5 Deadly Copywriting Mistakes That Kill Your Sales

clients.jpgChances are that you are making many – if not all – of these 5 copywriting mistakes. I call them “deadly” because they’re killing your sales and your profits.

Let me make you a bold promise: examine your own sales copy and eliminate these copywriting mistakes, and you will see an instant improvement in your sales.

Let’s get started…

Deadly Mistake #1: Being Focused On You, Instead Of On Your Market

This is the easiest mistake to make, and the most common. Most ad copy is focused on the advertiser, not on the consumer. Big mistake.

When you read copy that says things like, “We’re the best in the industry… we’ve been in business since 1979… we have the most well-trained associates… our facility has won many industry awards…” what is your reaction?

Most likely, your reaction is, “So what? What does that mean to me and my life?”

If you’re using copy that says “we”, “us”, and “our” a lot – find a way to change that copy so that it says “you”, and “yours”. Speak about the things that matter to your customer.

Here’s a hint: those things are probably not what you think they are. Why not ask your customers? They know the answer, and they’ll be glad to share it with you if you’re wise enough to listen.

Deadly Mistake #2: Using a Weak, Wimpy, or Just Plain Bad Headline

In the beginning, you only have one chance to grab the reader’s attention. That chance is the headline. Make sure your headline is strong, aggressive (without being pushy), and compelling.

Think of your headline as the sales pitch to get the prospect to read the whole ad. It has to be compelling enough that the reader thinks, “Hey, if this is true, I need to know about it…”

You get one shot. You can’t afford to blow it.

A poor headline for an automotive shop: “Our Experienced Staff Can Tend to Your Every Automotive Need, And Are ASE Certified with the Guaranteed Lowest Prices.”

A much better headline for the same client: “Are Hidden Mechanical Problems With Your Car Threatening The Health And Safety Of Your Family? Our 9-Point Safety Inspection Could Save Their Lives – And Give You Peace of Mind…”

Deadly Mistake #3: Not Using Enough Bullets

Bullets break up your copy into short, readable bursts. Especially on the web, people tend to scan copy before they read it; breaking your benefits into bullets increases the chances your copy will “catch the eye” and thus get read.

To recap the benefits of bullets:

  • They break up copy (just like this) into short pieces.
  • They make the copy easier to scan.
  • They make it easier to pick out key words and phrases.
  • They get more of your copy read.
  • They make you more sales.
  • The more bullets the better (usually).

Deadly Mistake #4: Using big words and jargon.

Copy should read like conversation; it should flow naturally and be easy to process.

Using big words and jargon might sound impressive, but it won’t get you sales. Which would you prefer?

Use strong, punchy words. Write simply and clearly.

Read Strunk & White’s Elements of Style – and follow its advice.

Avoid jargon.

Deadly Mistake #5: Using Weak, Wimpy, or Just Plain Bad Sub-Heads

You should use subheads every 3-4 paragraphs in your copy.

Make subheads strong and compelling; think of them as headlines for each section of your copy.

If read in sequence, your subheads should sound like an abbreviated version of your sales pitch (which is what they are). Sub-heads done correctly are a way to “stop the eye”, catch the reader’s interest, and get him to slow down enough to read that section.

What to Do Now

Here’s your “takeaway” from this article: Grab your own current sales copy, this list of copy mistakes, your favorite beverage, and go through your copy line-by-line.

Ferret out these mistakes and eliminate them from your copy.

Do it now, and don’t put it off.

You’ll be glad you did.

And if writing is “not your thing” – hire a professional. Having great copy is the single most important tool you have at your disposal to sell your products or services.

Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at RayEdwards.com.

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  • Ray, about your example of a much better headline, you have one that is 30+ words long. Do people really read a headline that long? I don’t. A headline that long makes me think that if it took that many words to summarize something the rest of it must really be fluff and I keep on scrolling.

    I agree that that 30+ word quote would be a great opening pargraph to compell the reader to read the next part of the copy.

    A headline is normaly under 10 words long.
    Like “Will Your Car Seriously Hurt Your Family?”.
    To initialy grab your targets attention and complell them to read the first paragraph.

    Maybe I’m confused between the difference in a headline and a title.

    • Ray Edwards

      This is an article I actually wrote last year. So there are two points that are relevant to your question.

      1. Yes, people do read headlines this long. And longer. It’s just like any long copy: it will be read if it’s interesting to the reader.

      2. And yes, especially in the Internet Marketing space, short headlines can often be more effective. Again, much of this depends on how well you can hone in on what’s bugging your reader, and how clearly you can touch that emotion with your headline.

      Great question, Jeff!

      • Ed Erickson

        I’m seeing that the principle is always to simply get the reader/buyer one more step along the way.

        Either clicks and pages thru an article or toward a sale—

        or if in this case–when just applied toward a heading–simply farther down a long heading. If the beginning doesn’t grab, the reader won’t slow down to read.

  • Cheryl Antier

    Hi Ray,

    Jeff – I think you make a good point about headline length – especially when it comes to Internet Marketing sales copy – we’ve all seen some of the most hype-y ads have the longest headlines…I tend to scroll down past some of those too, because it’s become the “norm” in this market.

    But in other markets, where they don’t constantly get hit with the try this product and it will make you rich overnight while you take your laptop to the beach kind of headlines, they can be surprisingly effective – if, as Ray says, the headlines grab their attention in the first place.

    And Ray – I wanted to add a #6 deadly mistake if I could. What about writing copy that is just not specific enough? I get the best results with copy that gives specifics about what the product or service can do for the reader…I’m talking about specific results – such as what we write in case studies. The results that other people have gotten. Lost 21 pounds in 30 days, increased the number of leads by 210%, that kind of thing. Of course you don’t want to go overboard and turn it into a math paper – but giving people an idea of what kind of results other people got give readers the opportunity to see thesmselves achieving the same thing. What do you think?

  • Yes, I’ve done all 5 of these. I’ve luckily learned to use shorter sentences and more bullet points. It allows for easier and faster reading time for my readers.