6 Copywriting Mistakes That Shatter Conversion Rates

It’s always a challenge to write effective landing pages, but it’s easier when you know the mistakes to avoid. Read on to learn the worst way to talk about pricing, the structure that strangles your copy, and four other copywriting mistakes that can damage your conversion rate.

1. Failing to test long copy

Conventional wisdom says that long sales copy won’t be read. If you’ve ever written a page of copy longer than 1,000 words, you might have heard this complaint from someone who reviewed it. Be wary of this advice. What bores the reviewer might compel the buyer.

Get to the point; be prudent with each word; but test long copy, and sometimes it’ll convert much better. This is especially true when the idea is complex or the commitment is large.

When Crazy Egg hired Conversion Rate Experts, they tested a page that was around 20 times longer than the original. The result: the longer page outperformed the control by 30%.

control vs. challenger

Crazy Egg increased its conversion rate with a page that was 20 times longer than the original

2. Using the structure that strangles your copy

Multi-column layouts can be easier to write and design, but they rarely convert well on landing pages – especially when multiple columns of text are squeezed onto one row. If single-column layouts are like books, multi-column layouts are like newspapers, where you flick around and choose what to read and what to ignore.

Try testing a single-column layout where one idea flows into the next. It shows that you expect your audience to read every word from start to finish. When you use this method, you still should use subheads, graphics and text boxes to help pull the reader through the page.

If you want to use columns, don’t use text columns aligned side by side – pair them with pictures. When you have only one column of text on each row, visitors are more likely to read everything. Check out Stripe for an example of this layout.

copywriting of stripe.com

Stripe uses one text column on each row, which makes visitors more likely to read everything

3. Assuming mathematical literacy

You notice two deals side by side. One offers 50% off; the other offers 50% extra free. Which is better? According to research published in the Journal of Marketing, consumers see little difference. For your business, it’s much cheaper to offer 50% extra free, and your customers will see the deal as equivalent to a 50% discount.

In an Atlantic article discussing the research, Derek Thomson offers this advice: “The applications of this simple fact are huge. Selling cereal? Don’t talk up the discount. Talk about how much bigger the box is! Selling a car? Skip the MPG conversion. Talk about all the extra miles.”

Keep this in mind when devising and describing deals. Instead of telling a customer what they will save, try telling them what they will get for free.

4. Thinking you’re like Twitter… or Facebook

One of the biggest mistakes in marketing is failing to understand causality. Many people assume that because Facebook is successful, its landing page must be well designed and well written. Every week, people ask me to write a landing page like Twitter’s or Facebook’s. This is a bad idea. Twitter’s copy is not very effective, and it relies on people being familiar with the brand when they visit.

If you think that Twitter-style copy could be effective for your landing page, test it out. But test other ideas at the same time, because it’s unlikely to be the most successful approach.

twitter copy

Twitter’s copy isn’t meant to be persuasive, so don’t re-create its tone and style when you want your landing page to convert

5. Neglecting the most persuasive conjunction

In the late 1970s, psychologists Langer, Chanowitz, and Blank ran an experiment to find out how people respond to language. They approached people using a photocopying machine, and they measured the effectiveness of different ways of asking if they could cut in line.

When they asked to cut in line without giving a reason, 60% said yes. When they explained why they wanted to cut in line, the conversion rate shot up to over 90%. Summarizing the research in Harvard Magazine, Cara Feinberg noted that the reasons offered seemed to make little difference:

“The reasons given, if any, ranged from the sensible to the senseless: for instance, ‘May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?’ versus ‘May I use the Xerox machine because I want to make copies?’ They found that subjects overall were more amenable when given a reason, but were equally compliant whether the reason was real or ridiculous. Their behavior, she showed, was mindless: people responded more to the familiar framework of a request than to the content of the actual question. (But there were limits to this phenomenon, Langer says: ‘…because an elephant is after me’ didn’t cut it.)”

Question Conversion Rate
 Excuse me. I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine? 60%
 Excuse me. I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush? 94%
 Excuse me. I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies? 93%

 

The results changed dramatically when the researchers asked for a bigger favor. When they said they wanted to make 20 copies instead of 5, the conversion rate fell. And the weaker reason – “because I have to make some copies” – became ineffective.

Question Conversion Rate
 Excuse me. I have 20 pages. May I use the Xerox machine? 24%
 Excuse me. I have 20 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush? 42%
 Excuse me. I have 20 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies? 24%

 

Always explain why. It is easy to tell your audience why your product is cheaper or why they should buy it today, but you also need to explain why you do things your audience doesn’t like.

Statement Statement using “because”
Orders cannot be canceled Orders cannot be canceled because we start preparing your order immediately
We charge 50% more outside office hours Because it’s more expensive to be available 24/7, we charge 50% more outside office hours

 

6. Forgetting to flip positives into negatives

A point usually can be introduced positively or negatively. You could talk about how a product will save time; or, alternatively, that without a product, time will be lost. Both mean essentially the same thing, but one is positive and the other is negative.

Without testing every statement in positive and negative form, it’s nearly impossible to know which is more effective. Most people always use positives by default, but this can be a costly mistake.

Start testing what happens when you flip positives into negatives on your landing page. It can have explosive results, so it’s always worth running some tests and finding out what works.

In 1912 Edna Murphey started selling an antiperspirant that her father, a surgeon, had invented to keep his hands dry when he was operating on his patients. Business started off slowly, but a scorching summer brought her a flurry of new customers and helped her save $30,000 to invest in marketing.

Edna hired an advertising agency that appointed James Young, a now famous copywriter, to craft the message. He initially tried to overcome the misperception that blocking sweat was unhealthy. His copy explained that excessive perspiration was a medical condition, and that Odorono was the remedy.

Years later, after sales flattened, the agency studied women’s perceptions of Odorono. They found that while most women had heard of it, two thirds felt they had no need for it.

In an article for the Smithsonian, Sarah Everts explains how James Young managed to persuade many more women that they needed help:

“Young decided to present perspiration as a social faux pas that nobody would directly tell you was responsible for your unpopularity, but which they were happy to gossip behind your back about.

His advertisement in a 1919 edition of the Ladies Home Journal didn’t beat around the bush. ‘Within the Curve of a Woman’s arm. A frank discussion of a subject too often avoided,’ announced the headline above an image of an imminently romantic situation between a man and a woman. . . .

The take-home message was clear: If you want to keep a man, you’d better not smell.”

Young’s copy caused many of his female friends and colleagues to express their disgust and to proclaim “he had insulted every woman in America.” But while Young’s social circle was contracting, Odorono’s sales were rising – by 112% the next year.

odorono copy

Odorono warned women of the dangers of not using its antiperspirant

If you are failing to test long copy, forgetting to flip positives into negatives, or making the other mistakes mentioned here, run some tests and see what happens when you fix them. There’s a good chance your conversion rate will improve.

About the Author: Craig Anderson is a copywriter at Cooper Murphy, the copywriting and content marketing agency. Email Craig, and have Cooper Murphy write your next landing page.

  1. #4 is great. You have to ask yourself how aware people are of your product/brand. The “new” iPhone practically sells itself without any copy. But if I came out with a new phone tomorrow I would need to put together some great selling points to convince people to buy i.e. longer copy really stressing the benefits. Funny you also mention Crazy Egg’s landing page. When people say they think copy is too long I always show Crazy Egg as an example and tell folks they should be willing to test at the very least.

    • Murray Newlands pointed out on Future of Engagement a week or so ago that Apple using celebrities actually takes away from their message because they have such strong brand recognition and built in demand for what they sell.

      Small businesses really need to be aware that most online advice was tested ONLY for big brands and may or may not apply to them! Testing IS essential if you depend on your business income.

  2. Great information here Craig. Sometimes it is hard to understand why long copies sell more than short ones. I seem to just check out the first few sentences, scroll down and read a bit then go to “Add to Cart” once I ascertain there is a money back guarantee. Thanks though, I am a professional writer and will also remember your tips when I launch my copywriting business.

    • Many make the mistake of believing that everyone is just like them – and that is far from accurate. Some of us are wordsmiths who thoroughly research and short copy does not work on us AT ALL. While the masses may have a 30 second attention span, not everyone does. You have to know your target audience.

      The reason long copy can convert better is that there are call to actions periodically throughout – so people like you can read the first few sentences and immediately “Add to Cart” while people who want more details can keep reading.

      That is also why the Internet is brilliant – because you can provide just the minimum on the main page – so you don’t intimidate those who hate to read – but hyperlink to as much additional information as anyone could possibly want. In that way you can create a site that appeals to ALL of your target audience.

  3. Great tips Craig. I think landing cleverly designed landing pages, that speak to the heart of the prospects inner dialogue, drawing on the art of persuasive copy, and the skill of a graphic designer and the fastidiousness of the direct marketer are coming together to create business opportunities for the masses of humanity…

  4. Very useful Craig!
    I like #6 very much. Different people react differently on positive or negative wording.
    I will bookmark your company page (although most of our clients are asking for German Landing Pages).

  5. I love the statistics about the Xerox copies. It’s so true that the most persuasive word in marketing is not “you” or “free”, but “because”!

    • Absolutely true. Providing a REASON – even a not very compelling reason – tests stronger in every example I have ever seen.

      The inclusion of that tip – and the many others that I KNOW to be true makes this a MUST READ and MUST LINK post for me. It is also tells me I need to look up this author Craig Anderson and see what else he has written.

  6. Craig, thanks for your helpful insights! I really appreciated #5 and 6, It’s so important to lead your audience down the path you want them to go. Content is one of those tricky things where voice can change with every platform, every article, but the touch-points leading to conversion are relatively the same. I’ve read many, many, many articles about developing authenticity in content marketing, but it’s more than that, it’s also about understanding the psychology of your audience and giving them what they want, whether that is a lot of copy, or a little, or in other words, sometimes less is not more.

  7. So well written and insightful. Some of the stuff seems simple when explained but who thinks about it in the moment?

  8. This is a brilliant post that many of copywriters should read. These mistakes can really shatter with the conversion rates. As well cleverly designed landing pages, can create many of business opportunities to potential customers.

  9. The tips on single-column layouts and only pairing columns of images and text are great.

    I noticed on Crazyegg that’s the format they use, and its really effective. If you take a closer look at their long sales page, you notice a pattern:

    1) state how this thing will change your life
    2) say what it is
    3) 2 really interesting facts about the technology
    4) cite a scientific study
    5) Features
    6) examples of how clients use it
    7) customer testimonials
    8) demonstrations
    9) comparison to other products
    10) interesting fact that makes CrazyEgg look good
    11) more testimonials and social proof
    12) Final call to action CTA

  10. Great post, Craig. You dropped some pure GOLD here (#4 & 5). Can’t wait to test it.

  11. Very nice post Craig! I’m in the process of doing a new mockup for my site and I’m going to use a “longer” format for my home page very much in the vein of what you pointed out.

    And yes, I like the Stripe site a great deal too, although I do think they could benefit from putting a little more “meat on the bone”.

  12. These are some pretty solid tips, Craig. I particularly like how you stress “testing” throughout the entire article.

    Recently I’ve been thinking about copy content as “KEYWORDS KEYWORDS KEYWORDS”, so it was nice to read about layout other factors affecting a landing lage.

    • People keep asking copy to be keywords keywords keywords and I find it frustrating. I wrote some very bad copywriting knowing it was bad because I was just doing what people asked me for and paid me for. Long not because I really had something of value to say but to keep the SEO of the old copy intact and put the keywords. And I’m actually pretty good at making persuasive stuff. It’s really all in the format.
      I’m going to show this to my boss, I want to push our work a little further.

  13. This is really well articulated, it’s the stuff I knew but couldn’t explain :)

  14. Great read. I also recommend “Brandwashed” and / or “Buyology” by Martin Lindstrom for hundreds of real-life examples of how to get consumers to convert. If you are engaged in marketing copy, product placement or anything that involves trying to make consumers sign up / click deals and / or buy your product, they will change the way you approach your job. Both great reads!

  15. These are some great points to keep in mind for any writer. Long copy can definitely be beneficial from a buyer’s point of view. One thing to help appeal for all is to not have individual paragraphs that are too long. Keeping short segments within long copy can help keep the readers eyes moving, thus propelling them down the page. Providing visual structure definitely helps ensure that readers read everything that you want them to, not just bits and pieces.

    The key should be to look at your content from the viewer’s mindset, not your own. You know what you’re writing about and what you want the viewer to buy/ read/ etc. However, you need to get the viewer interested and invested to the level you are!

  16. Videos also convert like crazy, especially if you are selling a product that lends itself to demos. Another trick is to use images, and plenty of them. Show your customers and users with smiling faces, (like 37 Signals does) and conversion rates will go up exponentially ()

    I actually wrote about a few other factors that influenced landing page conversion rates in a recent post http://www.pixelsandclicks.net/b2b-landing-page-conversion/

  17. Very interesting and thought provolking reading.
    Ron Lee
    Editor
    http://www.PortlandSocialMedia.com

  18. The case study by Conversion Rate Experts is amazing. Never would’ve guessed until I saw the page for myself, long is OK as long as it isn’t boring.

  19. Thanks for the tips Craig. I think I need to add more to my landing pages!

  20. As a writer, I appreciate #1 on long copy. Sometimes my clients forget that a webpage’s content is not limited to the amount of content that could fit on a sheet of printer paper. I often reference “the bikini principle.” You can give 90% of it away for free. There will always be people willing to pay for the other 10%. Don’t be afraid to give away good content. If you don’t, someone else will. Your customers will go to them instead.

  21. Thanks for the suggestions guys. I just launched my book “How To Engineer Your Layoff: Make A Small Fortune Saying Goodbye”.

    I tightened up the sales page and made it easier to read after this article, but its still 2,300 words long. Can someone kindly click over and provide any feedback?

    Thanks,

    Sam

  22. I think marketing content these days tends to acquire lots of garble and lingo that the person who wrote the piece thinks makes it sound impressive/credible, but it’s just confusing and turning the reader off. Agree with this article. Simplify.

  23. #3 really resonated with me. Anyone can give a discount, but what the client/customer really needs to know about is the benefit of that discount, not just about how much they will be saving in dollars and cents.

    I am also going to use some of your suggestions from #1 and #2 in the redesign of a home page I am working on.

    Thanks Chris. You have definitely given me some things to think about.

  24. Excellent post man!
    Thanks for sharing such an informative article,keep on posting.

  25. Thanks for all of these ideas. I never thought of using the Thank you this way. Really important for a non-profit.

  26. Hey Craig !
    great article indeed.
    I really enjoyed the whole post. And i totally agree with you that if you make a website just like facebook or twitter it would not work, because people have this already. Now they want something new but better comparatively.
    I liked your pin points.
    thanks.
    Matt

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