What Makes ‘Bad’ Copy?


I’ve been working in-house for a large, well-known hotel brand for the last couple of months on a big re-write project for their websites. Scouring through their thousands of room descriptions and hundreds of individual hotel websites I’ve discovered some really…interesting copy. Many of the hotels write their website copy for themselves because they believe that they know their hotel better than a copywriter who’s never even been to their hotel. Sure, this may be true in regards to their guests, their local competitors and the daily working of their hotel. But this doesn’t mean that they can write. This seems to be a fact that many business owners simply cannot accept – that they may know their own business, but they don’t know how to convey that knowledge in a creative, concise and clever way. So if you can’t hire a professional writer, then what kind of copy should you definitely avoid when trying to describe or sell a product to your customers?

#1 – Poor Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling and Vocabulary Use

To some, poor grammar and spelling seem like a pedantic concern when the copy itself ‘makes sense’. It may be true that readers are able to grasp the meaning and tone of your copy regardless of how it is written, but many of your potential clients will actually be put off by poor grammar, spelling, punctuation and vocabulary use. These things suggest you haven’t taken the time to proofread your work or even press the spell-check button on Word. It also suggests that you may be uneducated and your business itself will be unprofessional, unorganised and careless. If you can’t spend 5 minutes checking a piece of copy for errors, how professional can your business really be? Such a small concern, but one that has a massive impact on how your readers and potential customers view your business and your product. Sloppy and riddled with errors – is that how you want your business to be perceived?

#2 – Issues with Tone and Formality

If your business is a criminal lawyers’ office, do you really want to adopt an informal or witty tone of voice for your copy? Businesses like this are centred on seriousness, following rules and dealing with life changing events, so the copy you write for your website, marketing copy and printed material should convey how seriously your business takes itself. Conversely, if you run a nightclub that caters to a young and hip crowd, being overly formal and stuffy isn’t going to appeal to your clients. This is when using colloquial language and a friendly and funny tone of voice will express your business’ vitality, creativity and youth. Adapting your tone of voice in copy is essential to bringing your business to life and letting your customers know the type of business you run and how it caters to them and their needs.

#3 – Speaking in Cliché

Some really bad copy I’ve read in recent years always seems to be full to the brim of clichés and meaningless phrases. ‘One-stop shop for all your IT needs…’, ‘the first drink is on us!’, ‘this well-appointed room is ideal for relaxation’….and on and on. Filling your copy with fluff only makes your readers feel that what they are reading is completely meaningless, and therefore what you have to sell them is completely meaningless. Keep it short, keep it simple and keep your customers coming back.

#4 – Filling your Copy with SEO Gobbledygook

As readers and internet users become more social media and SEO savvy, they become more skilled in recognising when a business is attempting to stuff their web copy with SEO keywords that attempt to lure in unsuspecting internet searchers, rather than offering them natural and useful copy. SEO keywords are often so unnatural and rigid sounding that they seem completely incongruous within the body of the copy. The copy feels jarring and sounds a little ridiculous, giving it an overall unprofessional and inorganic tone. The trick is finding SEO keywords that fit naturally within your copy and limiting them to a few well-placed keywords within the whole body of the text to avoid repetition.

Bad copy can be poorly written, filled with jargon or bursting at the seams with clichés and keywords – all turning away potential clients, new business and potential profits. So ditch the ego and hire a skilled copywriter instead!


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