A world-class website must take into account audiences' needs, brand continuity, page layouts, information architecture, navigation, functionality, cross-browser compatibility, accessibility — the list goes on.
And then right at the end, the web copy finally arrives. By this point both the client and the developer are exhausted and just trying to finish the job as soon as possible. In most cases, the text has been extracted from years of brochures, profiles, documents, presentations and advertisements. There is also usually also a fair volume of "copy-and-pasting" off Wikipedia and competitors websites
#1: Me, Me Me!!
Symptoms: Clients demand company-centric content, but in pleasing the person paying your bills, you are chasing away their potential customers and doing them a disservice. Business owners assume marketing copy is all about their business and products. Visitors don't care about the company — they want to know what the company can do for them.
Treatment: Find out what benefits the products or services provide the intended audience. Does it make their lives easier? Make them healthier? Wealthier? Sexier? How? Turn features into benefits whenever possible. This type of copy is often the result of inexperienced writers, too lazy to learn how the products or services benefit the target audience, so they copy facts off the manufacturer's spec sheet.
Symptoms: Meaningless filler paragraphs force visitors to wade through oceans of verbal diarrhea. Most visitors cringe and hit the back button. Uninspiring lists of facts and spec sheets. Dry, mind-numbing verbiage that reads like a manual. Consumers don't read manuals for kicks, nor do they want to drag themselves through lame content.
Treatment: The solution is KISS — Keep It Short and Simple. If your client or the copywriter takes the time to define, craft and refine key messages, the website will be able to communicate a lot more with fewer words. 80% of Internet users scan web content — they don't read word for word. So it's best to avoid filler content, unless they want their bounce rates to go through the roof.
Symptoms: Fluffy messages don't differentiate the company. Often this content is so generic that it can be applied to any competitor (or even any industry) with few or no changes. It is often found where the business does not have a clearly defined Unique Selling Proposition.
Treatment: Explore and research how the company's offerings are unique. Advise clients that if they're not making an effort to tell prospects why they are the best choice, they'll be deemed a commodity, which results in small profit margins and attracts cheap, non-loyal customers.
Symptoms: When you have nothing to say, CRANK UP THE VOLUME!!! Exclamation marks and empty hype about being "simply the best" kills credibility and makes people scurry to the competition.
Treatment: Convey meaningful reasons why customers should be interested. Make appealing claims, and back them up. Artificial enthusiasm and loud messages won't get customers clapping their hands excitedly and clicking the order button. Visitors crave informative, helpful and relevant content.
Symptoms: Nothing says "amateur" more than misspelled words, poor punctuation and dreadful grammar.
Treatment: If a rewrite isn't in the budget, a professional copywriter can at least edit and clean up the content. When you see typical errors, including the incorrect use of their, there, they're, it's, its, then, than, etc., sound the alarm.
#6: Stiff & Formal
Symptoms: Many people believe that highly formal language suggests maturity and superiority, and use it in a bid to demand respect. In these website, a short word is never used when a three-syllable monstrosity is available. Every sentence has multiple noun and verb phrases, every verb has an adverb.
Treatment: Ease up. Just because a website is promoting luxury products or services, doesn't mean the web copy should be stuffy. You can actually be respectable, professional and charming at the same time! The trick for me - I pretend I'm explaining the product or service to my mother.
Symptoms: Overloaded, lingo-laden copy 'sings' to the client because it make him sound like an expert, but confuses and alienates potential prospects.
Treatment: Get a copywriter or other communications specialist to review and clean up the material. While copywriters often lean on businesses to gather industry insight, they bring a fresh, objective perspective that can help a company better connect with desired audiences. To connect with visitors, your web content must be easily processed and understood.
Symptoms: Web copy crammed with cute and clever clichés adds little or no value and can create barriers when communicating to global audiences.
Treatment: Kill the clichés. Just kill them. Web content riddled with clichés comes across as tacky and won't help generate credibility and sales.
Symptoms: Inconsistent content is most common on older websites, where different people have contributed different content at different times It can create confusion and frustration for the visitor, and reduce trust in your brand.
Treatment: Establish a consistent voice, style and approach, to conceive a stable and appealing personality. If existing web content appears to be suffering from a multiple personality disorder it's time to rewrite and restructure.
#10: Keyword-Stuffed Web Copy
Symptoms: Web copy aggressively stuffed with keywords shows contempt for the visitor. This is a great tactic is you're striving for a 100% bounce rate, or trying to get knocked off Google's index.
Treatment: Optimized content is a powerful marketing tool, but don't allow your SEO expert to get overly forceful and spammy. Make sure the web copy caters to both search engines and people. Otherwise, you'll be wasting everyone's time.
Websites can be incredibly powerful marketing and sales tools when they get the right information to the right people at the right time. Combining good web design with good web copy fosters positive online experiences, and results in happy customers, healthy bottom lines and stellar portfolios.