Tag Archives: Copywriting

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Common copy mistakes that kill readability

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Learning to spot a few common mistakes in your copy can help it to become much more effective at engaging your target market and creating a response.

People need to be able to read your copy before they can be inspired, educated, or converted. Copy that isn’t easily digestible for the eyes and brain is a complete waste of space. It’s like buying an expensive sports car without any wheels. All your copy will do is sit on the metaphorical driveway.

Is your copy putting readers off? Here are some of the most common mistakes which kill readability.

You haven’t finished making your point

This is probably the most common error I see on my trawls through the internet. Web copy can sometimes read like the ramblings of an overexcited child:

When you come to us you can expect to get a great level of service no matter what in our showroom we have a range of different products with free delivery… take a rest in our café.

Make sure you start with a premise and end with a conclusion. Reading a sentence with too many points in it is like trying to watch three tennis matches simultaneously. Your target market will get confused, frustrated, and motivated to go somewhere else.

You’ve crammed too much into one sentence

This is often the cause of the point above. While you should aim to get a good mix of sentence lengths in your copy, as a general rule you want to keep them short. You should think very hard if a single sentence runs to more than 25 words:

Usually the problem is simply that you are including too much information, which can be solved (like in this sentence – yes, I’ve done this one deliberately to prove my point) by separating out individual points, of which there are probably several, into their own sentences.

Does one of your sentences take up a whole paragraph? If so, you probably need some full stops in there.

You’ve used too many exclamation marks

On most occasions one exclamation mark counts as too many. Like fake tan or DFS sales they are overused.

An exclamation mark – as the name suggests – is used to mark an exclamation. They are for rare occasions when you say something that merits emphasis. We don’t exclaim everything, do we? People that do tend to get avoided at networking events.

I’m wearing socks! Our showroom is in Truro! Our customers are from all kinds of industries! I sound like a crazy person!

Exclamation marks make a lot of people cringe. Some content agencies even ban their writers from using them, and with good reason. They’ve become so overused that it is hard to include them in your copy. If you really can’t help yourself, try Time’s guide to exclamation mark alternatives (although tread lightly, and ignore #1).

You didn’t read it back aloud

Close up microphone at seminar room.

Once you’ve finished your post, give it a few minutes (at least), a few hours (preferably), or a few days (ideally) to allow you to completely forget it. If you read it back straight away you won’t be able to be as objective. When you do read it back, read it out loud.

Our brains can do amazing things. They can also do stupid ones, such as automatically correcting information from your eyes when it thinks it’s wrong. Which is why you might read ‘He ate donut the’, yet process it as ‘He ate the donut’ without realising the error.

Reading aloud means the information has to go through more checkpoints – from eyes to brain to speech to ears to brain. I think this is why you have more chance of catching those mistakes. It also helps you to gauge the flow of the piece. If you find yourself having an asthma attack, you probably need shorter sentences. Or at least some more commas in there.

You’ve used the passive voice

This one is a little tricky. I don’t go in for explaining the components of a sentence with fancy terms, or reciting grammar rules to people like a policeman reading a suspect the Miranda rights. Passive voice is when the sentence is built around the wrong element. For instance:

You read the book – active voice.

The book was read by you – passive voice.

You can tell this isn’t a good way to express this information without getting bogged down in grammar rules. Nevertheless, Your Dictionary has a ton of useful examples.

Passive voice kills readability. It turns your copy into a sluggish ramble, rather than the irresistible ‘slippery slide’ described by copywriting legend Joe Sugarman. Or, to put it passively: A sluggish ramble, rather than a slippery slide, is what your copy becomes.

How am I meant to know if I’m writing in the passive voice?’ I don’t hear you ask. Simply follow these instructions to enable readability statistics in Microsoft Word. From now on when you run a spellcheck (after correcting all the spelling and grammar mistakes that are highlighted) you’ll see a box that tells you the number of passive sentences in the document.

Better copy, with a pinch of salt

These issues all make it a chore to read your web copy, brochures, or blog posts. You won’t need to worry about whether or not your copy is boring – people won’t get far enough to find out.

It is true that there are exceptions to these rules, so don’t adhere to them verbatim. For instance, there are occasions where passive voice helps you present information in a more logical way. Use these tips as guidelines, and ultimately do whatever feels right.

It’s your responsibility to ensure that everything you write is as slick as an oil spill on a frozen book of Oscar Wilde quotes. If you catch yourself making these mistakes, a little editing can go a long way towards creating copy that doesn’t fall at the first hurdle: getting read.


 

Let’s all get better results from our marketing. Share this post to help your friends and followers write better copy. Don’t forget to comment and tell me which copy mistakes put you off.


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Volkswagen’s Adverts Have a Message for Us All

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I particularly like the current campaign of Volkswagen television commercials. They feature a range of ordinary people hunting for a bargain, and finding it in a number of inadvisable situations. From budget shark diving to discount parachutes, special offer climbing ropes and cut-price laser eye surgery, the adverts perfectly sum up an old adage which many of us seem to have lost focus on since the recession caused a return to penny scraping attitudes.

You get what you pay for

As someone working in marketing I can attest to the truth behind this statement. Marketing is all about investment: a small investment will yield a small return. It’s not an area you can cut corners in, yet many companies still try.

Over the past few years I’ve encountered many people trying to make money without spending any. I’ve seen businesses wanting thousands of words worth of content per month, yet expecting to pay rates that equate to lower than the minimum wage to the writer unlucky enough to get saddled with the task. I’ve had people suck air in through their teeth at the idea of spending hundreds of pounds on website copy, forgetting the fact that it can be one of the major differences between a bounce and a conversion.

Sometimes it is understandable that people are a little wary with their cash. The recession has caused us all to look for better bargains. Is one of the reasons behind the approach Volkswagen have taken with these new commercials. We do tend to think mostly about price. But there is something far more important that we are overlooking, to our own detriment: value.

What is it worth to you?

The most uncomfortable thing to see is when you come across a company whose product or service price is incredibly high trying to get away with paying minimum rates for copy, design, and marketing. Perhaps it is because – and this applies much more to copy than the other two – they often seen as extras. Copy is the proverbial cherry on the cake, or the engraved message on a new watch. It’s not obligatory or important, it just adds a nice touch.

This is not the case, and when copy is considered as part of the cost of sale you can see how easily it gets paid for by the additional revenue it generates. Copy, rather like footballers, is charged not on what it is, but on the value it brings in. The same with marketing. A sales letter that brings in £10,000 worth of extra business is clearly worth paying £1,000 for. Conversely, a £10 sales letter is unlikely to be written with the skill, attention to detail, or passion to even pay for itself.

In racing terms cutting corners is a good thing. When it comes to marketing, cutting corners is like cutting a square cake into circular portions – you’re going to lose out on a lot of cake.

Which is why the Volkswagen advert is not just about showing how the price of their vehicles is intrinsically linked to the quality, but also about the importance of prioritising value over cost when it comes to our businesses.

How you assess the value of your marketing activities? Do you have a clear idea of what you are getting back from your investment?


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Why you shouldn’t ask if your copy is too long

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Why ‘Is it boring?’ is the real question.

Something tells me you haven't got the sale. Image Source: CNN Money.

Something tells me you haven’t got the sale. Image Source: CNN Money.

Let’s talk about length, and why it’s important. It’s fine if you need to go outside and have a snigger first. The desired length for any given piece of copy is something that everyone from business owners to marketers obsess over.

Take blog posts for instance. Some people will tell you that they need to be kept short and concise in order to hold anyone’s attention in today’s instantaneous online world. Yet others will argue they should be well in excess of 1000 words, in order to be able to include enough information to make them relevant and valuable to the target audience.

But focusing on the length of your copy isn’t going to help you in the long run. Unless your word count is dictated by the physical space it will occupy (for instance on a flyer or brochure), the question to ask should be ‘Is my copy interesting?’

Length does not equal interest

There are some times in which shorter is indeed better: parents’ evenings; wedding ceremonies; root canal operations. But when you’re marketing to somebody your main goal is to persuade them to take action. Not everybody is the same. Some will take more persuading than others.

If you are presenting to potential clients, you stay long enough to answer any questions they have and ensure they have all the information they require. You wouldn’t pack up your laptop and leave as soon as the PowerPoint had ended. Selling isn’t about saying what you want to say, it’s about saying what the prospect wants to hear.

Which is why what you should be worrying about when it comes to your copy is whether or not it’s interesting. Just because you cut 1,000 words down by 50% doesn’t automatically mean your content becomes twice as interesting.Rather frustratingly for anyone looking for a definitive answer, the real rule about copywriting is that it should be as long as it needs to be.

How do I know if my copy is interesting?

Unfortunately this one is mostly down to your customers to decide. You have to trust your intuition, and there are a few basic ways to ensure you have done everything you can to keep it from being boring. Ask yourself:

Have I made points I need to make? If 500 words isn’t enough space in which to convey all the benefits of your product that your target market will want to know about, then cutting yourself off will damage your ability to convert them into customers.

Will the reader have any objections or questions that I have not yet addressed? Your potential customer will come up with many reasons (excuses) not to buy from you. If you do not challenge all of their objections, you are giving them a valid reason not to buy. Your copy should leave them with no doubt in their minds that they need your product.

Have I addressed everything that I raised at the beginning of the copy? Like a good story, copy needs some sort of narrative. If you draw your reader in using a question, statistic, or relatable scenario, you need to make sure you have concluded the points you raised by the end of the copy. Your target market won’t appreciate being drawn in with an interesting anecdote, only to be hit with standard sales copy once you have their attention.

Do the trees outside start quaking in fear as my mouse hovers over the ‘print’ icon? Don’t underestimate the power of editing. If you analyse what you’ve written, identify key points, and think of alternative phrasings, you can usually cut 1,000 words down to 500. It’s a common strategy in post-recession businesses these days (albeit usually applied to staff): make what you have work harder with less.

Too little copy is just as bad as too much. What is important is not how long it is, but how skilfully you can guide the reader from the beginning to the end without them even considering the length. People only complain about things being too long when they fail to hold their interest.

Just like some of the most effective things in marketing, great copywriting is invisible. Do you agree?


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Three essential components of a great website

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Website Black Board

Photo Credit: Shutterstock – JayLopez

A while ago, the advice used to be ‘You need to have a website’. Well, now most people have listened. Unfortunately, getting a website isn’t the end of the road. ‘It isn’t?’ you ask, sitting up in your hammock, piña colada spilling down your Hawaiian shirt. No, just having a website won’t get you very far.

There are several essential components of a great website you need to have. In many ways, the old advice about needing a website isn’t true anymore. Everyone is so tech-savvy that having a bad website probably does more damage to a customer’s perception of your company than having no website. You have to get it right to ensure it is meeting the needs of your customer.

You don’t need a website, you need a great website. But what makes a great website?

Read on for three essential website components.

Design

There was a time when tables were the height of web design. Simply having a website was dazzling. It didn’t matter that you had bright yellow text on a sludge green background – you had a website! Customers would flock to your premise, their mouths still hanging open from the technological wonder. They had typed your business name into a search engine, and about 15 minutes (we’re talking dial-up here, remember) later they were looking at information on your business; online!

Now, everyone has a website. Which means yours needs to stand out. It’s not just about looking pretty though. Great design comes from a combination of striking themes with slick usability. It’s no use having a website that looks fantastic if finding what you want is harder than using Apple Maps.

Content

Content is king. That’s the current marketing buzz phrase. Remember that your website is a sales tool. Without content that conveys your key messages, you’re not going to see a return on your investment. It’s not just about having something to fill in the blank spaces, either.

Your content needs to grab your visitor’s attention, and flow smoothly so that they read all the way through. You only get one chance to convert a visitor into a customer, follower, or newsletter subscriber, so every word has to count. Hire a copywriter if you want to make sure it gets done properly.

Flexibility

DSCI0288Evolving technology has changed internet behaviour. Many users will now look at your website on their smartphones. Will the design and content adapt to this? If not, you could drive customers away.

You also need to consider who is going to be looking at your website. You might have two separate target markets, for example. You want to make it so that your website provides only the right content for the right market – having consumers reading through content aimed at the B2C market isn’t going to provide the desired results. How does your website fare from a usability point of view?

Remember your goals

Always keep your targets in mind. What do you actually want your website to do? Its ultimate purpose will help to guide you with the choices you need to make. A website that needs to drive foot traffic to your physical premises will need to be different to one that allows customers to buy your products online.

Remembering what the ultimate purpose of your website is will allow you to ensure you are taking the right steps towards optimising it.

The content of this post, including any images (unless specified), is copyright Rewan Tremethick 2013

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IOS7 shows need to balance professional knowledge with personal taste

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Apple’s new operating system shows that just because the customer isn’t the expert, it doesn’t mean you can ignore their opinion.

Today I got the little alert on my iPhone that everyone has been talking about. IOS7 is available, update now. I was interested to see what my phone would look like when it turned back on. Apple had promised a ‘beautiful new design’, after all.

What really happened is my eyes bled. To be fair, the new lock screen is nice, especially when combined with the picture of the Earth that comes in the new standard wallpapers. The round passcode buttons are quite pleasing too. Soft, gentle, sophisticated, so far so good.

Then I reached the home screen. I looked at it for a few seconds, then immediately Googled how to reinstall IOS6. Which you can’t.

What even is this?

Apple’s USP has always been that their technology is sleek and sophisticated, at the cutting edge of design. (I suppose I should have guessed IOS7 wasn’t going to be great considering they have recently abandoned their trademark monochrome schemes and released colourful iPhone 5s, which look pretty sickly). Apple technology was about making you go ‘Oooo’. The whole point was that you had something to boast about to your friends (which is why I resisted buying anything Apple until the genuine need actually arose).

Now, Apple users are greeted by some psychedelic neon clipart. Where is the subtlety? Where is the beauty? Whether or not you like Apple, you can’t deny that style was the one thing they did better than anyone else.

Thanks to IOS7, I’m regretting more than ever that I didn’t wait until the Nokia Lumia was a bit cheaper on contract and get that instead. I won’t be updating my iPad until someone from Apple comes around and holds a gun to my head.

What does this teach us about providing services?

Because this is actually a lesson for us all. I’m sure there are plenty of people who love the new look. Just as I’m sure there are plenty who, like me, can’t stand it. But of course, we’re stuck with it, because Apple have said ‘This is what you’re getting’. Only a day after IOS7 was released, they have already stopped IOS6, so there is no choice for those who don’t like it.

As experts in our fields, we have to be a little more careful than Apple, who are so big they can do pretty much whatever they want to their users. We have to take into account what our customers feel and want, even when we are the specialists. So if a clients doesn’t like the headline I have written, I will explain to them why it works, but if they really don’t like it, who am I to argue? They are the ones who have to live with it representing their company. The same goes for web design, graphic design and marketing.

So, remember to get that balance right. Some clients will give you free reign, but others will want some control. As long as we remember the overall objective, it should be possible to balance what needs to be done with what they want to be done.

Unlike Apple, we can’t slam our ‘superior’ knowledge of what works into the faces of our customers. Apple can afford all the negative feedback. We can’t.


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Come in and have a look around

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Mmm, new site smell. There isn’t such a thing, but if there was, I bet it would be nice. Welcome to www.thehyperteller.com, the site for my professional copywriting business. I’m Rewan, ‘Magic’ copywriter and soon-to-be debut author.

There are plenty of interesting things worth reading on these pages, including information on marketing, and the role of good content, as well as some information about me and the services I offer to ensure businesses get the most out of their marketing.

Before I go any further, I’d like to thank Jamie Leah for all his hard work putting this site together. He is an incredibly talented web designer and I’m more than happy with the finished result.

My About page has a little information on my history, skills and perspective. Copywriting is a big ol’ topic, and you’ll find something on there about what I think makes me unique.

You can find a list of the things I do, as well as articles on why they benefit your business, in the Services section.

For a look at some of the people I have worked with, check out my Portfolio, and to hear from two very happy clients, look at my Testimonials page.

When you’ve done that, sign up to follow this blog, as I’ll be posting articles on all aspects of marketing, with of course a focus on how to get the most out of your copy.

To talk more about the ways I can help your business, visit the Contact page and send me an email.

Happy reading. Looking forward to hearing from you.


Provide top quality & value for your business or your clients at just £40 per hour.