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Anyone can be a writer these days. All you need is a computer with an internet connection and a tenner to spend on a domain name.
The problem is: anyone can be a writer these days.
But digital writing requires a unique approach that caters for the way people read online, i.e. through scanning the page for information that is relevant to them.
In this post I’m going to cover 10 common online copywriting mistakes I come across regularly when reading content.
1. Bad headlines
Headlines are hard. It can take a relatively long time to come up with what is essentially just a few words, but it is important to get your headline right.
It is the first thing people will see, and makes the difference between them clicking to read more or scrolling on by.
Your headline should be eye-catching, not overly long, and descriptive enough that people will know what to expect from the post without seeing any of the content.
This latter point is vital because the headline will often appear in isolation on social media or within an email newsletter, etc.
2. No subheadings
This is a sin punishable by the worst kind of tutting and head-shaking, not to mention a speedy click back to Google.
If you don’t include multiple subheadings you make it very difficult for readers to scan through your content and pick out the information that is relevant to them.
Each subheading should be descriptive enough to stand on its own, giving the reader a very clear idea of what is included in that section.
3. The ‘wall of text’
Arguably the most offensive of all online copywriting faux pas.
Upon being faced with an enormous block of uninterrupted text on a web page, most people will swiftly search for an escape route. Why? Because it is a violent sin against the eyes.
Break your copy up into short paragraphs, two or three sentences each. This creates plenty of white space and makes your writing much easier to read.
It also means you can focus on one key point or idea per paragraph, which makes it much easier for somebody to scan your post and quickly find the information they’re looking for.
4. Overly complex language
If you can’t explain something in simple terms then it’s likely you don’t fully understand it yourself.
Use simple language and avoid needlessly obscure words or phrases. You’re not trying to win the Booker Prize here, you just want to deliver information to people as quickly and effectively as possible.
5. Not putting the best bits first
The way people consume online content is different to how they would read a newspaper or novel.
People are generally searching for the answer to a question. They’ve likely found your article via a search engine and they want to find the relevant information as quickly and easily as possible.
The main point of your article should feature in the first two or three paragraphs.
You can then expand throughout the rest of the article, but people should be able to get the general gist of what you’re saying in those initial paragraphs.
6. Overuse of buzzwords
Nothing turns copy ugly faster than the presence of meaningless words, and marketers are arguably the worst offenders.
We actually have a list of banned words and phrases on the Econsultancy blog, including ‘leverage’, ‘best in class’, and the ever-cringe-inducing ‘learnings’.
For any buzzword you can think of there is a perfectly normal and infinitely less stupid alternative. Use it.
7. Not spelling out acronyms
You may know what CTR, CRM and UTO mean, but don’t assume your readers will, particularly if they’re researching a topic for the first time.
Spell the acronym out the first time you mention it, like this: Search engine results page (SERP).
Then use the acronym for the rest of the post.
8. Not proof reading
Online publishing is wonderful in the fact that things can be edited after they’ve gone live, but this comfort blanket has a tendency to induce a degree of laziness in writers.
Make sure you leave enough time after writing an article to go through and proof read thoroughly.
People will spot mistakes. It doesn’t reflect well on your brand and could detract from any genuinely good points you’ve made.
9. Poor formatting
I’ve covered various elements of formatting under a number of the subheadings here, but let’s reiterate some key points:
- Use lots of subheadings.
- Create plenty of white space through short paragraphs.
- Use bullet points like I’m doing now.
- Include imagery to put points into context and make the content more visually pleasing.
- Use internal links, but not too many.
10. The comma splice
This is perhaps more of a personal gripe than anything, but I often see people using commas where they shouldn’t be.
Online copywriting is complicated, there are lots of things to remember and many rules to bear in mind. = WRONG
Online copywriting is complicated. There are lots of things to remember and many rules to bear in mind. = BETTER
It seems like a small thing, but when a writer uses a comma incorrectly in this way it can be very jarring for the reader and it instantly makes the writing seem less professional.