Web copywriting tips: 10 things not to do

creative howto copywriting

If you’re not an experienced writer, don’t fret – with these embarrassing copywriting fails in mind, you can avoid making silly errors, bamboozling visitors and leaving them none the wiser as to what it is that you do.

Running your own website can be a daunting prospect, particularly when it comes to knowing what to say without switching people off.

But in many cases, you’re in the best position to do things like decide how you want to welcome visitors, write dazzling product descriptions, keep the site fresh with daily updates, and generally put your own stamp on things.

If you’re not an experienced writer, there’s no need to worry – these 10 silly but common blunders will help you to write content for your website that really appeals to your visitors.


1. Don’t make schoolboy errors

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Sounds obvious, we know. But they’re distressingly common. A poorly placed comma or apostrophe can totally change the meaning of your sentence. If you’re going to use punctuation, put it in the right places.

One of the all-time classic examples is a cover headline from Tails magazine that appears to say “Rachael Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog”.

Whoopsie! There should, of course, be a comma after ‘cooking’ – and in truth there was one on the original cover, before the image was doctored and went viral online – but it’s still a great example of how a comma can make all the difference.


2. Don’t say things that don’t make sense

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Again, this one sounds like a bit of a given, but even the big guns are guilty of perplexing with lines void of any discernable logic.

Microsoft’s 2008 campaign ‘Windows. Life Without Walls’ was supposed to suggest that the software developer’s operating system removes the obstacles from daily life, but it raised a few eyebrows as the more logically minded critics asked: “How can you have windows without walls?”


3. Don’t try to be too clever

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You’re trying to establish a brand, so it’s understandable that you might want to be clever in your logo or your website copy – but be careful.

For example, London-based coffee brand Apostrophe place an apostrophe over the second ‘o’ in their name, similar to an accent in Spanish or French, easily creating a recognisable logo.

But the apostrophe in their slogan “Great taste on it’s way” is misplaced, and plain wrong grammatically, immediately undermining the integrity of their choice of brand name.


4. Don’t limit with your word count

This absolutely does not mean that you shouldn’t be concise and have a target word count, but it should be just that – something to aim for, rather than to slavishly stick to.

Treat your word count as a guide, not a limit – write enough to get into the search results, and as much as it takes to cover your point in full.

That being said…


5. Don’t overdo it

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Remember, your readers probably have less time to spend looking at your page than you have to spend on writing it.

Keep it concise, review what you’ve written and, if you can get your point across in fewer words, you probably should.

Be especially brief in traditionally ‘short-form’ types of content, such as advertisements online or in print.


6. Don’t publish with Lorem Ipsum placeholder text

More than seven million websites indexed by Google contain the phrase “lorem ipsum dolor sit amet” which, as we all know, is meaningless placeholder ‘Latin’ text used to fill empty paragraphs during the design process.

There’s not much more that needs to be said, other than to make sure you check each of your pages before publication, and write something to replace any overlooked placeholder text.


7. Don’t be lazy with copy and paste

Unique content performs better in search results, so you should always rewrite things like product descriptions. This will also give you the confidence that you won’t fall foul of copyright claims from other publishers.

You might also spot errors or other edits that need to be made – basic mistakes such as copying online text into a print document, complete with the instruction to ‘click here for more information’.

Or vice versa – leaving ‘turn page’ in text you’re copying onto your website.


8. Don’t treat a line break as a comma

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Another example like the Rachael Ray headline before, but this is particularly worth flagging up for menus and prce lists, where you should always, always spell out where one item ends and the next begins.

In this example from the Tower of London, for instance, the lack of a comma after ‘disabled’ in the list of concessions technically means that only ‘disabled students’ qualify for the discounted entry price.


9. Don’t hide valuable keywords in images – they won’t be picked up by search engines

For SEO purposes, it’s better to use text if it does the job, rather than any other form of media, including pictures, video, animations and – especially – audio that visitors to your website do not have direct control over.

A website should, of course, look good, have lots of images and engaging content in various forms, but plain text is still the most search-visible, followed by images correctly marked up with alt and title text, and microdata/microformats, if you know what those are!

You can always add both. Take your strapline for example – you can include it in your logo, or in an image on your homepage. But you should also include it somewhere in your copy as it’s more likely to be picked up by search engines. So, if your strapline is ‘For the finest cakes and bakes in London’ and it’s included in an image on your site, you’ll need to repeat that strapline in your main text, be it your ‘welcome/intro’ or ‘about’ pages.


10. Don’t make promises you can’t deliver

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This applies in two senses – first, don’t commit to a special offer if it’s likely to bankrupt you when 300,000 people try to take advantage of it; the potential online audience is vast, so be careful to place sensible limits on anything you promise in writing.

Secondly, be wary of double meanings in your writing. In this example, “Buy Bed, Free 1 Night Stand”, it’s likely that the writer knew what they were doing, but it’s likely that some would-be customers were either put off by the bedroom humour, or didn’t get the joke at all, and totally misunderstood what was on offer.

Want to test your copy skills with the above in mind? Why not start a new website with Moonfruit?

Vicki Shiel
Editor at Moonfruit. Likes food and smoothies.

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