotion in order to be good. A good writer will always be able to inject emotion into their writing and pull at the readers’ heartstrings with the right placement of a word or evoke feelings and memories. Writing is about informing, but it’s also about connecting with your readers, and that connection is not possible without emotion. Even when you’re essentially trying to sell something – or maybe especially then – you’re appealing to your readers’ emotions in one way or another, in order to be persuasive. When all is said and done, emotion is the heart of writing, whether it’s fiction or copy and that’s what you should aim to always have.
  1. Failing to include citations – This one’s a big no-no, and it’s unfortunately very common, either because it is overlooked or with more dishonest intentions. It’s the golden rule of writing; when you take an idea from somewhere else, you include the proper citations or paraphrase and acknowledge your source. Anything else is plagiarism, which is actually a criminal offense. This isn’t ripping off essays in high school, anymore, it’s stealing intellectual property and it’s a very serious deal. Aside from the legal problems, lack of citations indicates a lazy, dishonest and uncreative writer that needs to steal others’ ideas because they cannot rely on their own. It’s completely unethical and unprofessional.
  1. Missing the point – these ties in with a number of things I’ve already mentioned, including misunderstanding the topic and rambling off-topic. You’d be surprised at how often copywriters manage to completely miss the point of their assignment. It’s not because of incompetence or inability to understand and perform a simple task, but because of lack of proper care and attention. Look, I get it – you get so caught up in the subject and your ideas and everything you want to say, that you forget what the piece of copy was actually intended to accomplish. But while it’s understandable from a writer’s point of view, from a professional point of view, it’s unacceptable. Your point is your main focus and you have to keep it in mind and stick to it, no matter what.
  1. Bad grammar – Ouch. But yes, unfortunately, copy with bad grammar happens from time to time. Either because their autocorrect is off or because they’ve managed to complete an English degree without having a gasp of basic grammar, some writers will hand in assignments with very bad grammar, which a proofreader or editor must then go through with a fine-tooth comb and correct every little mistake. If you have bad grammar, don’t be a writer; just don’t. If you manage to get hired, you’re only going to give your editors, clients and readers headaches. Alternatively, always make sure that autocorrect is on and that you pay extra special attention to the grammar.
  1. No fact-checking – This is part of research, but it’s like super-research. You probably already know that you can’t just make any random claim and say it’s true, especially when it comes to numbers, percentages, statistics and generally science-related stuff. Well, some people don’t know. Or they pretend they don’t. But seriously, you need to fact-check your information, to make sure that it’s all accurate and you aren’t inadvertently misleading your readers with false facts.
  1. Not explaining concepts properly – You wouldn’t believe how often this happens; in order to make the readers understand what you’re saying, you have to explain everything properly – all of the concepts, the ideas, everything. Your points need to be crystal clear in order for your writing to have the full effect on your readers; you can’t have any muddy ideas.
  1. Rambling –This is more than just off-topic writing; rambling is basically just stringing together random ideas that, objectively, make no sense and have no relation to your topic. This happens a lot when the writer is having difficulty coming up with things to say, when they’re not familiar enough with the subject or when they’re trying to “stretch” their words to meet the word count requirement. Not only is it terribly unprofessional, but it’s also embarrassingly transparent and just evidence of bad writing. If you know you’re guilty of this, take the time to edit your “musings”.
  1. Too concise – Although being concise is something that I usually advise, you have to be careful not to be too Is that confusing? What I’m trying to say is that you should allow yourself the space to properly explain and describe everything. You need to be able to present your ideas and round them up nicely in a way that’s going to be interesting and engaging to your reader and in a way that’s going to sell.
  1. No selling point –Always, always make sure you have included and insisted upon the main selling point, whether it’s a product or just an idea or a concept. Every time you write, no matter what you are writing, you are attempting to persuade the reader; you are selling them something. And in order to be able to convince them to buy – literally or figuratively –you have to expand on your selling point and the benefits for your reader/buyer. In absence of that, there is no incentive for them to become interested.
  1. Too much focus on the product – Of course the product should take center stage, but talking about it too much can actually be detrimental. You need to put the product in context and make a complex presentation, including benefits (more on that later), otherwise, it’s just going to sound like a lame telemarketing advertisement.
  1. Too much focus on the company – Yeah, yeah, the company is great, everything is wonderful and they do a great job, but people get bored of hearing about the company. Especially when you’re trying to sell a product, it becomes painfully obvious what you’re doing when you’re going on and on about the company. Mention the company, but the focus should be on the product; more specifically, in what ways the product benefits the reader/potential buyer.
  1. Failing to mention benefits – Features are great, but what people are interested in are the benefits. Yes, they’re different. While features are of the “what can it do?” variety, benefits hold the interest of the potential customer, because they fall under the “what can it do for me?” category. Remember, the key to persuasion is to make the other person believe that they come out winning and are the benefitted party.
  1. Failing to ask the client for specifications/failing to follow them – I’ve mentioned checking with the client about the writing topic and so on, but some clients also have very specific instructions or expectations. Sometimes they give them to you, sometimes they don’t, but even if they don’t, they will still expect them from you. Avoid complications by directly asking every client for their specifications and special requests (they may be related to layout, voice, content, style, etc.) and make sure to follow them. If the client is happy, you’re happy.
  1. Using unsuitable language – Now, I’m not talking about inappropriate language, here; I’ve already covered that. I’m talking about knowing your audience and the language best suited for your reader. For example, if you’re writing about dating tips, keep the language simplistic, because you’re writing for the masses, the common man, and everyone should be able to understand what you are saying. An academic piece or one that is otherwise specialized, on the other hand, requires a different level and will have to be significantly more “high-brow”.
  1. Needlessly embellishing writing – Embellishing your writing with one-too-many similes or metaphors does not come across as good writing, just try-hard and annoying. Keep your writing straightforward and to the point and limit your use of embellishments when they are necessary to drive a point home or emphasize something. Verbally hitting your reader over the head with metaphors makes for difficult, heavy and confusing reading.
  1. Writing for yourself, not for your audience – I’m going to be honest and say that this is something that I still struggle with. You have to remember that unless you’re writing in your diary, you’re probably writing for someone else to read, so you always have to keep your audience in mind. Don’t include jokes that only you will get, random references and other irrelevant things like that. They don’t add any value for the reader, and that is what they are looking for.
  1. Sounding too much like a sales pitch – Yes, you are selling something, but you don’t have to make it so obvious. Skillful selling is done without the subject even knowing they are targeted and sold to. That’s because a good sales pitch is not aggressive. You see, some writers and/or salespersons mistake aggressiveness for persuasiveness and they will always lose, because it makes the reader/potential customer feel uncomfortable.
  1. Hyping it up too much – Not everything is amazing, extraordinary or life-changing and writing as such makes it sound cheap. It’s lazy writing, it’s boring and it’s ineffective, because by the time the reader reaches the third “amazing” in the same piece, the word has already lost any meaning or effect. Make conscious use of your superlatives.
  1. Redundancy – Again, this is something that happens often when a writer is not informed enough about the topic or when there are too many words for them to fill on the assigned subject. When you’ve said all you have to say and you still have a few hundred words to go, what do you do? You start saying the same things! Again! Well, that’s not a very good strategy. It’s going to be repetitive, redundant and will provide zero value for your reader.

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