In online writing, as in everything all other careers, there are several sure-fire ways to dig your own grave. From plagiarism to sloppy content, completely avoidable mistakes can spell death for the copywriter.
Even for the best Grammar Nazi-slash-word-nerd among us, without an extra eye and the time investment of careful proofreading, your best blog can go from wow to yuck just because of one or two glaring misspells. But it’s not just misspells. What’s more: being unaware of the right online writing practices, or how to talk to your audience, among many other key foundations, could spell death for your audience (or, if you’re new at this: future/potential audience).
15 Ways to Dig Yourself a Writing Grave: The Don’ts of Online Writing
Fortunately, you can route around these things by being aware of them and knowing how to avoid them. Here are the top fifteen mistakes web copywriters can make. Avoid digging yourself a grave: instead, be aware and practice the right online writing skills so you can start growing your presence, rankings and readership immediately.
1. Poor SEO
You can err on two sides here: not caring at all about SEO, and thus not working to bring in your audience with your online audience; or overstuffing your keywords in your content.
For all writers creating any form of online writing, SEO is the foundation from which everything else springs. In addition to providing the structure needed to rank in Google and other search engines, SEO also makes it easier for readers to find and navigate your content. When an online copywriter doesn’t fully understand SEO or know how to integrate it into their content, it’s almost guaranteed that the content won’t perform as well as it could. Because of this, it’s wise to get familiar with common SEO techniques like keyword optimization and link building as quickly as possible. This will prevent you from making easily avoidable mistakes and will help ensure that your content has the “bones” it needs to succeed.
2. Poor content structure
Imagine this: you write a flawless 5,000-word article and post it on two sites. On one site, the article is posted as a continuous block of text. On the other, it is broken neatly into heading, subheadings, bullet points, and links. Which one is going to get more clicks and reads? If you guessed the second article, you’re right. Even though the text is exactly the same, the way it is structured makes a huge difference. All online copy should be easy to read and structured in a way that creates a flawless user experience. This means small blocks of text, subheaders, bulleted lists, and plenty of links throughout.
3. Ineffective tone and voice
Who are you writing to? If you can’t answer that question quickly and effortlessly, you’re in trouble. Conducting research on your target audience is one of the first steps you need to make as an online copywriter. This allows you to speak directly to the group that will purchase your products and to address their questions, concerns, and fears succinctly and efficiently. If you miss the mark on this, you’re going to wind up speaking to the web at large and failing to find your niche or develop a devoted group of followers.
4. Boring content
We’ve all been here, and you know what I’m talking about. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing about cleaning supplies or outer space – all content can and should be exciting. Boring content is often a symptom of a writer’s lack of knowledge or engagement and it’s not content that readers are going to want to interact with on any lasting level. To avoid this, ensure that you’re spending enough time with your content to understand what makes your topic special and how you can approach it in a way that will grab the attention of your target audience. Remember – there are no boring topics, only boring writers.
5. Spammy content
This should go without saying, but I still see it lurking around in the dark corners of the Internet. Spammy content is a deadly sin in today’s content marketing environment. In addition to getting you penalized by Google, content that is keyword-stuffed or riddled with intrusive or irrelevant ads will earn you plentiful and speedy back-clicks from your readers. To avoid this, be sure that you’re incorporating keywords naturally throughout your online writing and that any ads placed on your site abide by best practices. This means a limited number of ads “above the fold” and relevant, valuable ads that actually have something to do with your company or target market.
6. Irregular publishing schedule
Companies that publish more than 16 blogs each month earn 3.5x as much traffic as companies that publish only 0-4 monthly posts. Because of this, it’s clear that blogging often and on a regular basis is a pivotal part of becoming a successful online copywriter. Too many bloggers and copywriters don’t post content regularly, which leads to stagnant blogs, losing the audience they started to build, and lowering traffic on social media pages and websites. These things are alienating for readers and can cost you your traffic and your rankings. Avoid nose-diving rankings by creating a content schedule and sticking to it.
7. Plagiarized or duplicate content
This should go without saying, but it often doesn’t. In addition to earning you severe Google penalties, posting plagiarized or duplicated content is a great way to lose readers and bury your career faster than you can say “Bad online writing practices.” To preserve your credibility, keep your readership intact, and avoid Google’s evil eye, ensure that everything you post is high-quality and, most of all, original. If you’ve got any doubts about the authenticity of your content or simply want to ensure that you’re not flirting too closely with any of the sources you use in your material, run your copy through a plagiarism-checking service like Copyscape.
8. Being generally unhelpful
Writing web content that doesn’t offer actionable solutions to some type of problem is an impossible task that gets you nowhere at the end of the day. For real: long-form, useful content wins. Today’s readers want actionable content that provides them with real value and helps them solve everyday problems. That said, if your content isn’t improving your readers’ quality of life in some way, it’s likely that you’re not doing your job. Alternately, if you’re creating content that’s totally devoid of any real meaning or purpose besides link building, you’re failing your readers and Google in the same breath.
9. Good, bad and ugly headlines
Yes—all three of those things are no-no’s. And why is good a no-no? Because you have to be better than good. You have to be great.
Let me define the good, bad and the ugly side of headlining:
- Good: “5 Ways to Create a Great Landing Page”. This is good, but will your reader click on it? Haven’t they seen a million of these lying around the Internet already?
- Bad: “Chiropractic care in Georgetown, Texas”—bad: you’re just using your keywords—or “Click and Learn 5 Ways to Help Your Back”—that’s just spammy.
- Ugly: “Why the mother killed her kid! You’ll be shocked…”—and the story is actually about a little goat that was ran over, not killed, by the nanny goat. Yeah, the publisher downright lied, that’s This is also the worst of the BuzzFeed-style headlines you’ll see. I hate those. Pet peeve.
Here’s why headlines matter. While 80% of people read headlines, only 20% click through to read the body copy. What’s more, the 20% that are clicking through are likely reading exciting, unique, click-worthy headlines. In order to ensure that your content gets the attention it deserves, you need to be writing interesting and original headlines. This means ensuring your headlines aren’t too long or too short (5-10 words is a good guideline) and that they use action words, appeal to a reader’s interest, and promise a high ROI for the reader’s click. If that seems like a tall order, you’re not wrong. Writing quality headlines is a learned skill but if you practice it often enough, you’ll see your blog traffic begin to skyrocket.
Click here to get our PDF with over 120 actionable words to use in your headlines!
10. Clueless content
Last year, Google released the entirety of their Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. While the 160-page document contained a wealth of useful information, one of the most enlightening aspects of it was the document’s focus on expert content. Nowadays, Google is looking for content with a high level of E-A-T: Expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. With that in mind, all content needs to be expert content – written by either an everyday expert or a certified and trained expert. Writing expert-level content from a novice standpoint is a great way to get yourself blacklisted by search engines and readers all at once.
11. Too many/poor quality links
Linking is an important part of writing quality, SEO-focused, reader-centric content and if you get it wrong you’re likely to suffer from decreased reader numbers and poor rankings, as a result. The cardinal sins of link building include links to spun content, links that are obviously paid, and low-quality directory links. Avoiding common practices of bad link building can help you ensure your content remains high-quality and that you maintain your reputation as an authoritative and trustworthy source.
12. Content without a CTA
CTAs – or calls to action – are a pivotal piece of effective web content. You risk losing a follow-through from a lead if you don’t place them in your content. In addition to giving your reader a direction, CTAs help your content achieve its desired effect, be that recruiting email subscribers or encouraging purchases. While writing quality CTAs is an art, it’s one that’s well-worth learning in the name of good online copywriting.
One rule of thumb here: don’t over-CTA your content, or you could drive people away from too much “spam.”
13. Content that hasn’t been adequately proof-read
Content that is riddled with grammar or spelling mistakes isn’t good for anyone – most of all you. To avoid this, ensure that you’re taking adequate time to proof-read your content before you publish it. In addition to helping you avoid embarrassing factual mistakes, proofreading your content adequately can also help you put out a quality product that reflects on your brand well.
For a complete checklist of what you should be proofreading for, check out this Hubspot resource.
14. Negative content
Content that sends out negative vibes is a downer for readers. It’s also not as helpful as it could be. To avoid losing ranking and readers as a result of an excessively negative viewpoint, focus on keeping your advice, discussions, and topics positive in your online writing. This reflects well on your company and keeps readers from abandoning you for something a little sunnier.
15. Rambling content, political rants, etc.
Let’s be frank here – nobody wants to read your personal diary on the web, unless you’re a celeb or simply not intending to use your blog for any kind of business or online reputation.
While there are dozens of successful lifestyle blogs and blogs that focus on personal topics, it’s important to remember that content that is truly in-demand is content that is reader-focused. While it’s fine to discuss a personal problem or experience, you want to ensure that you’re leaving the reader with something they can use. Rambling on a soapbox isn’t useful and it isn’t something that will help your brand grow, so you should be avoiding it at all costs.
Online Writing Success: Avoid These Dangerous Mistakes
While great online writing is a learned process, there are several things that will bury your career in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, it’s easy to ensure a long, healthy copywriting career by avoiding these 15 web writing mistakes. In addition to improving your reputation as a writer, steering clear of these online writing no-no’s helps you provide relevant content that your readers actually want to engage with.
Don’t struggle through online copywriting alone. Contact Express Writers today to learn more about our top-tier copywriting services.