9 examples of bad copywriting

Nick Harland
March 2023

Here are 9 examples of bad copywriting, together with a little explanation of why it's so bad and how you can avoid it.

Look. We don’t like calling out bad copywriting, because it’s not really our thing.

BUT we also realise that it can sometimes be useful to see the bad stuff, so you know not to do it. With that in mind, here are 9 examples of bad copywriting, together with a little explanation of why it's so bad and how you can avoid it.

We promise to be more positive next time.

1. Spelling and grammar errors

Do we really have to explain why this constitutes bad copywriting? Well, we will anyway. 

Spelling and grammar errors aren’t just a bad look - they’re bad for business too. It doesn’t matter if you have an amazing new product or incredible special offer - people will turn away from your brand if they notice these errors in your copywriting.

How to avoid it: Try using one of the many spellcheckers, writing assistants and copy bots out there (e.g. Grammarly, Hemingway App, WordCounter). Nowadays, there really are no excuses for spelling and grammar errors. So proofread, edit and proofread again!

2. Using jargon

If you work within a certain industry, it can sometimes be difficult to shake off the jargon that comes with it. That’s why it’s sometimes better to get some external help when it comes to copywriting, because they’re not as wrapped up in that world as you are.

Either way, the whole point of copywriting is to get your business in front of more eyeballs. And you’re never going to do that if your copy is packed with industry jargon.

How to avoid it: Try running your copy past a friend or family member first. If they don’t understand any terms, substitute or simplify them.

3. Focusing on features, not benefits

Too many copywriters only want to talk about themselves or their company. But they forget that they should be speaking directly to the reader. So don’t tell your customers that your laptop has 4000 khz processing power and 25GB internal storage.

How to avoid it: Instead, tell the reader that their new laptop can run three applications at the same time, or has space for 100 films. Focus on the benefits of the product for the customer.

This old Apple iPod ad is a perfect example of writing about benefits, not features.

4. Writing in clichés

“The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we work”
“AI technology is here to stay”

No, no, no. Stop writing the same clichés that everyone else trots out. It’s an absolutely surefire way to get your copy forgotten about instantly.

How to avoid it: Read your competitor’s content. Do they use the same kinds of phrases as you? If so, substitute yours for something more unique.

5. A confusing layout

Whichever form of copy you’re writing, the reader has to be able to access the information they’re looking for as easily as possible. And a confusing layout prevents that from happening. 

How to avoid it: Use H2s and H3s within your copy. Make sure they’re understandable on their own, and that the reader will know what comes underneath them. Place the key information of a piece of content in the most visible places: at the start of paragraphs, in subheadings, in bullet-pointed lists.

6. Poorly-researched copy

We recently examined the role of ChatGPT in copywriting, and one of our main takeaways was how ChatGPT doesn’t actually reference anything it says - which raises the very real threat of fake news and unverified claims. To stay one step ahead of ChatGPT, you’ve got to do your research.

How to avoid it: Back up what you’re saying with reputable sources. Don’t make big claims without backing them up. For example, don’t write something like ‘The copywriting industry is growing faster than ever before’ without linking to a study or piece of research which confirms it.

7. Being negative

We said it upfront - we don’t like being negative in our copywriting, and nor should you. Good copywriting should grab the attention of the reader and stir their interest. You’re much more likely to do that through positive copywriting.

For example, let’s say you’re writing copy for a car insurance company. Instead of writing:

  • Stop wasting money on your car insurance.

You could instead say:

  • Start saving money on your car insurance.

Here, we just turned the negative (don’t waste) into the positive (start saving). It means the same thing, but we communicated it in a positive way.

How to avoid it: State the problems your reader may be facing, but focus more on solutions. Don’t write paragraph after paragraph about how terrible your competitors are. Explain why you’re the better solution.

8. Being vague or unsure of yourself

Bad copywriting is being vague or unsure of yourself. Don’t write in generalities, and always be specific. Not only does it add more credibility to your writing, but it can also let the reader know exactly what to expect.

How to avoid it: Let’s say you’re writing a call-to-action button. Instead of using the words ‘Get Offer’, write ‘Get 10% Off.’ Instead of ‘Read More’, use ‘Read Our Free eBook.’ Be specific about what the user will get when they click the button.

9. Writing long chunks of text

There have been plenty of studies carried out which suggest that internet users tend to scan, not read, online content. They pick out headings, subheadings and bullet points to get the key information as quickly as possible - and rarely read an entire block of text. So you’ve got to cater to that.

How to avoid it: Cut your paragraphs down to 3-4 lines max. Instead of writing out lists within your paragraphs, use bullet points instead. 

10. Only writing 9 examples instead of 10

Haha! Just joking. Nine is always better than 10, as everybody knows.

Nick Harland