I just finished a fairly crazy amount of travel, making appearances at conferences, being a speaker at most of them. One common theme I hear from people when I’m on the road is, “Ray, I'm just no good at copywriting. How do I get better at it?”
Pleasant surprise: the first step to getting better at writing copy is to stop being bad at it. And how do you do that? Here's how…
The 7 Biggest Beginner’s Copywriting Blunders & How To Fix Them Fast
- Failure to understand your reader. This is probably the most common mistake I encounter. You must know who your reader really is. What is their life like? What do they think about all day long? What language do your readers use to describe their problems, specifically the problem you’re addressing in your copy? And when I say “language”, I don’t mean Spanish, English, etc. I mean what words do they use to describe their problems? How do they talk about that? Most importantly, what are their fears, frustrations, and anxieties? Know the answers – and write these words and phrases into your copy.
- Failure to understand your objective. As ridiculous as it sounds, copywriters often are not clear on what the objective of their copy actually is. You must know the answer to this question: what is my Most Wanted Response? What is the one thing I want my reader to do as a consequence of reading this copy? Let the clear definition of your Most Wanted Response inform every sentence you write.
- Big words. If you use a lot of big words, you may impress your friends (especially your writer friends), but you will not impress your readers. At best, you will confuse them. At worst, you will drive them away. Eschew obfuscation. (Use small words.)
- Long sentences. The attention span of today’s reader is very short. You must make your writing “skimmable, scannable, and scrollable”. Short sentences get read. Long sentences do not. Write short sentences.
- Long paragraphs. Everything I just said about sentences applies to paragraphs. One additional reason to write short paragraphs… most people are not happy when they see a large block of text on the page. They skip it. Write short paragraphs.
- Writing in the passive voice. This is one of the more difficult concepts to get across. But once you understand it, your writing will improve. In an “active” sentence, the subject is doing the action. For example, “Bob likes ice cream.” Bob is the subject of the sentence, and he is the one doing the action-he likes ice cream, which is the object of the sentence.
In a passive sentence, the object actually becomes the subject. For example, using our previous sentence, we can make it passive by writing it this way: “Ice cream is liked by Bob.” The reason this sentence feels weaker, and even a little weird, is because “ice cream” is now the subject, but “ice cream” isn’t doing anything (except receiving Bob’s adoration).
- Not asking for the “sale”. Often, I run across well-written copy that is missing only one important part: the “call to action”. Even if you’re not selling a product or service, your presumably are trying to change a belief, or encourage someone, or to teach them. In other words, you are trying to get them to do something. The best, fastest, and easiest way to do that is: ask. Ask them to do exactly what you want them to do. Even better, tell them what to do. You don't have to be rude, but you should be direct and clear. For example, the next section of this article is my own “call to action”…
What to Do Now
I encourage you to try this: take a bit of your existing writing, and use this article as a checklist. If you find any of these 7 blunders in your copy, remove them. Fix them. I think you will find your copy is significantly improved.
Question for you: what “editing hacks” have you discovered that improve your writing? Share your tips in the comments section below.