101 Copywriting Dos & Don’ts

 

The Ultimate 101 List of Copywriting Awesomeness

For Startups & Small Bizzes That Want to Write Sweet Web Copy… Sans Pain

Warning: If you plow through this list, your brain will hurt, and you may resent me for it.

So please take your time with it. I don’t want to be the cause of more headaches than I already am.

Download the 101 checklist here

 51 Copywriting DOs

1. DO! Tell visitors to “click here”
OMG, if I had a dollar for every person who’s arched an eyebrow at one of my “click here to subscribe” links or buttons. No, it’s not elegant to use the words “click here”… but those words simply do get you more clicks.

So DO use “click here” + descriptive text of why they should click / what they’ll get.

And let the ‘elegant’ copywriters marvel at your rapidly increasing click-thru rate.

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2. DO! Point to words you want people to notice
This tip is less about copy and more about getting eyes on your most important copy.

DO use arrows – yes, literal arrows – to point at buttons, testimonials and reasons to believe / anxiety-reducers… like RouseApp does:

RouseApp directives in copywriting

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3. DO! Use symbols in place of words: +, &, $
Eyes scan before they read. Eyes glaze over letters shoved together.

Eyes look for the easiest to consume information first. Which means eyes often need to see “&” or “+” not “and”……. and “$” or “$$$” not necessarily “money”, “dollars”, or “savings”.

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4. DO! Use numerals in place of written numbers: 7, not “seven”
For the same reasons as the above, use numerals! This is very important, given that numbers in your copy usually speak to either data (persuasive) or discounts/incentives (persuasive).

DO make it easy for scanners to see your data and discounts by using 1, 3, 5, 7.65, 9, 1/2… not their written counterparts.

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5. DO! Follow the “Goldilocks” rule
The middle ground is always the safest ground.

DO make it easy for your customers to safely narrow your product or service options – so they won’t be too paralyzed to make a decision – by grouping items into small sets (e.g., 3-4) and/or using easy product filtering.

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6. DO! Use meaningful headlines everywhere
The headline for your “Plans & Pricing” page should NOT be “Plans & Pricing”. Tweet this!

Every headline you write is as important as your home page headline – at least, you should think of them that way. Treehouse does it right:

Treehouse pricing page copywriting

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7. DO! Talk with your prospects like you’re in the same room
DO visualize yourself sitting across from a visitor or standing next to them… and then write.

This technique is a killer way to prevent talking “at” or “to” your visitor – both of which tend to focus on YOU, not them – and to shape more engaging messaging that speaks with them.

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8. DO! Explore layers of benefits
Every feature has a benefit (at least, it’d better!). What’s interesting is that every benefit carries with it additional benefits.

The primary benefit of your online course may be that users can do exercises at any time of day. Great. What’re the benefits of such convenience? Spending more time with the family; going at your own pace; doing exercises on vacation.

Your copy should explore many layers of benefits. Tweet this!

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9. DO! Highlight your best product
If you have a “most popular” or “best value” product, DO make sure your visitors can easily see that.

Use visual cues and explicit, uncomplicated words to showcase the most common or highest value option.

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10. DO! In lists, put your best points at the top and bottom
Have a bullet list of ~5 or more points? Position your 2 most important points at the top and your third most important point at the bottom of the list.

The stuff sandwiched in the middle rarely gets read, so don’t bury your best stuff there; that said, don’t strip out the ‘overlooked’ middle points as they may help build a sense of quantity, which is good. My second ebook goes into more detail

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11. DO! Replace long words with short ones
Shorter words usually make for clearer, easier to understand writing – and, bonus, they are also easier to comprehend for scanners.

DO review all your copy and replace polysyllabic words with shorties, like Zepppelin does:

Zepppelin.com uses short words in their copy

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12a. DO! Communicate what’s unique + highly desirable about you
Your products (and company) need a value prop or USP, which is a succinct, memorable statement of what’s unique about your product and highly desirable to your target market.

Depending on how much your traffic knows about you/your product, DO position this statement with the right prominence on the right landing pages. More about how to create the ultimate home page headline here

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12b. DO! Give a reason to buy from your site
This is especially important if you have multiple distributors!

Your website itself needs a value prop of its own. A raison d’etre. Tweet this!

And your customers need to understand what that reason is.

Should they choose to buy from your site, instead of from WalMart or MightyDeals, because they get bonus materials when they buy direct from your site? If so, DO communicate that value!

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13. DO! Put a caption under photos that matter
People read captions! So DO put a descriptive, meaningful caption under/over/on every photo that you want people to look at.

(Note: This should mean every photo on the page… because you shouldn’t be using photos that aren’t meaningful. So no more girl-at-computer-beaming-and-throwing-hands-in-air photos.)

(Second note: My particular theme doesn’t allow me to center-align photos with captions. So I can’t do that in this post. …Yes, tech limits often get in the way of the smaller optimization opps.)

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14. DO! Let your happiest customers do the selling
DO use high-quality testimonials to replace or support your copy wherever possible. Especially when it comes to messaging benefits.

Here’s an example from SEOmoz’s Features page:

SEOmoz testimonial

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15. DO! Make friends with… the ellipsis
DO use the ellipsis (…) where possible. Why? Because it’s a great visual indicator, telling readers/scanners, “You can take a breath here… and here… and here.”

And because it lures your visitor from line to line, pulling them down the page simply by virtue of the fact that we, as readers, are trained to believe “…” equals “unfinished thought”…

…It teases us…

…We follow it until we reach the final punctuation mark.

And, by then, we’ve actually read your copy. (Check out how AppSumo does it below.)

AppSumo Ellipsis in Copywriting

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16. DO! Explicitly write who your product is “ideal for”
An “ideal for” statement on the home page and key landing pages tells visitors they’ve come to the right place, which can reduce bounce and exits and improve site exploration.

The more crisp and specific to niches you get with this statement, the better.

DO tell people it’s ideal for them, like AgoraPulse does on their home page:

AgoraPulse.com ideal-for list

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17. DO! Let copy guide your design / page layout
What’s more important than the messages your visitors are reading? That’s a real question. What? Nothing is more important than the words that will convince visitors to sign up or buy. Tweet this!

Visual design supports that goal, but only the words actually make it happen.

So DO organize the words, and then create the UI.

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18. DO! Focus on “what’s in it for me” (WII-FM)
What do your visitors want to know before they read, watch, sign up or buy? This: “what’s in it for me?” They don’t care about you, but they DO care that you care about them.

So show you care by “tuning in to WII-FM” before you write or edit a word.

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19. DO! Scratch all instances of “we” + your company name
DO scour your copy for the word “we” and for your company name, then delete those and rephrase the edited phrase so it’s focused 100% on what your prospect gets – not what you offer.

Only exception: “About Us” page. But even then, be careful.

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20. DO! Lead with “you”
Once you’ve deleted all “we” mentions, DO go in and add explicit “you” mentions.

This turns a headline like “Manage Your Inbox Easily” into “You Can Finally Manage Your Inbox Easily” – which is a simple, elegant way to reinforce the fact that you have the solution for your visitor.

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21. DO! Repeat important messages
If you have an important message, don’t assume that just because you put it in your home page headline your visitors will remember it by the time they’re in your checkout process.

DO repeat persuasive copy wherever it will help visitors transact.

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22. DO! Position “click triggers” around your buttons
If you want people to take an action, DO position click-triggers near the button they should click. For example, add “free shipping”, “no commitment, no credit card needed”, “100% secure”, incentives, deadlines and/or short testimonials in close proximity to the button. Kashoo does this well. (Get a free click-trigger worksheet here)

Kashoo uses click triggers in their button copy

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23. DO! Research before you write
Where do your headlines come from? Hint: not from in your head.

The key messages your visitors need to see MUST come from what you’ve learned about what your prospects desire, first and foremost. So DO your research.

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24. DO! Scrap your first ideas
The headline you first write will almost never be the headline that actually makes it onto your home page, Pricing page, Contact page, etc.

DO let yourself edit and refine to turn V1 copy into V5.

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dr-seuss-quote-today-you-are-you25. DO! Mimic Robert Munsch and Dr. Seuss… Not Ernest Hemingway
If copywriting is like any form of ‘real’ writing, it’s like writing children’s books. Tweet this!

It has captivating tone, short words, short sentences, and relevant images.

It is formatted to be easily consumed and digested.

Its typography turns the seen word into what it means. (Which is pure genius.)

It is, above all else, easy to read and easy to remember.

If you can write like that, you’re GOLD. Big DO.

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26. DO! Match your headline to the call to action that led visitors there
A great way to lower bounce/exits is to create a seamless experience in which your visitors’ expectations are matched.

So DO simple things like repeating or closely reflecting text-link copy in the headline of the landing page.

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27. DO! Make your calls to action specific
The more people know about the page they’re about to land on, the greater the likelihood that they’ll click through and – this is important – stay on that landing page.

If you want qualified movements through your site, DO get very specific with the copy in your call to action, like KISSinsights does:

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28. DO! Steal your customers’ words
The last thing you should be doing as a copy hacker is making up phrases out of your own head!

Instead, survey your customers and site visitors, and audit the Amazon, eBay, Etsy and other reviews for products and services similar to yours… then take the best phrases you find, and write your copy with those. Don’t change the words. Steal the words.

Trust me: your customers know what they need better than you do… and it’s a smart copywriter who uses customer words, not their own. More about this on my guest post on KISSmetrics

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Advil Liquigels for Migraines29. DO! Either kill a pain or highlight a delighter
Every line of copy on your page should help your prospect get at least a little excited about either:

  1. How one of their pains will be killed by your service/product or a specific feature of it, or
  2. Something very cool – like stellar visual design, 24/7 help or a game aspect – they’ll experience

So DO filter all your copy through those guidelines – painkillers or delighters – at minimum.

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30. DO! Know your messaging hierarchy
Based on what you know about your visitors, copy should appear on each page of your site – and in flows that span your entire site – in a calculated, intentional manner. This is called a messaging hierarchy.

DO take the time to prioritize your messages. Tweet this!

DO allow different priorities based on the goals of & visitors to different landing pages.

And DO follow a hierarchy on each page and throughout your site experience.

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31. DO! List out all your benefits & bonuses for your own use
Know why writing copy’s hard? Because we almost always write from scratch.

The only way to counter the Blank White Page is to come to the table with at least one full page.

I recommend my clients list out all their features and associated benefits, in layers. Then list out the extras – like free shipping – to use as click triggers.

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32. DO! Start with 10x more info than you need
As legendary copywriter John Caples said, “Overwriting is the key. If you need a thousand words, write two thousand. Trim vigorously. Fact-packed messages carry a wallop.”

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33. DO! Summarize testimonials with mini-headlines
DO ease scanners into the role of readers by prefacing a lengthy-ish testimonial with a 4- to 5-word summary headline of what the testimonial expresses. Bidsketch gets this very, very right:

Bidsketch testimonials

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34. DO! Keep your offers simple
Ambiguous offers are bad. Too many details in offers are bad.

Instead, keep it simple – and DO tell people exactly what you’re offering, in succinct, sharp words and, where possible, bullet points.

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35. DO! Group & chunk text
The experience of reading online is, at its most basic level, about making sense of what we’re seeing.

That’s why it’s important to help visitors make easy sense of the content on the page.

So think of your content as small groups or chunks. DO group together like messages, and give them an expressive, engaging headline. Think of your messages as pods, not as paragraphs. Tweet this

Copywriting on the Insanity workout site

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36. DO! Keep ‘paragraphs’ short
The easiest-to-read blog posts and emails are almost always those in which every sentence begins a new line.

Same goes on your website. DO keep ‘paragraphs’ to 3 lines or fewer.

The longer the line, the fewer lines you should stack into a paragraph / chunk.

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37. DO! Show and tell
In creative writing, the rule is “show, don’t tell”.

But in copywriting, the rule is “show and tell, tell and show”.

That means you DO need to take everything you want to communicate and actually put it on the page (tell)… and then support that ‘telling’ with lots of demos, product shots, “Look Inside” samples, sandboxes, testimonials and more (show).

Once you tell, show. And once you show, tell. Your visitor needs both from you. Tweet this!

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38. DO! Have meaningful hero banners
Those banners at the top of nearly every home page are called “hero banners” in the creative world.

“Hero” means they’re meant to own the page – to be powerful messages the visitor can’t ignore.

So don’t fall into the trap of using meaningless, placeholder banners. DO treat each banner as the powerful hero it is, the way Walkscore does on their “Why It Matters” page:

Opscode also does a great job, with powerful home page hero banners:

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39. DO! Increase font size and darken type color
It’s hard to read small fonts! It’s hard to read grey on white… or white on black!

Ogilvy told us to use black text on white backgrounds. Why? Because a fast way to increase conversion is simply to increase your copy’s readability – it’s a total DO.

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40. DO! Be smart with your logout screen or thank-you page
It’s never, ever up to you to end the convo with your prospect.

So don’t say goodbye on your thank-you page. And don’t stop communicating once your user has signed out.

DO always offer more. Let the user decide when to bail on you. Freshbooks does this very nicely:

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41. DO! Make tangible promises
You should never expect your visitor to take on the job of figuring out your tangible value.

It’s your job to be clear. Once you’ve determined your key benefits and core value, push those messages a step further by turning airy or intangible promises into real messages your visitor can sink their teeth into – without thinking!

StartupWeekend does this awesomely in their home page headline:

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42. DO! Optimize your headlines for SEO
If you do only 1 thing for the sake of SEO when you’re copywriting, DO optimize your headline by using a keyword in it (if it fits naturally).

Hopefully you do more, of course… like the stuff in this QuickSprout post

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43. DO! Display key messages on the screen in demos/videos
To reinforce any narrator or voiceover in your product demo, DO put key messages in text on the screen… as EnergyMarketExchange.com does for their primary demo:

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44. DO! Write descriptive alt text/tags
For SEO and accessibility, be kind: DO describe your images with simple, helpful alt text. See 6 ways to generate more traffic from your images

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45. DO! Be enviably risky
What are you in business for if not to do things the way you’ve always WANTED to do them?

Write the copy you’d want to read! This is hugely important – and hugely liberating!

Yes, your site copy can be INCREDIBLE. (Tweet this ‘cos people NEED to hear it!) Blow yourself away with your fun-ness, like PopCap does below, and you’ll probably blow your visitors away, too:

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46. DO! Use the word “quit” if you don’t want people to quit
We’ve been raised not to “quit”, “give up”, “give in” or “lose”. So if you don’t want someone to quit your service, DO tell them to “quit”. More about that here

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47. DO! Put a face on your [impersonal] company
You may be worried that showing your small team of 2 will make you look too small… but guess what: people already know you’re small. So don’t worry about that.

The bigger worry is coming off as small + out of touch.

Small + cold. Small + destined for boring corporate-dom.

So, instead, DO show the faces of your team. That makes you more likable. …Bonus points if your team looks like J Crew models, as Locu’s team does:

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48. DO! Be Unique-to-You and Desirable-to-Them
I’m a MAJOR advocate of working your butt off on your value proposition / unique sales proposition (USP).

If you haven’t thought of yours, do so right now… and then put your crisp, memorable USP in your home page headline, like Right Signature kicks butt at:

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49. DO! Make it easy to buy
One of the oldest sales rules in the book is “make it easy to buy”.

That means filling in as much of a form as you can for a visitor.

That means removing friction in the user experience and knocking down barriers keeping your visitors from converting.

That means messaging all the ways you simplify buying – from “365 day returns, on our dime” to “instant downloads – no waiting!”

And that means getting people into your sales funnel as soon as they are ready. If your product is free or built with a free trial, ‘as soon as they’re ready’ may occur on the home page, as in the case of KISSinsights:

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50. DO! Spell check
Nothing tanks your cred like typos on your ecommerce site. DO avoid looking cheap, untrustworthy or fraudulent… by proofreading everything.

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51. DO! Split test to be sure
Y’know how everyone talks about running tests… but no one actually tests?

Well, guess what! The easiest and [often] most powerful tests are copy tests. (Tweet this truth, yo!) Why? Because copy is the single-most persuasive element on the page, which means you can see the biggest result fast with copy tests. More about testing on a new blog called ToppingTwo

 

50 COPYWRITING “DON’T”S

1. DON’T! Write for 100% of your traffic
A rule of thumb is to write copy for the 20 to 35% of your traffic that is most likely to convert. (This percentage is generally comprised of your target niche or niches, like 35 year-old unmarried women.) DON’T try to please everyone or you’ll totally suffer from a crappy 1 to 2% conversion rate. Campaign Monitor targets one group in particular, as you can see:

Campaign Monitor's Targeted Copywriting

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2. DON’T! Imply anything
Low-converting copy leaves things implied rather than explicitly stated in plain text on the page. From the instantaneousness (sure, it’s a word) of downloads to the softer benefits of a solution or service, it needs to be in text on the page.

So if at any point you say “I think that’s implied” in reference to your copy, DON’T! Just put it on the page. Tweet this!

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3. DON’T! Welcome people to your site
Need I explain more? If you have a “welcome to XYZfurnishings.com” headline, cut that sh*t right now. The first line of the paragraph that follows that sucky headline can often be pulled up and turned into a quality headline of its own.

"Welcome" is a copywriting don't

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4. DON’T! Tell yourself “no one reads online”
The truth is that no one reads boring BS or self-indulgent crap that has nothing to do with their own personal or professional needs.

People will read copy that is worth reading – copy that speaks naturally with them and focuses on them, not on the writer or company.

So write copy for scanners and for readers. For both. Because both types are likely to comprise your customer base.

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5. DON’T! Depend on testimonials and logos to sell your product
Major startup issue! Yes, it’s great that people are using your service and that you’ve TechCrunch wrote about you.

But that’s supportive copy – and it can be great for expressing benefits – not the crux of your copy.

You still need solid headlines and actual product features.

You need to give visitors something to sink their teeth into so they TOTALLY understand what you do and what they’ll get from you. A row of logos like this shouldn’t stand alone:

Logos of companies

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6. DON’T! Use “I love it!” testimonials
The most compelling testimonials tell a story of what a customer’s challenge was before your product or service… and what the outcome of using your product or service was.

DON’T use airy-fairy testimonials like “You’re awesome”… unless you’re going to sprinkle them amongst meatier testimonials.

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7. DON’T! Put your best content in a video only
For SEO and for those who don’t want to spend 2 minutes watching your video, make sure you repeat the same powerful messages you use in a video/demo on the page itself.

DON’T expect people to watch your produced content. They’re busy; they’re at work (often); and they know it’s a marketing video.

LuckyOrange uses a great caption to entice people to watch, which is half the battle:

LuckyOrange's demo caption

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8. DON’T! Limit yourself to X number of words
You’ve heard that your headline should be 7 words or less, right? Well, that’s wrong.

Your headline needs to be as long as is necessary to succinctly and compellingly communicate what your prospect needs to hear to 1) stay on the page and 2) consider you. If that takes 14 words, it takes 14 words.

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9. DON’T! Use “lorem ipsum
Lorem ipsum can kiss my dolor sit amet. If you’re using lorem ipsum placeholder text while laying out your page – as below – you’re going about things the wrong way.

DON’T carve out a space for a headline or chunk of body text and then expect to squeeze in high-converting copy. High-converting copy comes first, just like a happy wife. (Yes, I actually wrote that. Just checking if you’re still reading.)

Microsoft Word - Homepage wireframe example from Google Images

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10. DON’T! Pretend you’re well-known yet
Why can Apple get away with being clever before clear? Why can Google get away with no descriptive text on their home page? Why can Microsoft get away with a painful online shopping experience?

Because everyone knows who they are, what they offer, and what their value is.

Unless you have the same awareness among your traffic, DON’T copy the copy or experiences of the big boys.

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11. DON’T! Use small, tight fonts or spacing
With CSS and HTML5, there’s really no excuse for cramping your copy up with tight, small fonts and crummy spacing (leading, kerning).

DON’T keep visitors from reading the messages they need to read in order to convert by using the wrong typeface, like these guys unfortunately do:

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12. DON’T! Dilute your audience’s lingo
Your messages don’t have to be ‘cleaned up’ or sterilized so they’re suitable for your grandma… unless your grandma is representative of your target niche/market.

Have the cajones to talk to your audience using the words they’d use – which means swearing on the page may be okay… and using an LOLcat-style headline may be okay… and using texter-spelling may B OK

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13. DON’T! Blindly copy someone else’s tone
Marie Forleo has a cool, distinctive style… a style that’s authentic for her and that resonates with her audience. If a tone doesn’t come naturally to you, be careful about forcing it.

Only if it’s authentic for you and right for your audience should you copy someone else’s tone.

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14. DON’T! Assume your visitors are just like you
DON’T fall into the trap of believing that your prospects have the same values, beliefs or desires as you do.

DON’T assume that because you like how something sounds or looks, others will too. Tweet this!

DON’T assume your audience won’t respond well to sales pages just because you don’t like ‘em. Test to be sure.

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15. DON’T! Exclude people unintentionally
Sometimes you strategically choose to exclude people, like in writing to a specific niche. But DON’T exclude people if you don’t mean to.

What I mean is that you need to be aware of how ‘initiated’ your target audience is… and write copy with that level of initiation in mind.

If they don’t know about Schrodinger’s Cat, don’t reference it. And if they don’t know the newfangled lingo you’re using, DON’T use it… or do use it but explain it well, as Piictu does:

And as EnergyMarketExchange does:

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16. DON’T! Use incentives like a crutch
A quick way to boost your conversion rate is to discount your product or service. But that shouldn’t be your whole CRO strategy! A price discount can’t overcome every objection, and it can’t reduce all anxieties and friction; instead, you should try to figure out objections, anxieties and friction… and minimize all of the above with better offerings, better messaging and a better online experience.

Marketing Experiments offers these case studies to explain when and how to use incentives.

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17. DON’T! Break bad news like a jerk
If you’ve messed up, apologize. DON’T be above apologizing.

If you are unable to support a customer or offer your services to them, DON’T be cold or impersonal about it.

Treat every experience as an opportunity to be good to people, like Turntable.fm does:

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18. DON’T! Waste your tagline
Page elements like your tagline stick with your visitor throughout their experience.

That makes your tagline a great opportunity to declare + reinforce your value and raison d’etre for every visitor at every point. Zulily gets it, and we ‘get’ Zulily in turn:

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19. DON’T! Make it hard for people to unsubscribe
Thinking of making that link hard to find? DON’T! People won’t want to stay with you more simply because you make it harder to leave. They’ll be more likely to simply hit the “SPAM” button. Which is the last thing you want – especially if you have a small list.

If you want people to stick around, give them a REASON to. Sell them on staying with you.

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20. DON’T! Follow antiquated rules of features vs benefits
If you’ve heard that you should always talk about benefits before features, please listen closely: there are no hard and fast rules on this. Some people say there are, but they’re either full of sh*t or being taken out of context.

Sometimes, features matter – like when you’re putting out a new version of a product.

Other times, benefits matter – like when you’re introducing a brand new product.

The only rule is to write what your prospects/customers need to hear, be it feature or benefit. Tweet this!

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21. DON’T! Try to sell everything at once
If you’re selling a software solution, choose the product you most want to sell, and architect your experience and write your copy to make that product look most desirable.

To find out which product should be your lead, consider your most popular product or the one that you’ve received the best user feedback on.

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22. DON’T! Be vague!
Startups, hear this: there is a WORLD of prospects out there. And most of them have never heard of you before.

So, when they do at last hear of you and visit your site, do them and yourself a favor: DON’T dilute your messages down to nothing at all.

Tell people who you are. What you do. Why that’s important to them. And use REAL WORDS to do so!!!

Too many copy hackers find themselves ‘neatly’ boiling the powerful phrases down to short, meatless blah statements. DON’T do what these guys do:

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23. DON’T! Forget why you created a page to begin with
As your business and product lineup evolves – and as the team working on your copy grows – DON’T lose sight of the original goal of each page.

Yes, let your pages evolve. But don’t take a product catalogue page that is intended to sell software and fill it up with add-ons and extras just because you want to sell more add-ons and extras.

Each page needs a single goal – and that single goal should not be “sell everything and anything we can”.

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24. DON’T! Compromise clarity for cleverness
A classic ‘rule’! You should always strive to be clear first.

If, after you’ve reached a point of clarity that convinces, then you can consider going for clever.

Here’s an example of how one startup – join.me – combines clear + clever rather successfully:

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25. DON’T! Be a grammar nazi
Write the way people talk! In incomplete sentences. With short words. And with almost total disregard for the highfalutin rules of writing.

Start sentences with ‘because’ if it feels right. End sentences with “of” and “to”. Forget you know the word “whom”. Just chill… Tweet this

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26. DON’T! Bore your reader… ever
Programmers aren’t boring people. Accountants aren’t boring people. IP lawyers aren’t boring people. No matter the audience you’re trying to write for, it’s highly likely that they 1) go to the movies and watch TV, 2) read books for entertainment, and 3) rode a bike as a child. People like to have fun! We all like to be entertained! So DON’T ever assume your reader will be cool with reading your boring a$$ copy.

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27. DON’T! Let your USP scroll away
Your home page headline – often your value prop / USP – should remain static + unmoving on the page.

If it moves and your visitor didn’t get a chance to see it – or simply can’t recall it after reading the rest of your page – then what?

DON’T let your most critical messages appear and disappear. (So don’t put your USP in a scrolly hero banner, as these guys do.)

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28. DON’T! WRITE IN ALL CAPS OR WITH LOTS OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!
One exclamation point is good. One word in all-caps is good. But anything more than that, and your copy comes off as very unprofessional.

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29. DON’T! Use round bullets for numbered lists
The symbol you use at the start of each point in your list should help scanning eyes.

So if you have a list of 4 steps, use a numbered list. If you want to show a bunch of included features, use a checklist. If you want to break a paragraph into bullets in no particular order, use a bullet list.

Copyblogger recognizes that the bullets you use are part of your message itself:

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30. DON’T! Write long bullet lists
A bullet list is not an excuse to keep you from spending time on meaningful copy. Tweet this!

The general rule of thumb is to keep lists to >5. If you must add more bullets, be sure to see how users interact with the content. If their eyes glaze over the middle points, then the only reason to keep those points is to increase the sense of quantity.

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31. DON’T! Hide BBB + security proof
How prominent is your security logo? How about your BBB rating?

It may surprise you to learn just how critical those boring, ugly logos and icons are to your visitors.

So, although I don’t recommend screaming about your security (because you don’t want to introduce an anxiety), I do recommend elevating the visuals that will help your visitors trust you, as HireAHelper.com does well on their home page:

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32. DON’T! Be a slave to “consistency”
Use the word “consistency” around me, and it’s over. Seriously.

The prevailing notion that what you write over here has to ‘match’ what you write over there is total business school BS.

What you write has to match the expectations and motivations of your target visitor in X context with Y state of awareness.

Stay on-brand and stay on-tone… but DON’T be consistent for the sake of consistency. Hell, do you even know if your messages work yet?! Why repeat your print headline on the web if you don’t even KNOW if it works?!

Come on… DON’T get me started…

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33. DON’T! Use dead-end pages
Every page needs a call to action. Dead-end pages are the devil. So make sure you make your call to actions clear on each page.

In the following example, my only option as a user is to read about the next feature… but what if I’m tired of reading now and just want to sign up?

Dead end pages are bad

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34. DON’T! Assume your competitors have got it right
Even if your competitors are huge, multi-million dollar companies, that doesn’t mean their copy is right or worth stealing.

You should do competitor content audits (like I talk about in this book and this book), but DON’T blindly copy their words.

Instead, use what you like from competitor sites to drive testing ideas for your own site.

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35. DON’T! Forget that customers can leave anytime
The sales cycle never stops!

The honeymoon is never over!

You’ve never really got a customer. You’re never in a position where you don’t have to work for their business. Ever.

Another pretty face can always come along and swipe them away. DON’T forget it! And DON’T stop giving customers reasons to stay.

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36. DON’T! Fake a waiting list
K, you’ve heard that manufacturing a ‘waiting list’ is a great persuasion trick, right?

Boo. That’s crap. People have their BS radars on constantly, and if you’re acting all in-demand when you’re actually not, they’ll smell that and bail on you.

So DON’T mess with prospects by making them wait for nothing. DON’T use ‘persuasion’ gimmicks like this.

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37. DON’T! Tell yourself, “writing copy should be easier than this”
When writing starts to feel difficult, you’re doing it right. As Thomas Mann wrote, “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

Keep that in mind while you’re writing your copy.

If it starts to feel too easy, you may not be pushing yourself hard enough to select the right word, cut unnecessary copy or position a product for a niche.

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38. DON’T! Interrupt flows for your own purposes
If your visitor is trying to turn into your customer – that is, if they’re trying to buy your product or sign up for your service – DON’T interrupt them!

That means you shouldn’t ask them to create an account when they’re trying to check out.

PS by Aeropostale smartly follows this rule, inviting you to create an account after you’ve just checked out – which is when you’ve completed one task (which makes you feel good) and are open to reading reasons to complete a new task:

Don’t get in your customer’s way. Unless you split-test to find that it doesn’t negatively impact conversion / revenue.

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39. DON’T! Write like a smug prick
I don’t care how high your SAT scores were or your GPA was. I don’t care what school you’re from. I don’t care that your mom tells you how smart you are as she brushes your hair before bed.

Write like you like your prospect – DON’T write like they’ve got a lot to learn from you (even if they do) or like you’ve got something to prove.

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40. DON’T! Assume they’re ready to buy on your Pricing page
Just because someone is on your Pricing (or Registration) page does not mean they are sold on you. If it did, you’d see 100% of your visitors to those pages convert.

And I’m guessing that’s not the case.

So here’s what you should do: put messages designed to overcome their pricing objections right on the Pricing page – like SOSonlinebackup does:

What messages to use and where to put them (i.e., above the lineup or below) is up to you to test.

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41. DON’T! Jump straight into “persuasion tricks”
Yes, Cialdini is cool. Yes, a lot of people cite (and misreference) him. Yes, we’d all like to be better persuaders.

But the average startup website doesn’t need to leverage the ‘expectation effect’ or ‘scarcity’ in order to boost conversion. Please, get the basics down… and then run split-tests that a psychologist would be proud of.

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42. DON’T! Cram everything above the fold
Take a look at this DON’T, which really breaks my heart:

Everything’s tiny and cramped… seemingly to keep it all “above the fold”. Grrr!

Some of the amazing messages they’re shrinking to fit above the fold are:

  • An endorsement from a celebrity user (i.e., Michelle Duggar)
  • A screenshot of the UI
  • Info about their app, which works on iPhone and Android
  • A detailed value prop
  • A video from the freakin’ Today Show, in which their product was discussed
  • Proof points from major authorities like PC World

Countless tests and scroll- / click-tracking studies have shown that visitors are willing to scroll… as long as they know there’s something to scroll down for. (So DON’T create a false-bottom.)

DON’T prevent people from exploring your content by making assumptions about their use behaviors.

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43. DON’T! Invest more in your visual design than in your copy
I am a huge advocate for paying for visual designers… and for writing your own copy.

But what you pay for a UI designer you should also ‘pay’ for your copy – in terms of the hours you spend writing copy.

The following example shows a great-looking home page and beautiful demo… but the copy falls flat. It’s 100% unclear what this service offers, outside of something to do with buying and selling an unnamed X. And I see no reason to watch the video – what’s in it for me?

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44. DON’T! Stuff keywords where they don’t belong
Well, don’t stuff keywords in general. But especially don’t stuff them where the language ends up sounding unnatural.

Copy is not just a vehicle to get your ranked in the SERPs. Tweet this!

Copy is also – and critically – your primary sales tool online. Which is why you should carefully incorporate keywords into compelling copy – not give your copy space to your SEO guru.

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45. DON’T! Hold back
When you have messages that support one another, group them together so they sell.

Use images, fonts, colors, underlining, symbols – the works – to get your visitors to notice them.

Don’t be tentative. Don’t be hesitant. Don’t hold back when pushing a little further – like Internships.com does well – can compel people to click.

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46. DON’T! Write the width of the page
Except in the case of blog posts (ahem) and large-font headlines / crossheads, be very careful about writing copy that spans the width of your page. (Especially if your site is designed to be responsive… where widths can get enormous.)

Long lines of text are hard to follow. So DON’T go beyond 500-ish pixels in length.

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47. DON’T! Let paid ads rule over your visitors
I know this is a hard one if your primary site income is from ads, but if a display ad is getting in the way of using your site, you risk losing more visitors than gaining ‘clickers’, don’t you?

I’m not saying not to use ads.

I’m just saying to be careful – and don’t let them interfere with key content or navigation, as shown in the DON’T below:

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48. DON’T! Complicate your ‘storefront’
If you owned a store, what would you want it to look like? Would you want it cramped and cluttered… or comfortable and easy to move through?

Remember that every purchase happens in a buying environment… so it’s up to you go make sure you’re creating the right buying environment. DON’T complicate things.

HasOffers does a great job of keeping the halls and shelves uncluttered in their ‘store':

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49. DON’T! Take any rule as fixed and unchanging
There are 1000s of DOs and DON’Ts in copywriting, UX, visual design, and conversion rate optimization.

Just as a new ‘rule’ comes on the scene, an old adage is rendered obsolete. Tweet this!

So as much as these rules have help guide me for the past 10 years as a web copywriter… they could all change tomorrow.

So DON’T be inflexible. Rules vary by products, markets, companies, economies, contexts and environments.

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50. DON’T! Forget why you hired a copywriter & designer
If you decide copywriting is too hard and designing is well beyond your skillset, DON’T forget your limitations when it comes time to review the copy & art you outsourced.

Trust your copywriter. Trust your designer.

Unless they give you a reason not to. Hire expert help on AnyFu

 

About Joanna, the Writer of This Post

 

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