common copywriting mistakes

There’s a lot of bunk information out there about copywriting. The barrier to entry for being an “expert copywriter” is pretty low and some of those crossing that barrier are simply wrong when they give advice.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some great copywriters out there. What’s funny though is that most of us here at MarketingExperiments wouldn’t claim to be one of them (even the great Daniel Burstein).

But what we lack in copywriting prowess, we gain in mountains of research on copy that works and doesn’t work. We’ll be sharing a bit of that research with you on Wednesday in ourcopywriting Web clinic (educational funding provided by HubSpot.) if you’d like to learn more. But, throughout that research, we’ve picked up on a few commonalities in the mistakes copywriters make.

With the help of Austin McCraw’s unused slides from the Optimization Summit, I went ahead and took some of those commonalities and compiled them into a list of common mistakes marketers make when they’re writing copy.

After every mistake, there’s an example of how we fixed it and got dramatic lifts in each case. No bunk copywriting advice included. Just data.

Mistake #1: Headlines with no value

It seems like anytime someone writes about headlines, they use this quote from David Ogilvy:

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

Of course, clichés get to be clichés because they’re true. When it comes to grabbing your reader’s attention, nothing works better than a solid value-based headline. Your headline should offer the reader a reason to read that first paragraph in your body copy.

“Action words” or “power verbs” get touted a lot by copywriters the world over as the ultimate tool for getting prospects to buy. But our research suggests that focusing on the action that you want your visitors to take hurts conversion.

It’s not about the action itself, it’s about the value they’re going to get as a result of taking that action. Getting that right in your CTA can give you dramatic lifts with very little effort.


If you are, or ever have been married, you know exactly how this hurts conversion. Assuming conversion means getting to sleep in your bed rather than the couch, saying too much can take you from a 99.9% to somewhere around a .01% conversion rate.

The same is true for your copy. Depending on where your reader is in their thought process, you could be saying way too much when all they want to do is take action. That’s exactly what we found was the case in this experiment…

Mistake #4: Saying too little

If you thought you were safe on that last one, try this one on for size. Again, depending on where the reader is in their thought process, saying too little is just as bad as saying too much. Your reader needs exactly the right amount of copy to get them to make the decision on the page.

Sometimes that takes 30 pages of long copy, sometimes it takes a few words. In the following experiment, we found that we weren’t giving the visitor enough information to make a decision. Because they were in a different place in the thought process, they needed longer copy.

Mistake #5: Misplacing your tone

Your audience expects to be spoken to in a certain way. You don’t usually speak to an adult like they’re a toddler and vice versa. A lot of times, copywriters miss the mark a little in their tone. It might not be as dramatic as speaking in baby-talk to paying customers, but it could mean rubbing them the wrong way, even a little with not just what you say, but how you say it.

Mistake #6:  Visual intimidation

An unclear eye-path in your copy that doesn’t match the thought sequence in your reader almost always hurts conversion. Heavy text without any highlighting, bullets, or bold text to pull the eye through the page is a great example of making this mistake. It also happens with the ever-popular design tactic: evenly weighted columns.

Mistake #7: Disconnected images

Good copywriters know that images are as much a part of the copywriting process as anything else. Images can support the overall value of the action you want your visitors to take on the page, but they can also cause confusion.

When a reader sees an image that makes her think, it forces her to use extra effort in understanding your offer. That’s the last thing you want your reader doing on a landing page.

Bonus Mistake: Not testing your copy

The biggest mistake you can make in your copy is not testing. You can read all the blog posts you want on the 7 mistakes to avoid, or strategies to consider, or phrases that sell, but until you’ve tested it for your own audience, you’ll never know for sure how your copy is actually doing.


So with that in mind, I’m going to run a little unscientific test on the copy in this blog post. When I sent this post to my editor, Daniel, I gave him an alternate opening. I expected him to pick one for me to publish, but instead he suggested I test it.

However, since we don’t yet know of a way to A/B test a blog post in a scientifically valid way, we’d like you to vote in the comments about which is the better writing. Again, this isn’t very scientific, but it will help to settle a little bet.

Here’s the alternate beginning:

[Every once in a while, Austin McCraw, Daniel Burstein and I disagree about what gets posted on this blog. Daniel and I tend to be very giving. We always try to over-deliver when we write our posts. Austin, on the other hand, likes to hold back his best content for our Web clinics.

Ever championing your cause, dear blog reader, Daniel and I decided to steal some of Austin’s great content on copywriting and post it here without asking! We’re hoping that asking for forgiveness is better than asking permission in this case. 

So without further ado, here are 7 common mistakes most copywriters make when writing copy for their campaigns. After each mistake, there’s an example from our research detailing how we turned those mistakes into sizable lifts in conversion:]

Now, if you would, please vote for the open

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