The 10 most common mistakes companies make with copy

How good is your copy? Most professional communicators create reams of copy (written material) every year, including intranet  stories or scripts for videos. Would you like a helping hand with yours?

Today I’m delighted to introduce Jaime Cox to the All Things IC blog for the first time. If your 2019 goals include sharpening your writing, she’s here to help.

Jaime @compellingcopy_ is a freelance Copywriter and Editor, specialising in digital content. As well as a Journalism degree, she has over 20 years’ experience in print and digital media, across internal and external comms.

She now works with brands large and small to improve their online presence – via digital transformation and rebranding, SEO copywriting, social media, content marketing campaigns, customer comms and more. See her website.

I’ll hand you over…

Cut the copy chaos

The 10 most common mistakes companies make with copy (and how to avoid them)

Forgetting your audience

Comms 101 for any medium – know your audience. Think about who you’re talking to and who you want to engage, with every single word. Make it relevant.

You wouldn’t rock up to the PETA Christmas bash and give a speech on how to cook the perfect steak. Before writing any copy, research your current and target markets. Tailor your content and adjust your tone of voice for each group.

#too #many #hashtags

One huge #fail with social media copy is the overuse and misuse of hashtags. They’re invaluable for finding relevant content and accessing trending conversations. They can be useful for targeting and ensuring your copy reaches the right people, but overuse smacks of desperation.

Hijacking a popular hashtag with sales messages never goes down well with users. And throwing in endless hashtags shows a lack of clear strategy, dilutes your message, and makes your copy harder to read (an exception being Instagram, where they’re massively used and don’t hinder copy legibility).

Skipping the basics

Remember that informative copywriting needs to answer the basic questions –the who, what, where, when, and why. Give readers context for your copy, and make it relevant. In our time-poor culture, we don’t have long to convince readers that our copy is worth their while. If people have to work too hard to understand and be engaged by your message, they’ll quickly move on.

Failing to break up copy

If you’re writing online copy, remember that a growing segment of your audience will be reading on mobile devices. So it’s vital to break copy into bite-sized chunks and include plenty of visual cues to help the reader navigate and scan your content. As Hoa Loranger of Nielsen Norman points out: “Bulleted lists attract attention, support scanning, shorten text, and reveal the relationship of items.”


Most firms have a very strict style guide for design, to ensure logos and branding are applied consistently, but fewer use a style guide for copy. This creates a chaotic array of tones across comms channels, diminishing customer confidence in your brand. Adopting a copy style guide is an easy way to transform the way your whole business communicates, internally and externally.

Once you have buy-in from everyone, it can quickly become a valuable quick-reference bible, and all written communication becomes more consistent and professional. From internal staff emails to customer letters, presentations, reports, promotional emails, adverts, social media and your website copy, it’s worth investing in.

Writing for Googlebots 

Keen to climb up the Google results? A good rule of thumb when it comes to search-engine optimisation (SEO), is that copy which is useful and interesting to people is usually viewed favourably by search engines. It’s vital to carry out thorough keyword research in line with your content strategy, but avoid over-using keywords in body copy and continue to tailor writing for your (human) audience.

Google ultimately values good quality content that users respond well to –to rank, your copy needs to show:

  • Expertise
  • Authority
  • Trust (EAT).

Using jargon and clichés

One of the golden rules of quality copywriting – avoid clichés like the plague. Same goes for jargon…unless you’re writing for a very specific niche industry or technical publication, where you can be 100% certain that your audience will understand every single term.

All copy, everywhere, should be as clear and simple as possible.

Explain technical terms at their first mention and don’t assume all your readers will be familiar with acronyms, no matter how common or obvious they might seem to you.

Being overly friendly

Many firms are thankfully starting to realise that a friendly, conversational tone of voice makes them much more approachable. A minority have taken this too far and adopted a tone that spills over into creepy, inappropriate territory in a desperate bid to be amusing and likeable. It’s crucial to strike a balance – keep it informal but professional, and don’t betray your core brand principles.

If you’re keen to refresh and modernise your company’s tone of voice, go back to basics.

What’s your brand/product? How is it perceived by customers and potential customers? How would you like to shift this image? How far do you think you canshift this, without alienating your core customer base or being laughed at?

Broadcasting, not engaging

Things are improving, but this is another common #fail for businesses when it comes to social media copy. Shouting about themselves and their products without engaging in a dialogue, or listening to feedback.

Ignore negative comments at your peril – address concerns and show humility. Stimulating conversation is a two-way affair. How many times have you been introduced to someone only to find they’re a ‘broadcaster’… harping on about themselves and failing to ask a single question or show any interest in you? We have so much to learn by listening, and all communication has to be reciprocal to be truly effective.

10 Assuming people won’t read online

We used to be told to keep it short when writing online copy, based on the belief that users simply wouldn’t read long articles online. It’s transpired that this just isn’t true…and businesses are increasingly reaping the rewards of investing in long-form content.

Standard adverts are becoming less effective online, so investing in useful, valuable, intelligent content is becoming a key way to get your company’s voice heard. It’s also another way to demonstrate that all-important Expertise, Authority and Trust that Google loves.

With continual advances in technology, the use of voice search growing rapidly, and an increase in demand for long-tail content, the landscape for online copywriting continues to change and develop. We just need to make sure we’re all keeping up.

Post author: Jaime Cox.

Thank you very much Jaime, I hope you found that useful. As ever, you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

First published on the All Things IC blog 8 January 2019.

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