Why Levelling Up Crappy Copy Should Be a Top Priority for Brands and Businesses in 2024
In today’s saturated attention-economy, mediocre copy not only makes for forgettable content, but also tarnishes people’s impression of your brand, which is why crappy copy is a sure way to shoot yourself in the foot.
In an age where consumers of online content are spoiled for choice, we often associate ‘crappy copy’ with the caliber of the brand behind it: If it’s not a priority for a brand to create great copy, maybe there are other aspects of its products or business philosophy that are also lacking, so we instinctively appreciate brands that do take the trouble to create copy that’s engaging and well-written. If they’ve taken the trouble to create high-caliber content, they most likely take pride in other aspects of their offering as well, and as consumers we tend to gravitate towards brands and businesses that care about delivering great quality and go the extra mile to impress and delight us.
Before I dive in to why crappy copy cripples your marketing efforts, let’s just consider the context: When I say that “as consumers of content, we’re spoiled for choice”, it’s because according to Worldometers, over 7.5 million new blog posts are published every day in 2023 (!) about 61% of which are in English (about 4.6 million). Even if we allow for certain discrepancies in this source data, the point is that there’s a crap load of blog posts published every day, and I mean that quite literally, because the vast majority of written content published on the internet is crap. I know this, because according to a Hubspot study, only 27% of respondents said they read blog content “in detail” while the rest (nearly ¾ of readers) admitted to only “skimming” through the piece. This is very telling: If the topic of a blog post interests you and there’s no issue of limited attention span or time constraints, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t read it thoroughly. So, the most logical reason for choosing not to read blog content in detail is that it’s obviously not good enough to command your full attention.
This post isn’t meant to be a tutorial on how to write fabulous copy. Rather, it aims to enlighten business owners, entrepreneurs and even content creators who don’t specialize in copywriting themselves — just how crucial it is to replace crappy copy with copy that reflects a higher standard.
Here are a few statistics that explain why:
Marketers rely on quality content to champion in their promotional efforts:
- According to HubSpot’s 2020 marketing trends report, 60% of marketers stated Content Marketing is ‘very important’ or ‘extremely important’ to their overall strategy. 70% of marketers are actively investing in content marketing and 64% said their marketing budget increased for 2020.
- A Zazzle Media survey of thousands of marketing decision makers found that written content is still the most popular form of content in the marketing industry, used by 97% of respondents, with email marketing not far behind (82%) and video rising to 72%.
- Research from Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs found that 92% of B2B marketers value creativity and craft in content creation and production. Content creation is also the activity both B2B & B2C marketers are most likely to outsource, regardless of company size, content marketing budget, or overall content marketing success. Blog posts were also found to be the top performing type of B2B content for building brand awareness by B2B marketers.
In a pandemic world, content needs to work even harder:
- MarketingProfs and CMI shared some insights for 2021: “In a pandemic world, marketers report that content is more important than ever.” When asked to select the top five content marketing-related areas they thought their organization would invest in during 2021, content creation (70%) and website enhancements (66%) topped the list.
- DemandGen’s 2021 Content Preferences Survey Report found that B2B organizations pivoted during the pandemic to virtual engagement and digital content strategies to connect with buyers, prospects and customers amid social distancing mandates. “As B2B buyers continue to self-navigate through their purchasing journey, the need for early- and mid-stage content remains high. They’re relying on a mix of long form thought leadership content such as white papers (57%) and E-books (54%), as well as shorter formats such as infographics (55%) and blog posts (54%) in the early stages.” Respondents noted that the content they find most memorable and impactful –
▹Tells a strong story that resonates with buying committees (55%);
▹Uses data and research to support claims (52%);
▹Is research-based (40%);
▹Is packed with shareable stats and quick-hitting insights (40%); and
▹Is personalized/tailored to their needs (32%)”
Writing impactful content is both a science and an art:
So, what kind of content is most effective? SEMrush’s 2019 State of Content Marketing Report found that:
- “The longer the better”: Articles that have long headlines and contain more than 3,000 words (long-form content) perform better in all respects (x3 more traffic, x4 more social shares and x3.5 more backlinks) than articles of average length (901–1200 words), most likely because of the value they deliver compared to bite-sized content.
- Short (300–900 words) articles are ‘not shared at all’ x4.5 more often than long reads of 3,000+ words.
- Headlines can impact performance: Articles with really long headlines (14+ words) turned out to be the most effective, getting x2 more traffic, x2 more social shares and x5 more backlinks than articles with short headlines (7–10 words).
- Listicles (articles with lists) were found to be the most shared and traffic-yielding content format, followed by guides and “how to” articles. “In general, blog posts with a special title (lists, guides, questions) are more likely to have a higher performance in terms of shares and traffic (up to 2x more than other types of blog posts).”
A 2019 study of 912 million blog posts by Backlinko with help from their data partner BuzzSumo drew similar findings:
- Content longer than 3,000 words gets an average of 77.2% more backlinks than content shorter than 1,000 words. The ideal content length for maximizing social shares is 1,000–2,000 words. Therefore, long-form content appears to be ideal for backlink acquisition.
- The vast majority of online content gets few social shares and backlinks. In fact, 94% of all blog posts have zero external links, and only a small percentage of “Power Posts” get a disproportionate number of social shares. Specifically, 1.3% of articles generate 75% of all social shares.
- Question headlines (titles that end with a “?”) get 23.3% more social shares than headlines that don’t end with a question mark.
- Lists posts are heavily shared on social media. In fact, list posts get an average of 218% more shares than “how to” posts and 203% more shares than infographics.
- Certain content formats appear to work best for acquiring backlinks: “Why Posts”, “What Posts” and infographics received 25.8% more links compared to videos and “How-to” posts.
A 2020 study from Orbit Media found that some notable habits of the most successful bloggers include:
- Writing blog posts that are at least 2,000+ words
- Adding 7+ visuals per post
- Writing 7+ draft headlines per post
- Spending 6+ hours writing each article
- Adding video to their content
- Publishing multiple times per week
Finally, internet users prefer useful content to intrusive ads:
According to research from Bango, 77% of CEOs don’t see digital ads as a key source of new customers or sales: “More than anywhere else, digital ad spend is where CEOs see their money pouring out, but not nearly enough coming in. With as little as 3% of ads converting, 97% of digital ad dollars are effectively wasted in the eyes of the CEO.” To make matters worse, according to GWI, close to half of all internet users (43%) are ad-blocking, reflecting people’s general aversion to advertising. So, although online ads may still be ‘somewhat impactful’, if you consider that the reach of the online ads you’re devoting the lion’s share of your promotional budget to is limited, you may want to prioritize other avenues instead, like branded content or the use of influencers.
That’s just a small taste of statistics that highlight not only the crowded and competitive nature of content on the web, but also the importance of content as part of the marketing mix, and why high-quality written content is so crucial to brand awareness, lead generation and business growth.
Why leveling up crappy copy is a no-brainer investment for brand loyalty and business growth
I happen to be both a professional copywriter and an avid consumer of content, so when I come across poorly-written copy I admit that the copy-snob in me judges it a little more harshly than most people would, and I chalk it up to ‘just another brand that’s shooting itself in the foot by publishing crappy copy’. But just as poorly-written copy usually makes me cringe, I smile in admiration when I see brilliantly-written copy. I metaphorically high-five whoever wrote it and the brand behind it, because clearly, they deserve kudos for understanding the consequences of crappy copy and being clever enough to avoid it.
Copy can be crappy on many levels. Here are just three that spring to mind:
- Poorly-written copy makes your brand or business look mediocre compared with others in your niche that do make the effort to invest in stellar copy.
- Copy that doesn’t draw readers in within seconds can turn them off faster than you can say “But wait, there’s more!” and drive them straight into the waiting arms of your more savvy competitors instead.
- Copy that isn’t written with your end-goal in mind is a missed opportunity to convert a potentially interested follower or customer into an actual follower or customer, because if a call to action is only introduced as an afterthought, it most likely won’t be as effective as it could have been if the copy positioned it more strategically at the outset.
These are all unfortunate outcomes considering how hard it is to grow a business in today’s ultra-competitive attention-economy — because they’re all easily avoidable either by prioritizing the creation of high-quality content in the first place, or recognizing that your existing copy is ‘missing the mark’ and then acting decisively to improve it.
Why it’s not only pointless, but also detrimental to produce mediocre copy (mediocre copy = crappy content)
Whether copy is written for a website, blog, social media, E-book, presentation, sales page, case study, newsletter or advertisement — it’s usually created for a particular purpose. Sometimes it’s to educate, entertain or boost brand awareness, and sometimes it’s to do all of those things, as well as to compel readers to perform some sort of action, whether it’s to click, register, download, inquire, follow or buy — or simply move them further along the engagement or sales funnel. In all of these cases, crappy copy will fail to inspire the reader to take the desired action, which begs the question — why bother publishing it at all?
The answer is that for those who publish it, copy is a marketing element they’re merely ‘okay’ with if they consider it to be “good enough”. But with mind-boggling quantities of new content continually being produced for the web — discerning readers don’t have time or patience for crappy content, so “good enough” just doesn’t cut it anymore, especially when there are other businesses in your niche that aspire towards fantastically written copy and super-engaging content — all the time. Savvy content consumers can identify crappy copy as soon as they read it and they’ll instantly move on to greener pastures rather than waste their time on a website or piece of content that’s so obviously sub-par.
If you’re publishing content in this “Age of Content Overload” you need to make sure your copy is working for you, not against you. It’s as simple as that. If you’re not willing to raise your standards and level up your copy so that isn’t just “good enough” but downright fantastic, that’s your prerogative, but don’t be surprised if your competitors — whose copy is kick-ass by comparison — are thriving, while your business struggles to grow.
What makes copy “great”?
There are many contributing factors to making copy “great”. Here are a few of them:
- It’s written for a specific target audience: If you write about accounting software, for example, you need to address specific concerns and challenges using relevant industry terms and jargon, and know how to frame the benefits of the product in a way that appeals to small business owners. But if you were writing about a new line of sparkly, volumizing mascara, you’d use language that appeals to anyone who’s fashion or beauty-minded and likes to wear make-up. The vocabulary and tone of voice would be vastly different, as it should be if it’s going to resonate with each audience effectively. One-size-fits-all copy would be ineffective in these cases, where tone of voice and industry-appropriate language are essential for maximum impact.
- It’s creative, original, interesting and effortless to read: Since written content is so prevalent, it’s refreshing for a reader when they read something that doesn’t sound ‘typical’. If the piece has been written with intelligence as well as a certain flair, charm, wit, or some sort of other creative approach — it will stand out, and that’s exactly what you want it to do.
- It’s written with the end-goal in mind: Whatever the goal of the piece of copy, and regardless of the format — the writer needs to keep the desired outcome in mind while writing it. Sometimes it would be appropriate to use language that clearly serves that goal throughout the piece and leaves the reader in no doubt about its intention, while at other times, subtlety would be far more effective. Knowing how to craft the copy to achieve the desired goal in a way that’s persuasive without being pushy — is key.
- It reflects the brand’s personality and mission. If you’re reading this and thinking “but I don’t think my brand has any particular personality”, perhaps it’s time for you to consider developing one! Copy that’s considered ‘personable’ by those it’s aimed at has a better chance of resonating with your target audience, endearing your brand to them and keeping it top-of-mind (as opposed to other ‘forgettable’ brands that are indistinguishable from one another) — when it’s time to make a purchase decision.
Those are general indicators of effective copy-based content, but there are also specific copy elements that are essential to nail for your content to have maximum impact. Failing to ‘nail’ them won’t result in any cataclysmic event, it just means your content won’t have maximum impact, and since the whole point of spending time and resources to produce content is to yield maximum impact, it would be a shame not to nail these key copy elements, which shouldn’t be a problem for professional copy and content writers who are worth their mettle.
Here are some of the key copy elements that could be crippling your marketing efforts when written poorly:
- Headlines: Whether it’s for a section on a crucial page in your website, or for a blog post you’re hoping people will read because it’s designed to engage them and pique their interest, or a Lead Magnet you’re offering to try to attract new leads, or a sales page for a product you’re hoping to sell, or for a social media ad you’ve spent good money on to generate a certain result — headlines that are not crafted and finessed for maximum appeal will fail to entice people to click (or scroll) to read further. It doesn’t matter how amazing the piece of content is — if its headline misses the mark because it’s poorly written and no one bothers reading beyond it, that amazing content will have been created in vain.
- Call to Action (CTA): Calls to Action are usually associated with a button or phrase that encourages the reader to perform some sort of action, so obviously the copy (or micro-copy) for these needs to be crafted very skillfully. But this element isn’t always enough to get the job done if the copy that builds up to it doesn’t also do the job it’s supposed to in preparing the reader to take action. This is particularly important for copywriters to master, but sometimes content writers also need to master it because although there may not always be a tangible action at the end of a blog post, for example, there is nevertheless an underlying purpose for writing it, which is to create interest or endear the brand behind the post to its readers. In this case, the entire piece of content is a call-to-action of sorts because it’s supposed to influence the reader’s attitude towards the brand (even without realizing it), so writers who fail to recognize this when they approach any piece of marketing content usually fall short of the task at hand.
- Tone of Voice (TOV): The language you use to communicate your content whether it’s the offering on your website (who you are, what you do, what you offer etc.) or the content you produce as part of content marketing efforts (blog posts, social media posts, videos, downloadable resources etc.) — is an important part of your overall branding and impacts on the way your business is perceived by others. If the copy used throughout your business’s marketing collateral fails to represent your brand as you would like it to be perceived by your target audience, it will be difficult for your audience to remember you or develop an affinity with your brand. This is unfortunate because any niche or industry always has standout or key players, and whether you are one of them or not, you will almost certainly have a slew of competitors, so a lack of a definitive Tone of Voice and personality delivered through your copy — will ensure that your brand remains forgettable and unimpressive.
So how can businesses level up their copy?
As you probably noticed early on in this post, it wasn’t intended to be a copywriting tutorial, nor is it aimed at copywriters who are already well aware of the value of creating top-notch copy. As the title of the post suggests, it is aimed at brands, businesses and entrepreneurs who are not necessarily copywriters themselves.
Whether content is a cornerstone of your website and your marketing strategy, or you only need to produce it sporadically, if you’re not a professional copywriter yourself, then the obvious way to create top notch copy is to have it written by an experienced copywriter who knows how to rally your audience behind whatever idea you’re hoping to convey or product you’re trying to sell.
And sure, if you’re bootstrapping or have other budgetary priorities, it’s understandable that you might prefer to save money by writing your own copy even if writing isn’t your strong suit, or by getting someone who’s just mildly more qualified (but still not really proficient) to write it for you just because they’re willing to do it for free. But in doing so, you run the risk of creating crappy copy, which as we’ve already established is counteractive to making a good impression.
That’s why paying an experienced professional (whether it’s on a full-time or freelance basis) — even if it feels like an extravagance when your budget is tight — is one of the most worthwhile investments you can make for your business, because if you lose your audience’s interest too quickly when they visit your website, or fail to convert them due to poorly-written, uninspiring content, you may never get a second chance to win them over.
It’s not enough to simply produce content for the sake of producing content. To stand out among your competitors and truly resonate with readers so that they want to continue a relationship with your brand — written content (as with any content format) must be well-crafted, engaging and impactful. Anything less will render the writer or the brand behind it as forgettable and sub-par compared with other brands whose commitment to the quality of their written content is obvious.
Recognizing the need to level up your copy so that it does justice to your brand and business objectives is an important step towards boosting engagement and conversions — especially when competition is fierce, so take the leap, engage a masterful copywriter, and go to sleep at night knowing that your copy is working just as hard for your business as you are.
NOTE: This is a 3,500-word companion to my post on “The difference between a blog post that’s 600, 1,200, 2,000 and 3,000+ words (with examples)” available on Medium. The 600, 1,200 and 2,000-word versions are available here.
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