For the love of good copy: Why your content is missing the mark and not translating into conversions.

Good copy positions your products as must-haves, creates a long-lasting bond with your audience, sets you apart from other players in the industry, and ultimately, acts as a key selling point for your brand.

With high-quality, action-oriented copy, you can pinpoint a customer’s potential objections to your product/services, and offer them a better understanding of the specific problem that you’re trying to solve. For a brand, maximizing the impact of every word and phrase establishes credibility, improves trust, and aptly demonstrates the long-term benefits for your offerings. In fact, people are more receptive to long-form copy (as opposed to bad, irrelevant or plain boring copy!) as long as it tells a story that deeply resonates with them. 

However, we’re currently living in the ‘always-on’ social media age, where speed is the most valuable currency. As a result, writers capable of churning copy at a moment’s notice are often more sought after than their labor-intensive counterparts who are happy to pore over 286 characters for a compelling, no-faff Twitter post. Of course, fast doesn’t always mean better, and brands often end up with sloppy,  run-of-the-mill copy that’s either ridden with grammatical errors or lacks the appropriate tonality that could compromise your brand image.

Given the magnitude of strategy, expectation management, and consistent delivery that comes with generating traffic-boosting, lead-generating copy, it comes as no surprise that hiring good copywriters is always a challenging task. Consequently, almost 64 percent of B2B marketers end up outsourcing their copy needs. In fact, nearly 60 percent of companies consider producing good content and measuring content effectiveness as one of the top five bottlenecks in their overall marketing strategy.

Source: Content Marketing Institute

According to most employers, more than one-fourth of college graduates are not just bad writers, but also lack appropriate communication skills for day-to-day operations. As a result, more than $3.1 billion is spent yearly on remedial writing training. So, where exactly are the copywriters of today falling short? 

Let’s take a look! 

Value proposition
A Nielsen research found that you have a maximum of 20 seconds to grab a customer’s attention before they move on to a possible competitors’ platform. Therefore, you must establish a middle ground between creative excellence and business deadlines to ensure that your value proposition is sufficiently clear at first glance.

Most brands (and marketers!) are focused way more on finding the best way to showcase their products and services than they are about creating content that’s engaging, informative and encourages your audience to keep coming back for more. Remember, you’re trying to cut through the noise, as most consumers are already bombarded by email newsletters, blog posts, and other marketing collateral pushing them to sign up now.

Often people believe that the only purpose of good copy is to promote your brand and ultimately encourage conversions—however, delivering value to your target audience demands going beyond just fancy, industry buzz words. For example, if the primary objective of your copy is to direct people to a certain landing page, you must touch upon the benefits an average reader will get out of visiting a page they’re not currently on. Additionally, people tend to read only 20 percent of the content on a landing page, which means, a good copywriter will know how to highlight the key features of your product without being too on-the-nose. 

After probing into the most commonly shared articles from The New York Times, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania (UoP) found that people are more likely to recall copy that triggers positive emotions while speaking directly to them.

“All the information we have available only increases our stress levels and diminishes available time,” says Roberto Estreitinho, therefore, content digestibility becomes a defining factor when you’re looking to present a tremendous amount of data in an easy-to-absorb, intuitive way.  Of course, you are expected to explain how exactly your product works, however, it’s strongly recommended that you start off by elaborating more on the specific customer needs that you’re fulfilling. Ask yourself, how will your product transform a customer’s life?

For example, look at the following good copy examples from QuickSprout and Moz:

Source: QuickSprout
Source: Moz

In both cases, the essence of the product is condensed into just a few words, making it easier for customers to gauge the crystal clear value proposition that their products have to offer. 

Lastly, you should also include specific differentiators between the business models of you and your competitors, so potential customers truly understand what they’re getting by investing in your product.

Reading comprehension
In today’s rapidly-evolving, technologically-advanced world, online communication like tweeting or texting has negatively impacted how well people consume and produce content—fueling a rise in demand for copywriters who can spin a nifty sentence. Between 2003 and 2016 alone, an average American spent only 0.29 hours reading for “leisure” or personal interest. 

Source: Washington Post

Usually, writers are advised to write more (than they already do!) when they’re trying to improve—after all practice does make the man perfect, however, writing in a vacuum is seldom any help. You must be continuously exposed to copy that’s decidedly better than yours. Reading other styles, voices, forms (long/short), and genres “develops your palate for all the tricks that writers have invented over the years”. 

“We have to make sure we consume the things that truly matter to us,” notes Roberto Estreitinho, “…but only so that we have time to create something that matters to someone else.”

A good copywriter knows how to tap into people’s emotions by presenting them with a well-structured sales package that they can’t walk away from. By simply dedicating 20 minutes every day to reading, you not only get to witness the fundamentals of good writing in action but also apply them whenever necessary.

American novelist Elise Blackwell recommends striking a balance between how much you read and how much you write. “The balance of my reading and writing shifts across the year, and I suspect I’d read four hours a day if I didn’t have a day job,” she told the Guardian, “In the summer, when I’m not teaching, my reading and writing very nearly even out at four and four. When I’m teaching though, both are reduced – the reading by a much larger amount. The pattern also varies by where I am in writing a novel. I tend to read very little when combing the final draft and of course much more right after I’ve finished.”

That being said, it’s remarkably easy for anyone to fall into the habit of doing the same things over and over again (while expecting different outcomes!)—and that holds even for the way we read. More often than not, we end up choosing (and sticking to) a genre, an author or a topic that we’re already accustomed to and find ourselves in a reading rut eventually. For example, for a lot of people, non-fiction is a familiar territory that they prefer not venturing out of, even though non-fiction offers plenty of thought-provoking options.

Lastly, when you’re reading to better your writing chops, remember to approach the process with a sense of purpose. Make a mental (or physical) note of things that speak to you, for example, style/tone you want to emulate in the immediate future, or tips/techniques for controlling a storytelling narrative effectively. In short, whenever you find yourself thinking, “Man, I wish I’d written that,” it’s time to pay close attention because you’ve finally chanced upon a good example copy to study.

While deliberately reading bad writing is not recommended—especially considering that it’s common for copywriters to inadvertently start imitating or deriving inspiration from whatever they’re currently reading—being mindful of what sub-par copy looks like can be instructive.

Grammar and sentence structure
While a sentence structure, tonality, word choices, and an in-depth understanding of your target audience play a crucial role in the creation of a persuasive copy, being conscious of grammatical errors is also a business imperative. After all, 74 percent of customers strongly assess the quality of grammar and spelling when they visit a brand’s homepage, whereas, 59 percent expressed their concerns about engaging with a company with obvious grammar or spelling blunders in their copy. 

You’re obviously allowed to break some rules, in this case, especially if you’re going for a more conversational tone that appeals to a younger audience.

Consider this: You use a distinctive tone when communicating the same anecdote to your boss than you do with your family, right? The same hypothesis holds true in copywriting. While most of us might say, “My analysis of the current state of the economy provides a negative future outlook,” to a high-up official, you’d probably go for something more informal like, “The economy stinks,” to friends and family members. In conclusion, your copy undergoes a tremendous amount of change based on the audience you’re communicating with.

You can also cut yourself some slack for messing up your split infinitives, using contractions or ending your sentence with a preposition. The goal is to write copy that people are more responsive to by using messages that are meaningful to them—after all, you’re not trying to impress your high school English teacher here.