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THEY SAID WHAT?! Conversion-Killing Copy Habits to Avoid

Posted on 3.01.2015

By Brian Lewis, SiteTuners

Everyone has met someone like this before - nice people who have the best intentions, but somehow end up saying something stupid.

Not stupid in an intellectual sense, but stupid in a trip-over-their-own-feet inappropriate way. Most of the time these folks don’t realize they’re alienating the people around them.

Since websites are created by people, inevitably there are some sites that suffer from the same malaise. Try as they may to motivate the visitor to purchase, the only feat these sites accomplish is compelling the visitor to click the back button.

Fortunately, identifying these annoying communication breaches is not difficult. Here are some of the more glaring conversion-killing copywriting offenses to avoid.

The “We-We” Syndrome

People naturally like to talk about themselves, particularly when trying to make a positive first impression. Website visitors, however, are primarily concerned with finding a solution to their problem. Company websites that are full of content about “What we do” and “How we work” come across as self-obsessed, not customer-centric. This is what’s called the “we-we” syndrome, and it’s a sure way to turn off visitors and kill conversions.

Imagine being on a first date with someone who talks constantly about him/herself. Even the most interesting person will eventually come across as an egotistical bore. Yet many websites fall into this “we-we” trap with their content – focusing entirely on what the organization has accomplished rather than showing an interest in the visitor and his or her needs.

In a recent spin on the “we-we” syndrome, some companies have deliberately adopted the pronoun “we” in their copy in an attempt to imply a partnership with their customers or prospects. An example of this is Wells Fargo’s slogan “Together we’ll go far.” But a study published last year in the Journal of Consumer Research indicated that this approach also has its risks, as it doesn’t always communicate the message intended. According to the study, while the word “we” works well when an actual relationship exists, it can backfire when used to convey an intimacy that is inappropriate or unexpected.

How does a company avoid the “we-we” syndrome on its website? One of the most effective ways is to let others tell their story. Leverage the trust-building power of media coverage, customer reviews and testimonials for copy that is believable without being “braggadocious.”

Using Jargon and Acronyms

Jargon and acronyms have an insidious way of sneaking into the content of even the most experienced marketers. Both jargon and acronyms are part of the “secret language” that a company or industry uses to talk about core issues without having to explain them. They can be a great time-saver for internal company discussions, but when used on a website, jargon and acronyms can be confusing, vexing or simply off-putting.

Winston Churchill once said “Use simple words everyone knows, then everyone will understand.” Sounds easy, right? The challenge, of course, is that many companies develop jargon to simplify their internal communications, and the terms become so commonplace that they forget that they are not part of most people’s everyday vocabulary. In other words, a word or acronym that a marketer uses daily may seem “simple,” yet it has no real meaning to the average Web visitor.

High-converting Web copy speaks the language of the customer, not the company. The right language will help forge a connection with visitors, letting them know they’re in the right place, increasing their trust and moving them toward conversion. Conducting informal usability tests or focus groups, listening to sales calls and researching commonly used search terms are all fairly simple techniques that marketers and writers can employ to ensure their Web content aligns with their customers’ language.

Focusing on Facts and Features

In the 1990s, a neuroscientist named Antonio Damasio formulated the “somatic marker hypothesis,” suggesting that human behavior and decision making are strongly influenced by emotions. Damasio spent years studying people who had suffered injury to the part of their brain that controls emotions, and he noticed that without the ability to feel emotions, their capacity to make decisions was seriously impaired. These folks were intelligent and could logically describe what they “should” do in a certain situation, but in practice they found it very difficult to make even the most basic decisions.

Humans are emotional beings, and Damasio’s research shows how important emotions are in helping people take decisive action. So when it comes to writing persuasive Web copy, great writers know that the key is to evoke emotions. To do this, copy must focus on the benefits, or rewards, that a customer will experience as a result of buying, and not simply provide the facts.

Marketers and sales people are very good at highlighting the features of their product or service and providing what seems to be a logical argument in favor of purchase, but features don’t get a prospect emotionally motivated. As copyblogger Brian Clark puts it, “benefits sell, features support.” The most effective Web content finds the right balance between describing physical attributes (aka “features”) while vividly describing the benefits of purchase in a way that triggers a strong emotional response.


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Not Injecting a Sense of Urgency

Most marketers are familiar with the principles of urgency and scarcity – behavioral psychologists have demonstrated time and again that the more difficult something is to acquire the more people will want it. So when a call-to-action on a website gives visitors a reason to act immediately, they’re more likely to do so. This is the urgency principle in action – and it works. Procrastination is one of the biggest enemies of online conversion, which is why not injecting a sense of urgency is a big conversion-killing copywriting mistake.

The most effective websites have all figured out how to minimize the risk of procrastination by infusing genuine urgency into their offers. This might include putting a deadline on a special sale price or discount offer, indicating the specific quantity that remains in stock, or even promising a certain delivery date if the order is placed in X minutes. Each of these techniques plays on the fear of missing out – a powerful emotional trigger at the root of the urgency principle.

Ignoring the Power of Words

In the world of a conversion optimizer, myriad tools and techniques exist for improving the effectiveness of a website. It’s easy to see how big data and exciting new technology could overshadow the time-tested effectiveness of good copywriting. The fact remains: Words have power. Putting the right words to work can have a significant impact on a website’s ability to attract, engage, persuade and convert visitors.


Brian Lewis is the director of optimization at SiteTuners, where he works with clients to diagnose conversion barriers, streamline conversion paths and support test-planning efforts.

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