Dissecting Bad Copy: 5 Types of Copy that Kill Conversion and Sales

You spent a day writing copy for your website, sales letter, or landing page. You scrutinized everything from the headline, down to every single word on that page.

But after it went live… visitors are bouncing. No one’s clicking the links! They’re ignoring the strategically placed CTAs (call to action) in your copy. You didn’t get the sales you assumed, or the leads you were waiting for.

What happened?

You’re confused and disappointed. What just happened?

Is it possible that your copywriting is that bad?

Fancy Words and Clever Lines aren’t Enough

Terrible copy destroys a website’s authority and potential for profit. No matter how catchy it sounds to you, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Either you tweak it, or trash the whole thing and start over.

But before that, you need to know what went wrong in the first place. So here’s a list of common copywriting mistakes and how to improve them.

  1. Too many Adjectives and Adverbs
Bad Copy - Too Many Adjectives
(From Exclusiveniches.com)

“Get Ready To Discover Killer Copywriting Secrets To Supercharge Your Marketing And Multiply Your Profits In a Flash, Guaranteed”

That’s one lengthy headline packed with two claims, one guarantee, two descriptive phrases, and one superlative adjective.  And that’s just the main headline. Don’t even get me started on the introduction and subheads.

There’s nothing wrong with adjectives and adverbs per se. They help readers imagine what you’re trying to say. But that’s only true for some descriptors. Some paint pictures, others are just meaningless, feel-good words.

Consider the phrase “Great Copywriting will Multiply Your Profits,” what does ‘great’ mean in that sentence, exactly? With the advent of online marketing and online businesses, words like great, breakthrough, amazing, innovative, supercharge, unique, have lost their meaning.

You know what I’m talking about, right? A few years ago, people were intrigued when they read about an ‘innovative” product. Now? All you get is an eye-roll coupled with an “I’ve seen that before” expression.

Copywriting Solution:

  • If the adjective doesn’t change or improve the meaning of a sentence, cut it.
  • Choose sensory adjectives. For instance, ‘foul’ and ‘stinky’ convey a clearer meaning than ‘bad’ or ‘terrible.’
  • Omit ‘very’ and other superlatives, especially if it’s used in conjunction with another adjective already in its superlative (highest or lowest) form. For instance, “one of a kind unique dress” is redundant. It’s either unique or one of a kind, not both.
  • Kill the “ly” family whenever possible (adorably, helpfully, convincingly, amazingly)
  • Every time you’re tempted to write empty descriptors like ‘high quality’ or ‘top notch,’ replace it with relevant descriptors for your product or industry. For example, instead of “high quality vaults,” use “burglar proof vaults” or “military grade vaults.”

Below is an example of adjective usage done well from Green and Black’s Organic. Note their use of sensory adjectives like ‘zesty’ and ‘tang’.

Writing for the Web Adjectives That Work
(From Green and Black’s Organic)
  1. Me, Me, Me Web Copy
Bad Website Writing Company Centric Copy
(From Canadian Retail Solutions)

The headline “POS Software Systems for Canadian Retailers” only identifies their target market, not much else. The follow up “Our Solutions. Your Success.” is too vague. After that, the first bullet point is wasted on an empty brag, “Industry Leading POS technology.” 

Here’s another example. When you go to Continuumfinancial.net, you’re immediately directed to a landing page that reads more like about us page copy. Yes, they want you to get in touch with them (see sidebar), but the copy doesn’t give you enough reason to.

Bad Website Copy Company Centric

 

 

I know you’re passionate about your cause, team, and the exciting things happening in your business. But that doesn’t mean other people are.

When someone visits your website or reads your sales letter, they’re not interested in you specifically. They care about what you can do for them.  Can you help them lose weight, earn more money, or find their soul mate?

Can you help solve their annoying problems? Can you fulfill their deepest desires? That’s what they want to know.

Copywriting Solution:

Leave off the company history ‘til you explain what’s in it for them, and why they should choose you in the first place. Keep the ‘about me’ part short.

Build credibility instead through testimonials, certificates, awards or press mentions. At least those things don’t read like empty brags.

  1. Lame Call to Action (CTA)
Writing For The Web Bad CTA
(From Rareloop)

Really, “Get to know us”? Now why would I want to do that? They haven’t given me enough reason to find out more.

The words ‘expert,’ ‘bespoke,’ and ‘passionate’ didn’t convey their message. These are all fluffy adjectives that don’t convey any value or meaning to the reader. What kind of apps do they make? Do they make ecommerce sites, membership sites, or author websites?

Unfortunately, the CTA in many web and sales copy are weak. It’s as if the copywriter got tired of writing and went with the first CTA that came to mind.

Solution:

In copywriting, the triggers are your CTAs, while structure is the hierarchy, in case you have more than one CTA. In the example above, the first CTA is “Get to know us” followed by a subtle ‘call us’ (implied through their phone number) and ‘email us.’

Don’t assume people will do what you want them to after reading the copy. No, our brains are programmed to look for structure and prompts. So after writing the copy, your next job is to select which CTA to prioritize then tie it to the correct part of the copy. Your priority CTA depends on your goal, whether that’s to get a lead, an email subscriber, a purchase or even  simply to view your services page.

Adding a subhead or even just a few extra words to the CTA boosts its conversion power:

  • “Order now and get free 2-day shipping”
  • “Get a free quote in 24-hours”
  • “Learn how Six-Figure Copywriters Get Clients”
  • “60-day Money-Back Guarantee, No Questions Asked”
  • “The Pre-launch 30% Discount Expires in 72 Hours”
  1. “Ummm… What?” Copy (Ambiguous Copy Posing More Questions than Answers)
Bad Website Text Vague Scammy
(From Ultimate Capture Pages)

You can’t see it right now but I’m scratching my head trying to understand the webpage shown above.  Not to be picky, but everything in this page is confusing:

  • What ‘massive new market’ are they referring to?
  • What do they mean by ‘no end in sight’?
  • Does ‘entertainment market’ refer to funny cat videos, audio books, podcasts, or something else entirely?
  • How can it save me money?
  • What exactly are they showing me in the ‘tour’? Is this software, membership site, or a buy & sell marketplace?

Sometimes, you read something ‘til the end and still don’t know what in the world is happening. This kind of copywriting is easy to spot because they all have one thing in common — they’re vague, confusing and a tad scammy looking.

Copywriting Solution:

Have someone unfamiliar with your business read the copy. If something isn’t clear to them, revise it. If it’s still ambiguous after the revision, explain it to someone else and have them repeat it back to you in their own words. Use their version as inspiration for revising that tricky part.

  1. Asking for Money Too Soon
Bad Copy Purchase Too Soon Welcome Mat
(From Best Bonus)

Yes, the screenshot above is a welcome mat already presenting a ‘limited time offer!’ The giddy ‘buy me now’ excitement in this copy is too strong for my taste.

Granted, the website where I found this copy compiles different courses, tools, software, and other offers for web marketers, so it’s possible they just compiled the marketing copy from the product’s creator.

Immediately after the welcome mat, there’s a short description comprised of a credibility statement (“4+ years and 14k marketers worth of feedback”) and an explanation of the offer (“lifetime access’ plus 15% off”), then it’s off to the payment options.

Bad Copy Purchase Too Soon Payment Options

Here’s another example from a different website. After a 3-sentence paragraph with nothing but claims and a video, the first CTA you’ll see is to call them.

Bad Copy Purchase Too Soon CTA Immediately

Immediately after that, you’ll see the generic ‘Greetings’ then it’s off to ‘you know you want this’ greed busting copy, and another CTA. So far, they’ve asked me to call and ‘Get Started’ but I’m still not sure who they are and how their product works. And I watched the video!

Bad Copy Purchase Too Soon 1 CTA After Another

Copywriting Solution:

Clearly, a lot of people have heard of this plugin. But because of the 40K+ plugins in WordPress, I think it’s dangerous to assume that everyone already knows what this plugin does too early in the copy.

Yes, there’s a demo video but it’s below the payment options. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Better yet, shouldn’t the payment option be further down the copy, after the guarantees and testimonials? Without testing, perhaps we will never know but starting with some trust building is a good place to begin.

Review Your Website and Sales Copy Now 

Editing and critiquing your own work is hard. It’s hard to accept that the words you struggled to write need to be revised, I know.  But revisions and split tests are a crucial part of writing effective copy.  It gets easier with more practice though.

Now it’s your turn. Check your landing page or one of your sales letters for any of these copywriting blunders.

 

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