11 common copywriting mistakes (and how to fix them)

Nick Harland
October 2022

There are at least 12 common copywriting mistakes out there, but we've ruthlessly cut our list to 11. Are you making any of these errors? WELL? ARE YOU?

1. Writing in jargon.

The point of copywriting is to reach more people and win more business. So when you’re hoping to get your message seen by more people, don’t scare them away with jargon that only your industry understands. 

Spell out acronyms the first time you use them. If you need to use a piece of jargon, explain it in full. If you’re unsure, get someone from outside of your industry to check through it to see they understand all of the terms you've used.

2. Assuming that your audience is going to read every word.

The Nielsen Norman Group have published three major studies on how people read online spaced 13 years apart, and each one arrived at the same conclusion: people primarily scan, rather than read

That means when it comes to copywriting, you need to place key information front and centre. You need to use logical headings and subheadings. You need to avoid lengthy paragraphs and lengthy words. Your audience is not going to read every word, so make sure the words they do read are the most important ones.

3. Not writing for your audience.

You’ve got to adapt your tone of voice to the audience, rather than expecting the audience to adapt to your tone of voice. 

If your archetypal reader is a 24-year old female fashion designer, write in a way that appeals to them. If your archetypal reader is a 63-year old male accountant, you’ll probably have to write your copy in a slightly different tone of voice.

4. Padding out content to meet imaginary word counts.

The correct number of words for any piece of copy is the number of words it takes to make your point.

That applies to any medium you’re writing for - emails, landing pages, websites, blogs. Don’t think you need to hit 1,000 words, so don’t keep fluffing up your content with pointless words to hit that magic number. All that does is make your writing more difficult to engage with.

5. Making spelling and grammar errors

An obvious point to make, but it needs making nonetheless. It’s kind of incredible how many pieces of published copy have really simple, really basic spelling and grammar errors within them. There is literally no excuse for this. 

Use Google Docs. Use Microsoft Word. Use Grammarly. Whatever you use, just cut out the errors. It looks unprofessional and loses you a tonne of credibility in the eyes of the reader.

6. Sounding like everyone else.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work.
SEO is a vital part of any marketing strategy.
Sales and marketing must work in tandem to drive the organisational goals of any corporation.

No. No. No. These are all examples of bland, generic sentences that could’ve been written by anyone. To stand out, you’ve got to look and sound different. Switch up your tone of voice. Use phrases that stick in people’s heads. Fucking swear, if you have to. Just make sure it’s different from everyone else, or you’ll never get heard.

7. Neglecting the headline.

More people will read your headline than any other part of your copy - so why would you neglect it? 

You need a headline that hooks people in, gets their attention and persuades them to read on. So don’t neglect it. Take the time to really craft a headline that does all of these things, else nobody will ever read the rest of your lovingly-crafted 2,000 word article. Here are some useful headline writing formulas.

8. Neglecting the introduction.

The introduction is second-most read part of your copy after your headline. So don’t simply repeat what you’ve included in the headline - use the intro to generate intrigue, catch people’s attention and persuade them to read on. Let them know what to expect in your copy, and don't disappoint them.

9. Failing to understand SEO.

What SEO is not: making sure you include your target keyword in at least 4% of your copy. Writing to minimum word counts that don’t exist. Copying and rehashing other people’s content.

What SEO actually is: writing informative content that people read and engage with. Adding value for the reader. Answering your reader’s questions. Improving on your competitor's content.

10. Idiot-ifying your writing.

Dumbed-down writing is never going to stand out from the crowd.

Simplifying your writing doesn’t mean dumbing down your writing. You don’t need to constantly write in one sentence paragraphs, or never use words of more than six characters, or never introduce any challenging concepts whatsoever. It’s possible to write simply and concisely without writing like a 10 year old. If you need to use a complex structure or a big word, then use it. As long as your writing is clear enough for people to read and understand, you don’t have to simplify it to death.

11. Lacking credibility.

You’ve got to demonstrate to the reader that you know what you’re talking about. You’ve also got to show that any points you make are backed up, either by your own expertise or by relevant studies/surveys/research.

For example, don’t just say ‘people have a shorter attention span than ever before’ (P.S.: they don’t). Link to a study which arrived at that conclusion. Include an example of your own professional experience which suggests the same thing. If you just keep throwing out huge theories and statements with nothing to back them up, your reader won’t take you seriously.

Nick Harland