Are You Making These 5 Research-Backed Copywriting Mistakes?

Peter Sharkey in Content marketing on 10th of Feb 2017
Copywriting Mistakes

Copywriting Mistakes

Are You Making These 5 Research-Backed Copywriting Mistakes?

A site’s design captures a visitor’s attention. But ultimately it’s the _words_ that compel them to purchase. Or not. Fortunately, you don’t have to be creative or some ninja-rockstar-growth-hacking-marketer to write well. You just need to understand how people think and how they make decisions. Here are 5 research-backed copywriting mistakes that commonly sink conversions (and how to fix them).

Mistake #1. Not priming

Steve Jobs, President Obama, and Einstein all wear the same clothes everyday. It’s not because they’re lazy. Or trying to make a statement. Vanity has nothing to do with it. In fact, it’s for a much more practical reason. They’re trying to _reduce_ the number of decisions they have to make each day. Studies show that we can only make a certain number of decisions before getting fatigued. Your willpower—so strong on a Monday morning—collapses by Friday afternoon. That means the worst thing we as marketers can do is to make people think. Instead, we should be doing the hard work for them. A perfect example of that is aligning your message match between advertisements and landing pages. In essence, you want to prime customer expectations so that where they land lines up with what they initially clicked on. Here’s my favorite example, courtesy of Disruptive Advertising:

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The pug image and the pug copy and the pug adoption call-to-action message match each other. Zero thinking. And tons of cuteness. saw results with the priming method. The company changed a generic “Download” to a more descriptive “Price Guide” that informed customers on what to expect. The result? A 620.9% increase in clickthroughs.

Mistake #2. Weak words

“Exhaustive (word-for-word) reading is rare”, according to the Nielsen Norman Group. The group proved this years ago when conducting an eye-tracking study that showed how people scan and jump around web pages (as opposed to reading each line in quick succession like a novel).

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Part of the problem is our distracted browsing habits. According to Trello’s research, we hop around between an average of 3-5 browser tabs which is “actually making you scatterbrained, thus decreasing your ability to remember any single piece of information.” So the only way to get someone’s attention long enough to give your ad, landing page, email, or blog post a chance, is to grab it. By scaring them. Shocking them. Teasing them. Or just making them laugh. You need to disrupt the well-worn patterns to jolt them out of unconsciousness. And in copywriting, you do that with power words. Cut the weak clutter with evocative, strong, commanding language. Don’t ask for someone’s permission to “Sign Up”, but boldly tell them to “Get XYZ Now”.

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Mistake #3. Stopping people in their tracks

Sometimes A/B tests backfire, but you learn a valuable lesson in the process. That’s what happened to Michael Aagaard when he tried to increase results on a simple conversion form. Logically, you’d assume that assuring people you’ll never spam them would only increase their confidence and therefore, conversions. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

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Adding a simple line under the Terms and Conditions that mentioned “spam” actually decreased conversions by 18%. Unsatisfied, Michael tried this again to see if it was an isolated case.

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Unfortunately, it wasn’t. And conversions again dropped 24%. The reason? “Spam” is a classic “stop word”. It trips people up. Makes them second guess. Watch what happened when that single word was removed:

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Conversions jumped up by almost 20%.

Mistake #4. No compelling reason why

Your greatest threat to conversions isn’t your competition. It’s inertia. It’s getting people to take action—any action. One reason is because people tend to overvalue their own stuff. So they don’t always see the reason (or more importantly, the need) to switch or try something new. Your offers and landing pages then need to explicitly spell out the compelling reasons _why _someone should take a chance on it. Take this offer example from By simply rewriting the language to focus on the benefits and end results a person experiences from signing up, the company increased conversions by over 200%.

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The first (underperforming) example said that someone “will be contacted by one of our business consultants” after filling out the form. Which excites nobody, ever. While the second offers instructions for what to do, and explains the end results they’re going to get out of it, while also removing anxiety and objections.

Mistake #5. Using meaningless jargon

“Cognitive fluency” is a fancy term consultants use to charge higher rates a “measure of how easy it is to think about something”, according to The Boston Globe. And in essence, the easier something is to understand the more likely it is to be true. Their research goes on to share how cleaner fonts or easy-to-pronounce names—all things that make something easier to understand—also have positive benefits (despite how small or inconsequential they might seem). So where does this apply online? Go to your homepage and read the first headline that jumps out. Now install the Dejargonator and refresh your homepage.

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Jargon kills your conversions on multiple levels.

  • It’s confusing. And we just learned that easy = true.
  • The words are weak so they fail to grab attention.
  • Jargon doesn’t explain why someone should do something, leading to inaction.
  • If your competitors use the same jargon too, your company won’t stand out from the crowd.

All of these factors add up to create one, big, conversion-destroying A-bomb. The same jargon that sounds so impressive in a board meeting and bandied about in business school only teaches your customers to (a) at best, ignore you online, or (b) at worst, default to shopping based the only objective thing that separates you from the competition: price.


Don’t overthink your copy. Don’t worry about clever vs. clear. Forget about short vs. long. Just explain what someone gets from your product or service in the most direct way, using actionable language that paints a vivid picture. Start there and the conversions should take care of themselves. Have you made any of these copywriting mistakes? How did you adjust to achieve better results? Let us know in the comments.

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