Scale of disaster
If you’ve read George Orwell’s brilliant 1984, you must be familiar with “duckspeak.” In the novel, the word meant ideologically correct phrases, or even sentences, spoken without giving it critical thinking.
You might ask, “How is an old dystopian novel related to copywriting?” Well, directly. Duckspeak has become the scourge of the profession. Browsing the web, you will run into dozens of semantic dummies.
“This book is definitely an eye-opener.”
“A no-brainer for those willing to save their time and effort”
“A true game-changer in the field of vacuum cleaning.”
These (and many other) words that once sounded meaningful have now become cliched fillers, abused to the point when using them gives a bad taste in the mouth.
But, for some reason, people just won’t stop putting them everywhere. Job vacancies, event descriptions, annotations, sales letters, etc. – all seem to be plagued with marketing duckspeak.
This is not to mention traditional and impotent CTAs and meaningless marketing messages that online marketing texts are full of.
In this article, we charge the problem head-on. Prepare to take notes: you won’t be using these words and phrases after you finish reading this.
Please note that we are talking about copywriting. Whereas it is absolutely okay to use the words and phrases below in everyday speech. They just do not work so well for writing content.
Top 10 terms you should avoid in your writing
The list below is far from being exhaustive. It contains 10 most overused, worn out cliches that copywriters should avoid like the plague (pun intended). Many of them refer to the same problem: copywriters being unable to convey the sensations of novelty, exclusiveness, or quality of the products or services they are promoting.
The list could be updated forever, as content marketing accretes with new trendy terms. It is enough, however, to understand the main principles
Every now and then, Google contextual ads or newsletters I get on email promise to take my something to the next level. I cannot help but ask:
- Next level of what?
- How do you know your customer reaches the “next level”? Do they get a pop-up with XP and character stats above their head?
- How do you define the initial “level” of a customer you are writing for?
- What if the “next level” you are promising is actually lower than your customer’s current one?
These questions may look vague and ridiculous. And they are. Why? Because the phrase “next level” means nothing.
If you intend to say that some product or service has become better than before, show it instead of telling. Compare the new to the old, list the characteristics that have been improved.
Really? How do you know? Unless you are writing about the winner of an official worldwide contest, avoid using “world-class” in your copy.
And even if this is the case, be more specific. “Golden prize winner of the worldwide contest 2019” sounds more convincing than just “world-class.”
So far, there have been three industrial revolutions, caused by the steam engine, mass production, and digitalization. It is unlikely that a mobile app you are advertising will cause the fourth one.
Avoid loud and pretentious descriptions when writing about the product or service you are advertising.
Even if your product is indeed innovative, the very word tells nothing about it. It just states, “Look, we sell this,” but does not show the actual novelty.
Describe the product’s new features and explain to potential customers how they can benefit from them.
P.S. If your director of innovations makes you write about innovative products created by your innovative engineers, blink twice.
This is so commonplace that you have more chances to draw your reader’s attention by not using “the best” in your text.
You want to avoid using words that sound like marketing overpromise unless you back them up.
The internet is a place full of passionate people. It looks like they tend to get passionate about every smallest thing you can imagine.
- A solopreneur and a passionate explorer of digital marketing depths
- Explore what you get passionate about and follow your dreams
- Passionate, passion, has a passionate passion for passions.
The problem is that this word names the feeling, but does not evoke it in a reader. Which one sounds better?
- I am passionate about writing content
- I can spend hours obsessing over a single sentence until I make it sound right.
Can you see the difference?
Avoid using generic adjectives conveying no emotional conditions.
Everyone is using the same technology nowadays, so it is unlikely the one you are writing about justifies the metaphor. Unless you are writing about knives, of course.
Study the product or service you are writing about, its flaws and merits, its practical use and novelty.
Game-changing / Eye-opening
These two sound the same way as “next level” or “innovative,” but they are also ridiculous. Both of them are trendy grandiose fillers with no specific meaning. Once again, compare these two phrases:
- A game-changer for all office workers
- This is the ultimate new way of working in the office.
The second option is lengthier, but it is also intriguing. If the old ways are now obsolete, then what are the new ones? The second sentence would make me want to read on more likely.
“A young enthusiastic team looking for a rockstar developer/designer/copywriter/janitor.” This is so hackneyed that it can hardly be called a cliche anymore. Rather, a bad writing archetype. A taboo for all copywriters. A content writing Voldemort.
Just don’t use it.
“Our new iPhone is a state-of-the-art piece of technology, rich with features.”
—Why did you prefer an iPhone over the new Samsung?
– Well, it’s feature-rich.”
Picture a serious company advertising its products like that, or yourself explaining to your friends why you chose this particular phone model. Does “feature-rich” give a good reason for purchase?
People know as much about your product as you are telling them.
In a nutshell
Avoid words that are not strong enough to break through the customers’ justified skepticism. The internet today is full of things and services to buy, with thousands of ads promoting them.
Why should a potential buyer want to buy from you, specifically?
Because you sell revolutionary, innovative products that are on the cutting edge of modern technology? Or because your world-class service will take your customer’s business to the next level?
Now, let us imagine you need to hammer a nail, but you don’t have tools. One neighbor says he has a hammer, another neighbor actually shows it to you. Whom will you ask to hammer that nail for you?
“Show, do not tell” should become your golden rule for writing content from now on.