3 Copywriting Mistakes That 90% Of Beginners Are Probably Guilty Of

copywriting mistakes

Copywriting is simple. Just take this copywriting course, write a few portfolio samples, find your first client, take a nap… and wake up with a 6-figure business.

At least this is what people who sell copywriting courses like to tell you.

However, like any business, copywriting is pretty tricky and when you’re just starting out, it’s very easy to make mistakes without even noticing them.

At least I did, so I’m sharing my experience. Here are 3 mistakes that can undermine your best efforts and even sabotage your entire copywriting career.

Not wanting to be a T-shaped marketer

Recently, I was hanging out in a copywriting group on Facebook and a post drew my attention almost immediately.

A freelance copywriter was complaining about her client. Apparently, the client expected some SEO knowledge from the writer and she didn’t have any, so she wrote an angry post about clients who don’t understand that a copywriter isn’t supposed to know SEO.

What (or who) is a T-shaped marketer?

This is someone who specializes in one or two components of digital marketing but has some additional skills, like a copywriter who also knows the basics of SEO and UX/UI design.

The horizontal bar of the T stands for the breadth of a person’s knowledge, and the vertical bar represents the depth of their specialization. Here’s a handy diagram designed by Buffer:

image 5

It shows the skillset of a person who specializes in content marketing and SEO but also has some knowledge of psychology, design, funnel marketing and many other areas.

Why should you strive to become a T-shaped marketer?

Every marketing specialist can benefit from a T-shaped skillset. Let’s say you want to specialize in writing persuasive copy. Here are some of the skills you should also work on:

  • SEO so that your super-persuasive landing pages actually get organic traffic.
  • UX design because persuasive copy and user-friendly design always go hand in hand.
  • Google Analytics so that you know how well your copy is performing.
  • Marketing strategy so that you know exactly how every piece you write fits into your client’s marketing efforts.
  • Excel or similar software where you can collect and analyze large amounts of customer research data.

In other words: digital marketing is like a huge jigsaw puzzle. If you only know about one piece of this puzzle, you’ll have a hard time making it fit in with all the other pieces.

But is all that learning actually worth the effort? Here are some reasons why you should invest in building a wide range of marketing skills while maintaining a clear focus.

Become a valuable consultant, not just an employee

First and foremost: you’re there to help your clients, not to take their money. And very, very many small (and sometimes large) businesses need help with various aspects of their marketing, not just the one they hired you for.

Here’s how one freelance writer put it:

“I enjoyed working with my new client but I quickly noticed that their briefs were based on substandard keyword research and outdated techniques like keyword stuffing. So I offered to update their SEO strategy, and they agreed. After their content began ranking on the first page of Google, they began treating me like their marketing consultant and not just someone they hired to obey orders.”

Collaborate with other marketing pros

If you want to collaborate with other marketing team members or other freelancers hired by the same clients, you should share some common ground so that you know what everyone else is talking about. Otherwise, it will be very hard to work towards common marketing goals. 

Make $$$

Expanding your skills means that you can offer more valuable services. More valuable services mean higher rates. Higher rates mean more money. I don’t think I need to explain it.

How to avoid this mistake

Keep learning throughout your entire career, and don’t just focus on copywriting courses. Here are some awesome learning resources for you.

Free resources

  • HubSpot Academy is the go-to resource for content marketing, SMM and inbound marketing courses. It’s free and you can also get certified if you want to.
  • SEMRush Academy is another excellent resource from a world-famous marketing company. You can learn about SEO, PPC advertising, competitor research and other topics like selling on Amazon. Oh, and it’s free.
  • Copyhackers is the ultimate learning resource for conversion copywriting. You’ll learn about doing market research, writing top-notch copy, optimizing your conversion rates, boosting your freelance career and so much more.
  • Neil Patel’s blog covers pretty much all areas of digital marketing, from running a WordPress website to advanced SEO techniques. No matter if you’re wondering how to write your first blog post or setting up a conversion rate optimization program, Neil has something to teach you.
  • Carmine Mastropierro’s blog is full of excellent how-to articles that will help you apply your new knowledge immediately. You can also check out his courses.

  • CXL Institute offers over 50+ courses and 6 minidegrees taught by leading experts. You can try the free Foundations plan (access to basic courses) or get a 7-day trial with access to all courses. After this, you’ll have to pay $100 a month. But if you’re serious about becoming an awesome digital marketer, the price is definitely worth it.
  • Copy School is a part of Copyhackers. You specify what you want to learn about right now (e. g. doing research for a landing page) and get a straightforward learning path. The usual price is $1497 (charged annually) or $297 (charged monthly), but you can get epic discounts from time to time.
  • LinkedIn Learning. If you have a paid LinkedIn account, you can access a vast library of courses on all kinds of topics that could interest a LinkedIn user, from building soft skills to mastering advanced SEO tricks. In addition, there are so-called learning paths that end with a cool certificate like “Content Strategist”.

Never stop learning!

Trying to reinvent the wheel

This is a surprisingly common copywriting mistake. Many aspiring copywriters believe that if they want their copy to stand out in the market, it has to be unlike anything else. Their logic goes like, “Since everyone is doing the same thing, I have to do things differently to stand out and succeed. I have to show my unique creativity, right?”

But the problem is that copywriting isn’t creative writing, just like assembling furniture isn’t woodcarving. One is largely functional, the other is largely aesthetic. 

The function of copy is, of course, persuasion. And since people have been persuading each other for thousands of years, we know a lot about how persuasion works. In fact, the key principles of persuasion were first described in Ancient Greece and they haven’t changed much.

In other words: we know exactly how to structure persuasive texts for maximum effectiveness. And there’s no point in trying to reinvent the wheel and deviate from established persuasion techniques.

What are copywriting formulas?

The great Eugene Schwartz pointed out once, “Copy is not written. Copy is assembled.”

The word assemble means, in this context, fitting together the parts of something.

dictionary definition of assemble
Source: merriam-webster.com

You’ve probably assembled IKEA furniture at least once in your life. So you know what it looks like: you get a bunch of boards, screws, whatever… and you also get assembly instructions that you have to follow closely.

It’s the same with copy. There are specific proven ways to arrange words and ideas on a web page, and these are called copywriting formulas.

Let’s look at HubSpot’s homepage to see an example.

hubspot home page

The very first screen you see has:

  • a headline
  • a few lines of text
  • a call to action (the orange button that says “Get HubSpot Free”).

The text contains the so-called value proposition. Lance Jones defines it as “ an explicit promise of value to the reader about whatever you’re selling – a promise of something amazing, hopefully.”

Hubspot promises something that every business owner wants: business growth. And you can get it for free.

features and benefits

The second screen tells us more about HubSpot’s marketing software. Notice that the benefits (what this software can help you do) are listed before the features.

social proof on hubspot homepage

Now’s the time for so-called social proof. The goal of this screen is to make you think, “Wow, if their blog is so wildly popular and they have so many customers, they must know what they’re doing.”

Humans are social creatures, so we like to do things that everyone else in our social or professional group does. This is why things like user statistics, testimonials, client logos (like the ones below) are extremely powerful persuasion tools.

hubspot call to action

The page ends with a call to action and two lines of text that help relieve the reader’s anxiety and handle a possible objection. Many people think that marketing software is too complicated so they never actually try it. HubSpot promises a different experience: with their software, “getting started with inbound has never been easier”.

You’ve probably seen tons of homepages and sales pages that are structured almost exactly like this one. Is it because copywriters are too lazy so they just open a WordPress page template and fill in the blanks?

No. It’s because this page structure is known to work. HubSpot is a leading authority on digital marketing and they know exactly what they’re doing.

Where can I find good resources on copywriting formulas?

Not relying on voice of customer data

Every copywriting course will tell you to write for your customer, in the customer’s language. However, most don’t tell you what this really means.

This is why many copywriters just end up thinking things like, “Okay, I’m writing a text about cat doors. What kind of problem does my target audience have? I used to have a cat and I hated how creaky the door was. Let’s write about creaky pet doors.”

This kind of guesswork is pretty much a hit and miss process. Maybe you guess what your customers really want, maybe not.

I know a company whose buyer persona is literally named John, the most generic name ever. He’s 35 and works in an office. And, for whatever incomprehensible reason, he needs their app.

No wonder they get maybe one or two leads for each ad campaign they run.

But what if there was a way to find out what your potential customers really want? Like… ask them or something?

Well, this is a thing. And it’s called voice of customer research (or just VOC research). This includes a variety of techniques that range from mining reviews and lurking on forums to focus groups and interviews. And it should be an integral part of the research you have to do before writing any piece of sales copy.

So you can join a cat owners group on Facebook and search for posts about cat doors.

What brands do people recommend and why? What kinds of problems do they have? What features and benefits matter the most for them? What are the customer expectations?

You’ll find more than answers to these questions. You’ll find ready-to-use chunks of language that can serve as the foundation of your sales copy. So if someone asks, “My cat door is leaking, can I use silicone to fix it?”, you can steal this sentence and craft a headline such as “Still trying to fix your cat door with silicone?”.

In other words, your potential customers can partially write your copy for you, and this copy will be absolutely on point because it comes from the customers’ own mouth.

How to find VOC data fast

While companies with a decent marketing budget can afford cool things like big surveys, focus groups or individual interviews, you will often have to rely on faster, less costly methods.

Especially if you work with small businesses who don’t have much money for marketing. Or with businesses whose marketing department doesn’t know the real value of VOC data, so they send you briefs that clearly aren’t based on solid market research.

So here’s a fast and free method for collecting some voice of customer data to power your copy.

If your copy is selling a physical product, go on Amazon and look for reviews of similar products. While some reviews may be fake, the genuine ones are an excellent source of information.

If you’re writing copy to sell a service, look for reviews of similar services on Yelp, Trustpilot or any other website that’s relevant to your niche (Udemy for online courses, for example)

Where can I learn more about VOC research?

I recommend CXL and Copy School for it. Joanna Wiebe, the founder of Copyhackers and Copy School, is pretty much the person who made VOC research an absolutely integral part of copywriting.

However, you have to pay for those resources. If you’re looking for a free alternative, let me recommend this HubSpot article or this free guide offered by CXL.

Conclusion

The three mistakes described here are less obvious than mortal sins like using bad grammar or plagiarizing copy. However, they can keep you stuck on the beginner level. If you want to advance your copywriting career and win the trust of high-profile clients, build a T-shaped skillset, rely on tried-and-tested persuasion formulas, and master the art and science of VOC research.

Featured image: Anna Shvets / Pexels

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