March 5, 2010
No system is perfect. There are always flaws and breakdowns that will occur, for any number of reasons. This holds true in the world of online marketing and especially in the realm of the most common web practice, copywriting.
Now we are not talking about the obvious mistakes here. Errors of grammar, syntax, spelling or revision are fairly obvious and can be averted with a simple double-check by running your article past a colleague for critique. This article addresses broader errors of philosophy or doctrine that can cripple an otherwise technically strong piece of copywriting.
Five Copywriting Mistakes You CAN Avoid
Mistake #1 – Missing your target audience
One of the most important points of any piece of writing is to address your intended audience. This is true for absolutely every type of writing out there, without exception. Consider for example that you’re a writer specializing in culinary writing. You could submit the most well-written, elegant article on coconut cream pies ever composed. You still would not get very far with this article if you tried to sell it to someone with a coconut allergy.
As is often the case, understanding your audience happens before and after you do the actual writing, making it a ‘meta’ principle (outside the actual task itself, but still related). Avoiding this mistake takes effort. Get in the habit of asking specific questions of your clients, and researching related material on their sites if available. Information will help you avoid targeting a piece to the wrong audience.
Mistake #2 – Going on and on and on and on…
The web is a fast-paced environment. Technology has increased the speed at which machines can present information, and as a result people expect to be able to process that information faster. With so much out there available so quickly, why would anyone linger on an article that takes too long to get to the point?
Write concisely, focusing on your topic and keeping the content to a targeted word count. Ensure that each section is no longer than necessary, to prevent boredom and disinterest.
Again, research is your greatest ally in this case. Knowing your audience helps, as does being very familiar with your subject. Examine your sentences and see where you can cut down words without destroying meaning.
Mistake #3 – Missing the call to action
A great deal of copywriting is done to promote products and services of every stripe. Similarly, a great deal of copywriting doesn’t do much beyond presenting the basic information. Good copywriting should include a tangible call to action. Don’t just offer the user more information, invite them to ‘Learn more about it here.’
Wishy-washy language is the weakness in this case. Most people confuse simple statements such as ‘You can learn more’ with powerful calls like ‘Learn more.’ The first is just informative. All right, we can learn more, why should we? ‘Learn more and take control’ is an imperative that gets people responding.
Mistake #4 – Getting fancified and highfalutin
Contrary to what some people may think, there IS a place for jargon and technical terminology. That place exists within a common frame of understanding. When two engineers trade talk about ohms, resistance, current and capacity, these terms are intended to speed up understanding and improve their overall efficiency.
For example you could refer to ‘the practice of using keywords, precise writing, and meta tags to improve search engine results for websites.’ This is cumbersome, so among those who understand your reference, instead you can use the term Search Engine Optimization, or the acronym SEO.
The problem with jargon is that it is not universal. Mention Newtons to the average person, and you’re talking about a snack cake. Mention them to a physicist, and you’re discussing concepts of universal gravitation. The term is valuable to the latter, irrelevant to the former. The danger in copywriting is the use of jargon in inappropriate contexts. In a generalized piece, jargon does not make you look clever, but rather arrogant or showy.
Restrict your use of jargon to appropriate times. If you have a reasonable basis to believe others can understand it, go for it. If you find yourself thinking ‘everyone SHOULD know what I mean,’ stop and ask for advice.
Mistake #5 – Skipping the Headline
Attention spans are reducing even as our ability to process information increases. People want quick, catchy information and they want it now. Too late, they’ve moved on. A headline is a key point in catching someone’s attention, and all too often is neglected or slapped on without consideration.
A good headline should convey just enough information to let them know what the article is about, yet be vague enough to generate their interest in reading further. Humorous headlines can be very effective, as can dramatic or ironic statements. Practice with headlines, and make them an essential part of your writing, rather than an accessory.
Enzo F. Cesario is a Copywriter and co-founder of Brandsplat. Brandcasting uses informative content and state-of-the-art internet distribution and optimization to build links and drive the right kind of traffic to your website. Go to http://www.Brandsplat.com/ or visit our blog at: http://www.brandsplatblog.com/