Is your copy cheating? How to stop writing like everyone else


Deepa’s just returned from the Copywriting Conference bubbling with ideas and inspiration! In this post, she shares tips for creating genuinely effective copy from speaker Amy Harrison.

“We offer powerful solutions to promote innovation within your business”

Any idea what this refers to? Web content is full of copy like this – with no context and no aim. Read this alone and it makes no sense and helps no one. This business could be doing anything from selling coffee beans to offices to installing PC software – but this copy doesn’t tell you.

The customer disconnect

This creates a customer disconnect. Something that Amy Harrison recently spoke about at this year’s Copywriting Conference. This is when you focus on what you want people to do, instead of why they want to do it.

Vague umbrella terms like this instantly turn people off, and that’s only if they noticed you in the first place. When you’re struggling for attention suddenly everything becomes powerful, innovative, ground-breaking or unique. What you’re doing is using cheating copy.

Cheating copy is made up of over-used general terms that rarely refer to the product you’re selling, but are found all over the internet. They make you blend in with your competitors and stop your potential customers caring about what you do.

It’s easy to fall into this trap when trying to write web content. There’s so much competing for your customer’s eye that it’s easy to fall into a pattern of using strong but vague words to capture them. Amy’s talk was a reminder to look at things differently. Forget (momentarily) what you want to get out of this content and more what a customer is looking for instead, and why they care.

Eliminate cheating copy

What problems does your product solve? Instead of telling people it’s ground breaking, powerful or revolutionary, be specific. You can also do this alongside your umbrella terms too.

  • What is the product?

  • What does it do?

  • What makes it different?

  • What problems does it fix?

Let’s test this on some headline copy for a food processor.

CHEATING: "A sleek addition to any kitchen that can transform meals in minutes.”

How can we overcome this?

  • What is the product? A food processor.

  • What does it do? It can blend, chop and slice.

  • What makes it different? It’s compact and easy to clean.

  • What problems does it fix? Not bulky, like other food processors, easy to tuck away after use.

GENUINE: “A compact food-processor that chops, blends and slices. Easy to clean and store.”

The genuine copy is specific, easy to understand and useful to the customer. It describes what it is (useful for accessibility and SEO) and the problems it solves. The cheating copy could be about anything used in the kitchen, from a saucepan to a knife.

Amy used a great example about time-tracking software in her presentation. The cheating copy used terms like ‘powerful software’ and ‘guaranteed results’ but it should have been more specific. Tell people that it’s powerful because it starts in 10 minutes and that it integrates with Google apps. Tell people how your software will fit in with their current set up (lack of Google integration), and if it fixes any problems (slow start up).

Want to use some umbrella terms? Team them up with specific copy! Tell people that you have ‘powerful time-tracking software that integrates with Google.’  Or for your food processor, tell them that ‘Four blades mean it can chop, blend and slice effortlessly– transform your meals in minutes.’

How can you make a customer care?

This was my favourite part of the talk because it was realistic. Amy said people’s default state is inertia. Generally, we don’t like change, so we need to be persuaded why we should be interested in something new. This can be hard to hear, especially to a client about their beloved product, they don’t want to hear that people don’t care!

Then she told us about her technique, of imagining ‘General Cynical Man’ in your head when writing (preferably with his arms crossed). He’ll always ask, ‘so what?’ when you tell him about your product. Then you tell him how great it is –  but then you would say that. So, tell him why it’s going to help him. You need to combine all these elements to convince him, especially the last one.

To finish off her talk Amy left us with 5 tips to remove the customer disconnect, eliminate cheating copy AND make your customer care:

1. Don’t bury the value: what problems does your product solve, and why it is unique? Put that front and centre.

2. Get inside their head. Think about how people think about their problems. Try surveys to find out what people want.

3. Address problems using symptoms. What are the symptoms people have that cause problems, does their slow software mean reports take too long to produce? Do they feel put off trying new recipes because their food processor doesn’t work properly?

4. Highlight the risks of not using your product or service.

5. Consistently communicate the impact – what it is, what it does, why you need it.

As a copywriter, I find that it’s all too easy to fall into habits, some good and some bad. Amy’s talk, and the Copywriting Conference was a great kick up the bum for me. A practical and creative set of talks and workshops that gave me a fresh take on my work, and stellar tips too.

For more copywriting tips and tricks read our blog on making boring content interesting, or learn how to get into character when writing.

Deepa MistryComment