By Caroline Voaden, freelance B2B copywriter
Have you heard about the AI drama engulfing Sports Illustrated? Reports this week allege the publication used AI to invent fake journalist profiles and write articles. Without telling anyone.
The publication’s own staff said they were ‘horrified’ and demanded ‘basic journalistic standards’ from their employer.
Whether you’re using AI or writing your own copy, this feels like a good time to run through the top 10 copywriting mistakes I see as a B2B copywriter.
And yes, Chat GPT makes mistakes too (I would not recommend letting it write a whole piece of content for you. Trust me, I’ve tried. It was boring, bland and had grammar errors).
We all make mistakes, but in copywriting some are unforgivable. Every word you write leaves a lasting impression, whether you’re writing web copy, blogs, emails or a B2B white paper. Here are my top 10 mistakes to look out for.
- Ditch the American spelling
How do you know if someone’s used AI to write their blog? It’s littered with z’s.
Obviously, this does not apply if you’re American. But I’m British and most of you reading this will be from the UK or Australia. A reminder to Australians…you are not American either. Even if you do say vacuum instead of hoover.
It’s not just in long form content either. In my last full-time gig, I could not believe how many of my colleagues were getting ChatGPT to write their emails for them…
They were communications professionals.
You probably aren’t. It doesn’t matter. As a professional, even in a smaller company or as a sole trader, your clients and website visitors will pick up on Americanization.
I’m not saying don’t use AI to help – it saves you time figuring out how to phrase wordy stuff.
But remember; it is a robot. If you use it to write a whole piece of content, I beg you: remember to ask it to proof its work in British English.
- Translate your jargon
We can’t talk about B2B copywriting without touching on jargon. It’s a double-edged sword: you want to show off how clever you are and your experience, but you don’t want to switch readers off.
Sometimes, you need to show your audience you get them. If you’re selling a payments solution to large SaaS providers, you’ll want to include some technical terms in your email sequences, blogs and case studies.
But you don’t have to choose between engaging and effective copywriting. Any B2B copywriter worth their salt will tell you that B2B doesn’t have to be boring.
Like most things in life, find a balance. Keep your writing style simple, include technical and clever words here and there. The number one rule? Keep it human – anyone should be able to read your copy without having to Google what it means.
Tip: read your copy out loud. Does it feel natural? Do you sound pretentious or are you stumbling through? Find words that you would use to explain the topic or idea to a new client or someone clueless about your business or service.
I know this sounds obvious and you write every day. Doesn’t she know how many emails and documents I smash through every week?!
I do. But you would be surprised at how many professionals and corporates trip up on this. It feels so basic that we don’t look for it when we’re doing a quick skim read before hitting publish or send.
As a quick recap:
- Your: possessive adjective. Your copywriting is amazing.
- You’re: the contraction of ‘you are’. You’re a great copywriter.
- You’ve cooked up word soup
No one, no matter how much they read, wants to read long paragraphs of marketing materials.
A lot of my time as a B2B copywriter is spent reviewing and reworking content that is interesting, but unreadable.
Make sure yours is accessible and engaging, especially if it’s aimed at non-experts. Chances are, your audience knows less about your area of expertise than you do, even if they are a peer.
There are a few quick tests you can do to find out if you’ve hit the mark.
Used by marketers, B2B copywriters, research communicators and policy writers, the Flesch Reading Ease is the most well-known. It is designed to show how difficult a passage of text is to understand and gives score between 1 and 100, with 100 being the highest readability score.
The two main factors considered are sentence length and word length.
Even those with high literacy skills get annoyed by unnecessarily complex language. In fact, most national newspapers are written to achieve a score of 90+.
If I have to get out the dictionary or consult Wikipedia to figure out what you’re talking about, I’m probably closing the tab.
As well as keeping your language easy to understand, make your copy skimmable. Keep your paragraphs small, use subheadings and bullet points and don’t write for the sake of writing if you’ve run out of useful things to say.
This one is personal.
This is my copywriting nemesis. After writing for nine years, I’m pretty confident in my copy but this one always gets me. Without fail.
In texts, emails and in long form B2B content.
So, take it from me, this one is easy to mix up.
A quick recap:
- Loose: adjective, free from attachment. My strap is a bit loose.
- Lose: verb, to be deprived of or cease to have. I always lose my phone.
- Conversational tone = connection
Another common copywriting mistake in the B2B world is professionals writing a piece of marketing copy the same way they would a technical document.
Your blogs, white papers and website copy are different to agreements, contracts, product documents and client letters.
They might be read by the same people, but they serve a different purpose.
Yes, B2B copy may be slightly more formal than B2C copy. But not always, and even then, a conversational tone is more likely to convert your readers.
Why? Because they will see themselves reflected in your tone of voice and connect with your copy better.
- Alexa: define ‘good’ and ‘thing’
Let’s be clear though, a conversational tone doesn’t mean adding emojis or using flowery language.
Precision is important in your copy, especially if you’re a B2B communicating a complex offer or ideas.
One of my pet peeves is seeing ‘good’ or ‘things’ in copy. This screams lazy copywriting to me.
There are occasions when these words are suitable, but usually they can and should be swapped out for more descriptive, precise words.
A good thing is very subjective to the reader and the context. Don’t make your readers do the work.
- Mixed verb tense
The past, present, and future walked into a bar. It was tense.
I’ll be honest, I really wanted to get that joke into this blog. I love it because I’m a word nerd.
Your writing should never have mixed verb tenses: it’s confusing and hard to read.
- She is eating when the meeting started.
- They were preparing now for tomorrow’s meeting.
- Check for Random capitalisation
Another pet peeve of mine. This copywriting mistake is particularly common in a lot of property and real estate copy.
We’re taught the rules for capitalisation (pages 6 to 8) at school, but often they are forgotten or ignored. I often read about a Big Idea that is capitalised incorrectly in the middle of a sentence.
Another common mistake is being inconsistent in the capitalisation of government – granted, this one is trickier than the Big Idea as there are conflicting schools of thought.
But whichever you choose, to capitalise or not, stick to the same rule throughout your copy.
I follow the Guardian’s style guide and love it. It’s a very useful resource.
- Proof like a B2B copywriter
I can’t explain how important a thorough proofread is. I don’t just mean a quick skim, I mean a proper, in-depth proof of your copy before it goes anywhere.
Professional copywriters usually hire a proofreader for big projects, because even we miss errors. It’s easy to do if you’ve read the copy a million times over during the writing and editing phase.
In an ideal world, you want to print a hard copy and proof it physically. I’ve always found this to be the most accurate method.
But I know that’s not always practical – I’m writing this from the beach in Sri Lanka. Let’s see if I can walk the walk…
If you’re on a computer or your phone, set aside a proper amount of time to read through for flow, then carefully read through slowly looking for spelling and grammar mistakes. You might want to do this twice, then once again after you’ve made edits.
It’s not the end of the world if you miss something (we’ve all been there) but it does look unprofessional. Especially if you’re a repeat offender.
What are your copywriting pet peeves? Did I miss any? If you want to vent with me or need a B2B copywriter, please email me: Caroline Voaden, [email protected].