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How To Stop Writing Sucky Copy (and Boost Conversions) Blog Feature

August 14th, 2017 min read

Content is at the heart of everything we do as marketers.

Whether writing an email, creating a blog, developing the script for a video, or writing social media posts, at some point in our journey as marketers we sit down and write.

Unfortunately, much of the time the stuff we write just plain sucks.

I recently read the results of a survey by 4As that found only 4% of people believe marketers practice integrity. Do you know what that means? People don’t trust us.

They know we’re trying to sell them something and at best, that makes them skeptical of everything we have to say. Layer bad marketing and advertising copy on top of that and at worst, they literally want to punch us in the face.

Credit: Hugh McLeod


As someone who owned an agency for more than a decade, I’ve seen my fair share of sucky marketing copy. Heck, I’ve created my fair share of sucky marketing copy, and I’m betting if you’re reading this, you’ve done it as well.

We’re all guilty of it, and today I’m going to challenge you - and me - to do better.

With so many companies using content to drive website traffic and lead generation, content marketing is no longer a silver bullet.

You can’t just write it and expect people to come flocking. Now, you’ve got to write great copy that really speaks to your audience and promote the heck out of it to get it in front of that audience in the first place.

Bottom line: Sucky marketing copy just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

So how do we break out of the rut?

I’m sure you’ve been there. You’re creating something like a blog or an email to promote your latest conversion offer. You look at what you’ve written and it's got perfect grammar and sentence structure. The subject matter is interesting. But when you read through it, you realize it's awful.

In my opinion this happens when we get lazy, or we’re trying to sound smart, or we want to be PC. This causes us to make some pretty terrible copywriting decisions.

Below are 5 critiques I shared at IMPACT Live 2017 to help marketers stop.

Note: If you weren’t at IMPACT Live 2017, you missed quite the special experience. Tickets for IMPACT Live 2018 are already on sale. So, don’t miss out!

5 Ways Marketers Make Their Copy Sucky (& How to Stop)

1. Superlatives

As marketers, it's our goal to sell, so we use ridiculous superlatives like “world-class” and “revolutionary” to describe our products or services when, in reality, they’re pretty cool, but they’re definitely nothing for the history books.

We even do this to describe ourselves. How many times have you seen someone refer to him or herself as a “marketing ninja” in their bio or Twitter profile?

I don’t care if you’re the greatest marketer in the world, when you use a term like “marketing ninja” I tune you out. It’s overused and, as a result, has become meaningless.

You’re a marketer for goodness’ sake - Come up with a more creative way to say how awesome you are!

2. Pretentious Jargon

Marketers also like to sound really smart, so we use fancy words like “synergy” and “leverage” because we think they’ll show the world what geniuses we really are.

Guess what? The biggest geniuses don’t have to rely on SAT words to prove they’re smart - they do it by sharing really great information and teaching people things that they don’t already know.

The next time you’re writing marketing copy, skip the fancy vocab and opt for words you would actually use in your everyday life. Words that your audience would actually use and understand and will ultimately resonate with them; this is how you make an impact.

3. Cliches

Another one I know I’m guilty of is using cliches. When I was writing this blog, I actually looked the word cliche up in the dictionary and do you know what I found? A cliche isa phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.”

Like I said earlier, we marketers get lazy.

Instead of coming up with an original way to say something, we fall back on phrases like “results-driven” and “move the needle.” We call ourselves “one stop shops.”

Ugh. I can’t stand that one.

Who has a two-stop shop? No one!

There is actually science that shows people ignore or screen out cliches, so stop using them in your marketing because no one is listening. They are literally tuning you out!

4. Filler Words

Filler words are another “no no.”  I see these used most often by marketers who are beating around the bush or trying to couch what they have to say in less direct terms.

“I’m just checking to see if you got our last email and want to schedule a product demo.”

Why don’t you come out and say what you really mean? “Did you get our last email? Would you like to schedule a product demo?”  

Don’t be afraid to be direct!

I also find it used when marketers are trying to meet a word count. Remember, it’s quality over quantity. Filler words just muddle your message.

5. Passive Voice

And finally, I’ve saved the best for last..

The passive voice, every grammar nerd’s worst enemy.

Why is the passive voice so bad? It weakens the impact of your writing, but if you’re like me, you’re not always sure when you’re using the passive voice.

Here’s an easy way to tell.

Look for phrases like “should be,” “has been,” or “will be.” The verb “to be” is the centerpiece of the passive voice. Your phrases should be active; describing a present action.

For example:

PASSIVE: You will be shown how to live the life of your dreams.

ACTIVE: I will show you how to live the life of your dreams.

The first is okay, but the second makes you take notice. Big difference.

How to Fix Bad Copy?

These are five of the most common ways I see marketers turn perfectly good copy into sucky copy. You don’t necessarily have to remember each one when you sit down to write.

Rather, see if it passes the sucky copy sniff test by reading your copy out loud. Better yet, read it to someone else as though you’re having a conversation with them. If a sentence feels uncomfortable coming out of your mouth, then cut it out of your copy.

If you wouldn’t say what you’ve written to another human in a face-to-face conversation, don’t say it on your website, in your emails, or on your blog.

First, stop doing all of those things I just outlined. Strip out ridiculous superlatives, overused jargon, and cliches. Stop with the filler words and the passive voice.

Be authentic.

The best way to approach marketing copy is to write like a human.

Test your copy on a friend. Use it in a conversation. If it feels weird, you need to change it.

For example:

If you asked me what my company does and I said “our industry-leading experts leverage a tried-and-true toolset to deliver world-class, results-driven solutions proven to move the needle” you would probably look at me and be like “I have no idea what the heck you are talking about!”

If I simply said, “our experts deliver lead generation solutions that get results, and we have case studies to prove it,” you’d probably trust me more and want to learn about our solutions and see our case studies.

Be true to yourself, but remember to tell a story.

Yes, I want you to be direct and strip out unnecessary stuff from your copy, but that doesn’t mean you have to be boring. There’s a big difference between saying “I got a flat tire” and saying “it was cold and rainy last night, and I was travelling down a really dark road when I got a flat tire. I had to get out of the car and change the tire in the pouring rain and boy was that creepy.”

The first sentence imparts information. The second elicits emotion.

The Change Begins With You

Want to improve your marketing copy (and maybe boost conversions as a result)? My challenge to you is to start by looking at what you’ve written and stripping out all of the sucky stuff I mentioned in the beginning of this blog.

In some ways, this is all about unlearning what we’ve always been told.

Instead of following the Chicago Manual of Style and using vocab words that sound like the winner of the national spelling bee and the author of the SAT test questions had a baby, aim to please your buyer.

If you wouldn't say it to your buyer face-to-face, go back to the drawing (or writing, in this case) board. 

You’re welcome!

The 7 Elements of Inbound Storytelling
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